The essential equipment of the modern farmer is rapidly expanding beyond traditional implements like tillers, plows and tractors.
These days, you can add sky- and space-based cameras to that list, as well as sensors that examine microscopic nutrients. Most important of all these new tools is artificial intelligence. AI takes the vast amounts of data gathered by those advanced devices and turns it into insights that empower farmers to reduce costs while increasing productivity and sustainability.
This revolution in agricultural technology comes just in time. Climate change is challenging food producers to feed growing populations while preserving land and protecting natural resources.
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As agritech scales to a multibillion-dollar sector, innovative startups are at the forefront of developing cutting-edge solutions. In working with several young companies through our Oracle for Startups program1, I’ve been particularly inspired by founders who combine passion for agriculture with a talent for solving complex problems with digital technology.
AI for agriculture
Cromai is a startup helping make our world a little sweeter.
CEO Guilherme Barros Castro comes from a long line of agronomic engineers, including both parents and great-grandparents who pioneered that profession in Brazil.
Castro co-founded Cromai in 2017, looking to turn the machine-learning models developed while earning his doctorate into a business. His company now applies AI to classify weeds, enabling sugarcane plantations to spray precise spots with specific herbicides, rather than blanket their fields. That computer-vision capability delivers a 65% reduction in chemical utilization.
Training the algorithms requires massive computing power. And yet, Cromai’s technology was first deployed on its founders’ laptops.
The company eventually built its first true server—one powered by NVIDIA GPUs. But Cromai kept growing fast, signing five of Brazil’s 10 largest sugarcane production groups.
Quanticum is another of Brazil’s more than 1,300 agritech startups.
Where Cromai applies AI to analyze large tracts, Quanticum focuses on the microscopic nutrients within them. These are nanoparticles that impact the soil’s potential to produce food, bioenergy and carbon.
The reports Quanticum provides sugarcane, soy and coffee producers help them regenerate soil and achieve more sustainable agronomic practices.
SatSure, a startup in India, enables financial institutions to lend to small farmers and insure their crops by applying AI to images beamed down from satellites.
Multiple data sets are needed to drive good decisions in agriculture: field data, earth-observation data, commodity prices, weather forecasts and media reports.
These startups show us just a few of the ways advanced technologies like AI can usher in sustainable agriculture at a global scale. Their leaps forward are coming just in time: We need creative solutions to the cascading problems of a ballooning population, land resources becoming more constrained, the persistent crisis of food insecurity, and climate threats that are more perilous than ever before.
We currently waste more than half our potential food production due to inefficiencies in the field, and more waste comes from inefficient logistics channels. The bright side is it’s possible to grow much more food, in a more environmentally friendly way, on less land. To that end, I expect we’ll see startup founders spearhead the brightest innovations and strategic partnerships.
Jason Williamson is the global head and vice president of Oracle for Startups. He has previously written for Crunchbase News on innovation, entrepreneurship and supply chain.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
Cromai, SatSure and Quanticum are all participants in Oracle for Startups.↩
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