AgEye Tech:

Improving the efficiency of farming operations through smart data

“CEA growers have access to more information than ever. They can poll environmental data every minute, get notifications about the slightest drift in nutrient levels, and instantly adjust light, temperature, and CO2. But the only time the plant is measured - is when it’s harvested," says Nick Genty, co-founder and CEO of AgEye Tech. Think about all of those sensors, all of that data, and all of those insights. It's all about the environment –and not about the plant.

AgEye Tech is an automation platform for vertical farms and greenhouses that monitor plants through smart data. According to AgEye, growers should be making more of their decisions based on their plants first and the environment second.  “While environmental data is helpful, it doesn’t provide a true assessment of how crops are developing. Everything can be looked at to be within optimal range – yet there could be underlying problems developing that result in issues later in the growing cycle,” Nick adds.

Nick Genty

Solving uniformity issues
If there’s anyone allowed to be control freaks, it’s CEA growers, as the outcome of their operations is almost entirely based on how well they can control all the aspects of the cultivation process. Yet, it seems like such a degree of control is hardly achievable. 

“You can readily see uniformity issues present across different CEA facilities. That’s because there is something in the cultivation that is causing that variability. Usually, a grower would walk around to assess what is going on. That’s where AgEye comes into play.”  

View of the AgEye camera and robotic rail system

Per-plant visibility
The AgEye platform consists of small cameras attached to robotic rails that move around, capturing both visible and non-visible plant data. The small form-factor of the AgEye hardware enables data to be collected from the small layers of a vertical set up just as easily as from a greenhouse facility.

“This enables AgEye to analyze thousands of data points across hundreds of metrics to create per-plant visibility for every plant and every cycle. We can provide growers with critical information like canopy size, biomass, height, and leaf temperature for every crop across a given cycle,” says Brandon Huber, Ph.D., AgEye’s lead Plant Scientist.

Brandon Huber

Can we collect more data through technology? 
It's clear that the introduction of powerful vision systems can collect exponentially more data than traditional crop scouting methods, which begs the question, can growers possibly make sense of it all? “This is where the power of machine learning comes in,” Nick remarks.

“While growers always have access to the raw data collected, the real benefits are realized in the AI-inferences that AgEye generates, such as growth rate, cycle uniformity, relative stress index, harvest readiness, and accurate yield forecasting. Using the crop data to offer real, actionable insights for ways a grower can improve their operation is a game-changer.”  

Maximizing plant growth
AgEye is indeed a combination of AI and IoT-connected devices.  Yet, how does this translate to improving the efficiency of a farming operation? “It comes down to simplifying the complexities of growth factors,” Brandon explains.

According to him, growing in a controlled environment allows for maximizing plant growth rate and ultimately improving crop yield and flavor. And we know this is achieved through precise control of the environmental conditions, allowing for the most optimal growing conditions to be provided to any given crop.

“Further, these conditions can be altered day by day throughout a crop cycle for additional growth enhancement. However, the ‘timing’ of when to make changes to environmental conditions to achieve these outcomes depends on complicated parameters such as the current growth rate and current crop stage – which, until AgEye, has been extremely challenging for commercial growers to determine manually.”

Front-facing photo of AgEye’s R&D farm in our Raleigh, NC headquarters

An on-demand plant scientist
Very bluntly put, AgEye provides growers with a quality management system grounded on automated data collection combined with the knowledge of an on-demand plant scientist. “Every grower is unique in how their facility is designed and what their harvest goals are, making it very difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Nick.

“That’s why the insights and recommendations generated by the AgEye platform are almost entirely based on the data collected from a given cultivation. Including the developmental milestones used for baselines, the thresholds for alerting the grower, the harvest targets, and so on. We are confident of our value, and as soon as growers see what’s possible with AgEye, they’ll never go back to the old ways of clipboards and manual scouting.”

Brandon Huber doing crop research on hydroponic Radishes at our R&D farm in Raleigh

Extending growing knowledge
Of course, there are more features in the works which aim to make CEA more mainstream. But how can an automated scouting and monitoring solution do anything for that? AgEye has been making extensive progress in its research efforts. Both within the R&D farm, as well as through collaboration with N.C. State University.

“We are a crop-agnostic company at heart, and we are tirelessly working to include ever more crops into our platform.” By allowing growers to grow more crops efficiently and profitably in their greenhouses and indoor farms, CEA can make its way into the mainstream.

As Nick and Brandon point out, it seems as if most of CEA is about lettuce and basil. The reality is, of course, that there’s way more to it than that, but the challenges that every crop poses might prove to be insurmountable. “As an industry, we have to do more than lettuce and basil, and we need to show that other crops are possible too. In the next 1 to 3 years, we’ll see a lot of new crops gain success within CEA. As of now, specialty crops like berries are going to bring growers an added value and will also help CEA become more mainstream,” says Brandon.

For more information:
Brandon Huber, Ph.D. Plant Scientist
Nick Genty, co-founder and CEO
AgEye Tech 

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