Green spin: new technologies to promote precision farming
What is the ideal time for sowing and harvesting? How much fertilizer is needed? Is the use of pesticides justified? Mofato, the new web application developed by the German startup Green spin, can provide farmers with specific recommendations for every single field, thus optimising their work. Green spin’s algorithms analyse satellite images as well as weather and ground data from the last 15 years. And this is not just advantageous for the farmers themselves: reducing soil contamination, these technologies are also good for the planet. Read more.
The next agricultural revolution will be digital
In the last 100 years, agricultural productivity has increased rapidly. This is thanks to progress in the field of plant breeding and genetics, the introduction of fertilizers and other chemical agents as well as the use of ever bigger and more efficient machinery. However, intensive agriculture has reached its limits, and many farmers assume that the next agricultural revolution will be driven by data exploitation thanks to Big Data and Machine Learning technologies. Today, farmers already use automatic driving systems steered by GPS to spread fertilizer with unprecedented precision, and they also have digital tools that help them manage their crops. “At the Agritechnica 2015, the world’s largest trade fair for agricultural machinery and equipment in Hanover (Germany), farmers could find out about a veritable flood of digital applications and intelligent machinery. However, a direct benefit is often not evident for the individual farmers, especially if they run rather small businesses,” explains Dr. Sebastian Fritsch, Operational Director of Green spin. “In many cases, the editor or vendor of the systems is the only winner. Intelligent machinery or free applications collect all kinds of data from the users, which is to improve the tools and ensure the editors’ market position in the future. In the worst case, users become dependent on particular editors, who in the end might even take advantage of this this unbalanced relationship. And this means nothing good, neither for the farmers, nor for end-customers.” For all these reasons, green spin has come up with an alternative to the established editors. A solution that uses data from freely accessible sources, without pinning farmers down.
Farmers reduce soil contamination while increasing yields
In 2012, while still being employed at the University of Würzburg (Bavaria), Dr. Sebastian Fritsch and Gunther Schorcht, co-founders of green spin, decided to put theory into practice and to found their own startup company. They were joined by Clemens Delatrée, who had worked as an environmental consultant in the private sector before. In those days they were granted a founders’ scholarship by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie, BMWi) and officially founded their enterprise in 2013. Even today, they maintain a close relationship with the Department of Remote Sensing at the university where they conducted many research projects, the results of which have then become the basis of green spin technology. “We realised quite early how useful geodata such as satellite and weather data could be in farming. Moreover, most of this data is free and thus available to everyone. In reality, however, this data is hardly ever used because it is so complex. That’s how we got the idea of creating a tool which processes the data in the background and provides farmers with simple and workable recommendations, without the farmers actually having to understand the details and algorithms.”
The application mofato automatically downloads the latest satellite images provided free of charge by the American (NASA) and especially by the European Space Agency (ESA), which provide the application with information about the condition of various crops, and combines them with weather data to provide the user with the necessary data for every single field to determine the ideal moment for sowing, harvesting or for spreading fertilizer (as well as the amount of fertilizer needed). “Using mofato and its planning tools, farmers will in the medium term need less fertilizer and pesticide, while at the same time increasing crop yields. That’s good for the planet, and for the enterprise's bank account.”
A free application for small farmers
Since its presentation to the public at the Agritechnica fair in November 2015, the number of users is increasing steadily. What makes the application so attractive is the fact that it’s free of charge for small farming businesses. In return, the start-up can improve their tool thanks to their feedback… and better sell it to bigger farming companies, which benefit from personalised support and customised features.
“We already have more than 130 users in Germany. We are currently focussing on Eastern Europe, mainly Romania, and plan to expand to several more countries by 2017. We help these firms optimize workflow processes. In the future, we want to go even further and promote networking between the individual farms. This is to create a big network for growers who wish to exchange experiences and support one another. We think that encouraging farmers to remain independent – both from software editors and multinational food companies, is a great thing also for consumers.”