"Farmers around the world feel the earth and say, 'Humidity is 50%, so I have to irrigate.' When we show them the data, however, they are stunned to discover that they didn't irrigate and fertilize enough. Up until now, farmers were blind to what happens under the surface," says Tomer Tzach, CEO of CropX, an Israeli company that develops agricultural technologies.
CropX is about to deploy a network of automated irrigation systems around the world, based on "Internet of the soil." The company recently completed a project in precise agriculture in Arizona, which shows that its technology makes it possible to replace the farmer in making decisions about irrigation and fertilizing. This saves 40% of irrigation water, while increasing crops by 10%.
CropX's technology is based on planting sensors in the soil at specific points in the crop fields. The sensors have a wireless connection to a system that collects and analyzes data. The insights produced by the system inform a farmer how much irrigation and fertilizing are actually needed. The technology is also able to operate irrigation automatically according to the needs of the soil and the plants. CropX has deployed 2,000 sensors to date, and its systems are deployed in 40 countries, including the US, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, and Thailand.
"CropX's system is one of the few systems in the world that has been proven in commercially-sized fields. In 2019, we'll become the agritech company providing the most information from the soil. This technological breakthrough is reflected in the ability to operate the irrigation system automatically and adaptably, so that the quantity of water in the soil gives the crop exactly what it needs for the coming days until the next round of irrigation," Tzach explains.
Tzach says that calculation capabilities and thousands of sensors will make it possible to assemble the world's largest database of soil data, "that will reveal the secrets concealed by the soil and change the face of global agriculture. The "Internet of soil" is the key to precise agriculture; it is likely to solve the shortage of water, the shortage of food, and hunger, while saving energy and significantly reducing pollution."
Strategic investment by Israel Chemicals
CropX, which has 28 employees in Netanya, was founded in 2015 by Isaac Bentwich, who is no longer active in the company. Tzach joined the company as CEO in 2016. CropX raised $1.3 million in its seed round and $10 million more in its Series A round in June 2015. Tzach says that the company will soon embark on a Series B round.
Investors in CropX include former Google CEO Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors; US venture capital fund Finistere Ventures, which also invested in Taranis; Robert Bosch Venture Capital; Germin8 Ventures; OurCrowd; and Greensoil Investments.
Another strategic investment in the company was by Israel Chemicals (TASE: ICL: NYSE: ICL) in May - Israel Chemicals' first investment in precise agriculture. Tzach says that the investment is significant and was made when CropX went into the fertilizing sector. He adds that the company will end the year with a profit, with significant growth slated for next year, but refrains from giving exact numbers.
CropX's technology combines sensors planted in the soil by the farmer himself - other companies often require professional planting at greater cost. Other agritech companies, such as Israeli company Taranis, use sensors carried by drones and airplanes to study the state of crops. According to Tzach, however, there is no substitute for learning about the situation from the soil itself. "When you look from above, the figures come too late. It usually takes weeks before you see something on the plant's leaves, and the only way to predict problems is to learn from within the soil, which is much harder," he declares.
The solution, called "Internet of soil" (taken from "Internet of Things - IoT) is based on a new generation of precise sensors developed in the company's laboratories in Netanya. The sensors, which farmers can implant easily, measure data on humidity in the soil, the soil's salinity, and the temperature at various depths. It begins broadcasting the data through built-in wireless broadcasts to the analysis system on the cloud. The system autonomously produces detailed instructions to the computerized irrigation system on the basis of the variance between the parts of the field in the soil data, the weather, the type and stage of the crop, etc. One sensor can monitor a section of field with 20-80 dunam (5-20 acres) (depending on the magnitude of the variance in the field).
"The basic insights are when and how much to irrigate and when to refrain from irrigation. We're getting into the fertilizing sector now, and we can say whether enough fertilizer reached the root zone and when, and how much, fertilizer to add. Fertilizer is not always absorbed everywhere to the same extent. You look at the root zone from close up, and you can develop an irrigation strategy. Based on the behavior of water in the soil, you can draw a dehydration graph. On a US farm, irrigation is practiced in giant round fields through a 400-meter-long electrical sprinkler. Our information makes it possible to on rounds of irrigation and electricity costs," Tzach claims.
CropX recently completed a pilot project in Arizona in cooperation with the IAF investment company, which initiates and operates ventures with innovative technologies on large fields that it owns. The trial took six months on a round 500-dunam (125-acre) plot equipped with a mobile irrigation system moving on a circular axis in a radius of 400 meters (called a pivot). CropX divided an alfalfa field into 20 equal portions, with each portion grown under different irrigation and fertilizing conditions. The company says that at the end of the trial, it turned out that the Israeli system had saved 40% of the irrigation water, in addition to saving on energy used to bring the water to the field, compared with irrigation in the control group - all with no loss in crop (the water saved was estimated at 190 million liters - 50 million gallons, equivalent to 76 Olympic swimming pools).
Streamlining irrigation made it possible to grow an additional crop during the pilot period, which yielded 10% more crops, a direct addition of 10% to the revenue from the parcel (from $280,000 to $310,000). According to CropX's calculations, applying this proportion of additional crops to all the alfalfa grown in the US during the year gives enough extra alfalfa to fill one million semi-trailers - an enormous quantity of strategically significance for US agriculture.
Tzach explains, "We chose a trial with alfalfa, which is one of the main US agricultural crops. In 2017, the alfalfa crop totaled over 55 tons planted and processed on an area of 68 million dunam (17 million acres, three times the size of Israel). These figures highlight the scale of the revolution we can cause in global agriculture. Furthermore, our technology is being applied to all sorts of crops, such as wheat and corn, which produce corps on this scale."
Future plans include expansion to information for insurance companies that insure crops. "Our aim is to position ourselves as the world's number one company in the quantity of data taken from the soil. Collecting this quantity of data will enable us to obtain insights beyond the level of the individual farmer. We can assemble information for insurance companies and also enter the world of consumption and provide data about the state of the total corn crop in the US, for example, which his one of the largest corn crops in the world," Tzach declares.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 10, 2018
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