The data doctor

Helping farmers optimise crop performance and reduce input costs

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Aerial data-analytics specialist Aerobotics made the news recently by securing a joint R8 million seed-funding round from 4Di, an independent early-stage technology venture-capital firm in Cape Town, and the Savannah Fund in Kenya.

Aerobotics has developed data-analytics platform Aeroview, which uses satellites, drones and artificial intelligence to help farmers optimise crop performance and reduce input costs. This provides farmers with the data to track crop health, growth and moisture levels down to individual plants, and to action this data through variable-rate fertiliser maps and yield estimates. We spoke to COO Andrew Burdock to find out more about this innovative service.

What technologies do you use and what are the applications for agriculture?

We use aerial imagery to help derive crop insights. The aerial data is captured by either drones (controlled using our flight planning application) or satellite, using visual and multispectral imagery. Using photogrammetry, image processing and machine learning, we then convert this imagery into analytics, such as health metrics or biomass on a per-tree basis. Our standard drone package is the DJI Phantom 4 drone with the Parrot Sequoia multispectral camera, this platform is extremely reliable and produces high quality imagery. This helps farmers with early problem detection, yield optimization and better resource management. All data is available through our cloud platform AeroView, where it can be interacted with or exported for use in third party software (such as variable rate fertilizer applications).

How would a farmer typically use your services as part of their practice?

Depending on the crop, farmers would typically capture drone data on a monthly basis. This is either done through using their own drone system or by connecting with one of our service providers throughout the country. Alternatively, satellite data is available typically every 10 days, depending on cloud-cover. Data is processed automatically and available to view within AeroView. The farmer can use various tools here to help interpret the data and identify things like problem areas within his fields. Further, he can download this data into our mobile application, walk into the field and make notes or take photos from the ground. All of this can be used to make better data-driven decisions and track change over time (benchmark performance throughout the season, compared to previous seasons, on a plant-by-plant or field level)

Farmers would use the Aeroview data to help him identify early stage problem areas in a field based on the health level of the plant or the moisture level of the plant. The farmer would then know where to focus his efforts instead of spreading equal effort and cost across an entire farm. Farmers can now manage their farms on a much more precise basis being able to even track individual trees over time. The Aeroview software automatically identifies orchard tress and places indices to each one of the trees including, location, health, volume, height and canopy area. This will allow a farmer to really focus on problem trees in an orchard and yield as much as possible from the farm.

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