iOLAND CEO Camilo Garcés © CompassList
Precision farming startup iOLAND provides farmers recommendations based on data collected by its IoT devices and refined by machine learning
Technological solutions and empathy might seem like strange bedfellows, but it was this combination that led to the birth of farm management technology provider iOLAND. The startup's founders – farmers themselves – had personally experienced the problems that their customers face, and so, took it upon themselves to develop data measurement and technology tools to address these issues.
iOLAND is focused on developing technology that helps agricultural technicians and engineers obtain information on different variables to reduce the use of inefficient or unnecessary products. Samplers, the solution developed by iOLAND, reduces environmental pollution and variable production costs by facilitating the work of technicians in the areas of efficient water management, harvest estimation, climatic events forecasting, and minimizing the use of fertilizers and other chemical substances, among others.
“As my family is also a producer [with a citrus farm of about 150 hectares in Valencia], we have first-hand knowledge of the problems faced by iOLAND's customers," the company's CEO Camilo Garcés told CompassList at the recent Smart Agrifood Summit in Malaga.
For the longest time, the market did not offer any tools that measured all the parameters that the Garcés family needed for their crops. "Therefore, we created our own and, later, decided to launch the brand, iOLAND, with the tools that were already working for us," said Garcés, who completed his master's studies in Agricultural Engineering in June 2019.
Software made by and for agronomists
He explained: "The ideas that generated our tools stem from the needs we experienced in the field. Personally experiencing the problems allows us to have a much clearer view of the market.
"In this sense, our process is inverse to those of other technology-developing companies.”
iOLAND was launched at the end of 2018 by a young team comprising agricultural technician Ferrán Fernández Alemany, who is in charge of R&D and technical developments; agricultural engineer Vicente Caballer Hostalet, who focuses on business development as the brand manager; and agronomist María Mora who serves as the startup's consultant.
The startup was spun off from an innovation project by the R&D department of phytosanitary product maker Fitogar S.L, which has been in the agricultural sector for 40 years. Now positioned as a technical advisory company, Fitogar invests more than 50% of its revenue in R&D. Its senior staff members have 25 years of advisory experience with respect to citrus, avocado and pineapple plantations.
“What was in the market was mainly the work of computer scientists, which lacked a lot of the details that could let us see how the plant was behaving at all times. Our tool has all the needed variables so an agronomist can get much more information,” Garcés added.
Applying data in the field
iOLAND's Samplers solution consists of hardware and software components. iOLAND markets the software as a mobile application that the user can deploy upon downloading. Thanks to this software, it is possible to geolocate data. In order to do so, it is necessary to determine the variables – with at least one variable needed – and the specialist in the field has to indicate the levels of each variable – ranging from one to five, with five being the highest – at different geographical points.
"By geolocating all these points, the app generates an interpolation map, which in turn can be loaded into a machine so that variable doses can be applied for the different points," said Garcés.
“For example, if we are treating pests, the variable may be attack levels. Then, thanks to the interpolation map, the necessary treatment dosage – of phytosanitary products, in this case – can be applied to each point according to its requirement.”
The Samplers software meets the needs of Fede Pulverizadores, an agricultural company specialising in machinery that protects special crops. Thanks to funding from Horizon 2020, a European Union research and innovation program that takes ideas from laboratory to market, iOLAND's Samplers software will be implemented in Fede Pulverizadores' machinery.
"The client is able to apply variable treatment dosages with their machinery at various points on the same plot of land, and our application is able to tell them how much to apply at each point," said Garcés.
The Samplers hardware deploys sensors and data loggers in a very precise Global Navigation Satellite System device and a handsfree terminal that is strapped onto the user’s arm – so farmers can go on about with their farming tasks unhindered – to determine the location of different points. When used together with the app, the Samplers hardware, or probe, gives the additional advantages of providing coverage where there is no mobile signal and enabling customization.
"We are currently working with Australian probes, but if the customer is interested in an American or a South African probe, we can provide it,” Garcés said.
Resources, partners, overseas growth
While iOLAND's tools are applicable to any type of crop, the startup initially targeted the citrus market, mainly in the Valencian community and in Andalusia where 80% of its customers are located, because it is a market its parent company, Fitogar, has had extensive experience in.
With the support of the Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness (IVACE), iOLAND also set out to achieve its objective of reducing the cost of crops per kilogram by increasing productivity.
After bootstrapping an initial €500,000 in investments to launch the iOLAND brand, “now, more than just money, we are looking for contacts and help [partners] to launch our products," Garcés said.
"In fact, sometimes, we do not have enough resources to meet the demand, he added, referring to orders streaming in from farms, other agri-businesses and technicians. The global food and agriculture technology and products market size is projected to grow to US$729.5bn by 2023 from US$494.9bn in 2018 at a CAGR of 8.1%.
“I personally think that in 10 years, agriculture will be totally different from what it is now," Garcés continued. "It is becoming more professional and technology is growing due to agronomic and legal reasons. Soon, crop water records and phytosanitary products records will be mandatory."
In the short and medium term, iOLAND’s goal is to become the national benchmark for the sector; and in its third or fourth year, the startup plans to make the leap internationally. Already "last year, we established contacts with Australian farmers and tested all our technology there,” Garcés said.
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