Directly measuring the health of a plant is the best way to ensure high productivity, says Fabrizio Ticchiarelli, Gardin’s Lead Biologist, about the the company’s sensors.
Since Gardin first spoke in the REAP 2021 Start-Up Showcase, it has been successful in raising $10.8M to develop a plant stress detector, and it is returning to REAP as an exhibitor this year to discuss progress.
Fabrizio explains how the technology is helping to ‘Make Sense of Agriculture’, the theme of REAP 2022: “We are developing a system that will give farmers easily actionable insights by revealing how their crops are responding to the environment in real-time, before any visible changes to the canopy happen.”
Early alert of problems
Fabrizio appreciates that farmers are time-poor.
“The aim is to direct farm managers to the cause of growth issues, unlocking the potential for higher yield and better crop quality. The Gardin technology makes farmers aware of problems as early as possible, and helps to narrow down the causes, which in turn makes maintaining a high performing farm more manageable.
“We are shifting the focus from measuring and controlling the environmental parameters to measuring crop health, automatically and directly in the field.”
Monitoring plant stress
Photosynthesis is so fundamental to health that it is linked to many molecular pathways in the plant. If a plant is stressed or limited by suboptimal growth conditions, it diverts energy away from growth and towards other processes to compensate. The Gardin device picks up that change by monitoring chlorophyll fluorescence.
“We use computer vision to assess where the changes are happening” Fabrizio explains. “For example, if they manifest first in younger or older leaves or if they are specific to a certain part of the plant. By looking at changes in the photosynthetic signal we will be able to determine what type of stress is occurring and how to get things back on track.”
The predictive power of the tool relies on data, so Gardin is currently building up its datasets for several uses: to optimise light usage in vertical farming; to identify where stress is occurring across a crop for precise interventions; and to forecast yield.
Commercialisation for covered crops
The company has developed a sensing technology for controlled environments and is now focusing on commercialising its early warning system in vertical farms and greenhouses.
Fabrizio continues: “The Gardin sensors measure a small number of parameters that are essential to plant health and productivity. We then run the complex statistical analysis ourselves to extract useful insights for our clients.
“These valuable nuggets of information are then surfaced to the growers via our user interface, in the form of simple visuals and alerts. Everything about the user interface is tailored around the client’s facility, so that end-users get alerts in a language they recognise.
“We think this is the right approach to empower busy growers to produce more and ensure quality.”
From yield mapping and precision livestock through to digital twins and cloud computing, at REAP 2022 we will be exploring the technology and looking at the implications from a field to landscape level. Making technology farm-centric is core to Agri-TechE’s mission so a key feature of the conference will be a panel of farmers and producers discussing the emerging technologies and future scenarios.