Around The World With Autogrow CEO Darryn Keiller
In the lead up to our Food Forward: Curated Networking Event with Autogrow on March 28th in Brooklyn, we sat down with CEO Darryn Keiller to get his take on the future of greenhouse and vertical farming technology and data, and why the company is targeting growers in the Northeast.
At the Food Forward Event, Darryn will be sharing his "Insights from 200+ Farm Visits and Solutions for the Future" -- revealing some of the pitfalls and successes he's seen firsthand from visiting over 200 farms in the past 5 years, as well as the solutions Autogrow is creating to drive the industry forward.
Interested in participating? Click on the button below to fill out a brief form, and we’ll be in touch about a free access code to register.
AGR: What exactly is Autogrow?
Darryn: Autogrow is an AgTech venture company focused on innovating sustainable crop production, specifically for controlled environment agriculture (CEA).
By sustainable we mean technology that optimizes your business to focus on yield, quality and predictable harvestesting, all utilizing the least amount of water, land, labor and energy. We believe that for our growers to be successful we must incorporate themes around plant genetics, farm management and environmental control. Central to all of these is data.
We are a leader in the research of prediction, artificial intelligence, autonomous farming systems and machine vision for CEA crop production – all tools that will have a significant impact (sooner rather than later) on growers, the technology, the crops and the entire industry.
Our message to growers is to ‘Think Food Forward’. Don’t be left behind. Be early adopters to the technology that is being created. Ultimately, we are about making the grower profitable and doing it in a way that has a positive impact on the industry and the environment.
Growers looking to partner with a company that’s investing in the future should definitely have a conversation with us.
What sort of technology and services does Autogrow provide?
We offer a range of solutions for growers. Everything from automation control of their hydroponics, climate control, irrigation or fertigation to data analytics services.
Every grower has a unique environment and the ability to understand changes within the farm helps keep crops at their optimum level. For example, temperatures in a greenhouse can fluctuate depending on direction of sun, time of day, location of crops (front, middle, side or rear), vent and door positions etc. This can lead to a difference in quality across areas. The only way to combat that is by using quality sensors and automation which can adjust the environment accordingly. Paying a person to monitor that manually, open and shut vents or turn on and off heaters and fans is money that could be spent on other things.
By analyzing your own data you can tell exactly what’s happening at all times and be notified when somethings wrong. This is a huge asset when you have extreme weather that has been plaguing many growers in the past few weeks and months.
Which types of growers should be considering Autogrow for their operations?
All growers – existing or new! We work with growers and corporate producers at every size; over 100 different crop types and in various environments including greenhouses, grow rooms and protected cropping (tunnel houses). We have growers in more than 40 countries.
If you’re a grower who wants to take control of your hydroponic set-up or manage and measure your climate and utilize robust crop data analytics (plant health, energy usage, water run-off etc.) then you are exactly the kind of grower we love working with.
We are also focused on growers that want to make sure the technology they spend their hard earned money on is set-up for the future and can grow as their business grows. There’s nothing worse than looking to expand and someone telling you you’ll have to ‘rip and replace’ your existing infrastructure. We build our solutions to be as flexible as possible to work alongside existing infrastructure where possible.
Why should growers even be considering these technologies in the first place?
Farming is getting more challenging at the very time when we need more agile farms that can produce enough crops to feed the world’s growing population.
Data = optimization. Optimization = savings, healthy plants and better utilization of resources.
We have some growers who use automation to focus on the timeliness of crop harvest. They get more money for their crop when it’s harvested within a certain time period and of a certain quality. If they can manage the plants so that both of those things happen at the same time then it’s added value.
Other growers we work with utilize automation to reduce labor costs (no more manual watering) or to measure their inputs against their outputs and where they can save money.
Overall though, a good automation system reduces business risk. When something goes wrong you need to be alerted immediately so you can check what’s happening and take steps to save your crop. If you measure the dollar value of what you could lose against the cost of an automation system that could mitigate potential losses, I’d be asking why you haven’t implemented something already!
How does Autogrow use data to its advantage?
The practice of leveraging data in controlled environment farming is very new. Autogrow is one of the leading AgTech companies to start exploiting it. The truly great news is that its potential to support improved farming practice is virtually unlimited.
Autogrow analyses all the data we collect through our controllers, sensors and machine vision technology to populate our software models. To date, we have developed machine learning models to optimize the environment, including micro-climate prediction. We’re currently developing models to predict yield and harvest timing, including postulating trade-offs between the two to support management decision making.
Ultimately, we are using those models to design autonomous and predictive farming systems that can help the grower through improved products and services.
What technologies and services are on the horizon at Autogrow?
The future for Autogrow is around predictive farming systems that provide full seed-to-harvest farm management and leverage machine vision, voice activation and other advanced technologies.
AI and machine vision will be valuable for plant health monitoring. Imagine early detection of pest and pathogens and what that can mean for saving your crops.
The year is 2024, paint us a picture of what a CEA operation might look like from the inside?
It’s 2024 and a winter storm is approaching. The grower is snowbound at home in front of the fire and checks his mobile phone app. Conditions are good in his greenhouse. The automation is triggered according to local predicted weather reports, screens are pulled, heaters are activated, vents are closed, and conditions are created to continue perfect growing conditions.
The farmer can see everything on one platform and control his farm accordingly.
Technology has enabled yields to double or triple with minimal waste. Water usage has reduced by half and run-off, strictly monitored, shows levels that don’t negatively contaminate surrounding areas or drinking water. Land usage has been optimized and consumers recognize the energy and effort that goes into growing and growers are paid accordingly.
On a wider scale, governments around the world recognise the need to incentivize growers for sustainable growing.
This is all possible.
Why are you hosting this event in the Northeast?
While the first indoor plant factories were born in Japan, it’s generally regarded that urban and vertical farming systems began in the North East U.S. and Canada around 10 years ago. E.g. Toronto, Brooklyn, Boston and New Jersey all have their champions. These concepts and farming systems have now spread around the world.
The region still represents a ‘hot bed’ of urban farms and more recently an area where many are educated in the use of urban and vertical farming systems.
The theme of my talk during the event will be: Insights from 200+ Farm Visits and Solutions for the Future. Essentially, I’ll be sharing some of the pitfalls and successes I’ve seen from visiting over 200 farms in the past 5 years and the solutions we are creating based on those experiences.
MEET OUR LOCAL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
If Autogrow sounds like a good fit for you or if you’re intrigued and want to discuss utilizing automation to optimize your farm, our east coast Business Development Manager Kayla Waldorff will be in the New York area at the end of March and is happy to visit and discuss solutions that could work for you. You can reach out to Kayla here.
Both Kayla and Darryn will be at our Food Forward: Curated Networking Event with Autogrow on March 28th in Brooklyn.
Want to meet them and participate? Fill out this quick form and we’ll be in touch about a free access code to register.