Sustainable development is centralized around the nexus of three elements ─ water, food and energy. With the world population expected to grow from a little over 7 billion today, to 8 billion by 2025, demands for all these three elements are increasing at an irresistible rate. Furthermore, our world and our societies are inordinately water-hungry, while the occupation of agriculture being the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources. An unprecedented growth in the number of humans to feed, decrease in resources like fresh water and land, and these extreme climate changes will lead to the loss of local agriculture know-how, which is based on the centuries of local specific knowledge of how to grow crops in specific climates.
To tackle all these issues and with a vision to help the world grow more food with fewer resources, SupPlant – a real revolution in irrigation – came into existence. The ability to implement irrigation autonomously through AI, with the SupPlant technology, is already allowing farmers around the world to save an average 30% of their water use and increase the yield quantity (5-10%) as well as quality. SupPlant delivers an ever improving service of autonomous irrigation, agriculture consultancy and other services. The data from these plots, that don’t have sensors installed, is being validated through NDVI satellite images – that through mathematical measurements determine plant stress levels. This allows to validate conditions in plots where no data is being collected on the ground.
SupPlant is an Israeli based company, with offices of its sister company – AWL China – located in the city of Taizhou, China. The R&D efforts and the international sales are done from the Israeli headquarters while the Chinese company is manufacturing irrigation and fertigation control systems and selling large irrigation projects with SupPlant technology.
Data-driven Farming Technology
Farming has always required a hands-on enterprise, whether it is for reading the weather conditions or choosing a crop. Traditionally, when a farmer conjectured how much water a crop needs, he/she used to grab a handful of soil and feel how it clumps together. While today, something else is helping to enlighten the farmer’s touch: and that’s Data. Sensors, satellites and software are adding piles of new data to help manage water in the farm. From soil moisture to leaf transpiration, pump speed to valve status, a farm field is now modernized with the intelligence of the Internet of Things and predictive capabilities.
In order to help growers use fewer natural resources out in the fields, SupPlant has developed a unique artificial intelligence system named Growth-Based Irrigation – GBI™. GBI is the first commercial irrigation system that is fully autonomous, reactive to plant’s exact needs in real time. It is able to analyze data generated from crops through sensors and translate this data into irrigation commands. The system has been commercial for almost 2 years and is already sold in 14 different markets worldwide, including China, Australia, USA, Brazil, Spain, etc. The fast expansion of SupPlant is possible, among other things, thanks to its fruitful cooperation’s with some of the industry’s leading corporations, among them the Israeli agro-chemical giant ADAMA, Nulandis of South Africa and one of the world’s largest irrigation companies, NaanDanJain.
The ability to irrigate so many land and crops in so many corners of the world through Artificial Intelligence is truly astonishing. Also, with SupPlant’s, Big-Data Irrigation – BDI™, even the smallest growers will be able to receive an accurate and dynamic irrigation regime to their cellular phone, without the necessity of hardware in the field.
“We believe that the GBI technology is a huge step towards our goal. We are proud to be part of a group of Israeli companies that through the years succeeded in helping the world produce more food,” asserts Ori Ben Ner, Chief Marketing Officer at SupPlant.
Irrigation with Integrity and Inclusiveness
SupPlant has revolutionized modern agriculture by developing a closed-loop irrigation system. Coming from the background of plant sensing since the late 1990’s, they soon perceived that there’s a great potential in this system but it’s main barriers are the grower’s ability to analyze the data and most importantly to be able to translate it into actual commands of irrigation; the exact thing that their autonomous GBI technology does. GBI’s ability to constantly monitor all of the customers plants, soil and climate conditions has brought them some special recognition. Today, SupPlant GBI autonomous irrigation is a platform that fully operates dozens of plots around the world in a wide range of crops that vary from wine grapes to corn. The service is based on sophisticated algorithms and sends alerts and notifications to the farmer’s mobile phone. The system adds the appropriate recommendations such as guidance for irrigation management, preventive maintenance due to climatic phenomena or protection of the crops from devastation caused by disease or pests.
Besides the unique technological developments, the main factor that attracts clients to adopt the SupPlant technology is the human support behind it. Their support department consists of experienced agronomists, experts in their fields, who monitor all of customers’ plots and provide them with periodic professional reports on their fields and on the actions taken by their system. They are also intuitive in providing support to any issue, concern or question raised by the growers themselves, which makes SupPlant stand-out from their competitors.
A Serial Entrepreneur and an Agile Agronomist
Zohar Ben Ner (CEO & Founder of SupPlant) grew-up on a farm in a small village in the northern part of Israel. The intent to replace his Father in the family farm impelled Zohar to study. Agriculture engineering. Today, with more than 30 years of experience in a series of companies and innovations, Zohar is a well-known serial entrepreneur, who has made substantial change in the agriculture arena.
“When I met my wife, we moved to her Kibbutz – which was one of the 3 owners of Netafim at that time – and I began working in the R&D department at the Netafim factory in the Kibbutz. This is where I fell in love twice – with my future wife and with the world of Ag-Tech,” asserts Zohar. He founded the Greenhouse Technology Division of Netafim as a member of R&D team in the late 1980’s. In 1993, Zohar was sent to South Korea and founded the Netafim offices there, and managed the S.Korean and Japanese offices thereafter. After his return to Israel, Zohar co-founded an innovative irrigation control and plant sensing company “EldarShany Phytech” – and managed the sales and marketing of the company. In 2002, Zohar founded his own company – BF Agritech – specializing in agriculture projects and marketing of Analytic tools for plants and unique vegetables seeds. In 2007, Zohar co-founded an innovative seed-breeding company “Biofuels ltd” that later became Kaiima Ltd., and was its first CEO and then VP of special projects until 2014.
Today, Zohar is the Chairman and CEO of SupPlant as well as the Chairman of PhytoPharma Ltd., an innovative agricultural technology company operating in the medical herbs healthcare markets; which he founded in 2016. Under Zohar’s leadership, SupPlant has developed capabilities in the past few years of implementing and managing big scale agricultural Turn-Key projects, through its expanding projects division. Recently, SupPlant won the People’s Choice Award for new technologies in the 2016 IA Show in Las Vegas. SupPlant was also selected as one of Israel’s 16 start-ups that are “already changing the world” by ‘Deloitte’ and a leading newspaper of Israel, ‘The-Marker’.
With Great Technologies, Come Great Challenges
Being an agro-tech company with cutting-edge radical technology, SupPlant lists out two of their major challenges they face in the industry:
Duration of development: Every technology firm first needs to prove its technology. In the case of agriculture, every trial of a new algorithm or component is tested in a wide range of crops. These tests tend to take a duration equivalent to one season, from planting to harvest, in order to verify results. Every fine tuning then takes another season for verification. This is an inherent challenge for agriculture tech companies ─ on one hand operating in the high-tech ecosystem and on the other, depending on variables which operate on different levels and are affected by phenomena like climate, growth patterns of plants, etc.
Customers’ ability to adopt new technology: It is a common phenomenon that farmers ─ like any other kind of entrepreneurs ─ do not adopt innovations simultaneously as they appear on the market. Diffusion typically takes a number of years, seldom reaches a level of 100% of the potential adopters’ population, and mostly follows some sort of S-shaped curve in time. So it is a great challenge convincing farmers to adopt a technology that basically turns the most important aspect of their business ─ the irrigation regime of their crops ─ out of their hands and handing it over to Artificial intelligent algorithms.
Thriving through these challenges, SupPlant is advantageous with the fact that they come from the same world. The staff of the company includes 11 agronomists, 4 Ph.D.’s in plant or soil and executives with years of experience in the ag-tech world and agriculture background. This allows them to understand the main concerns and necessities of growers and offer systems and technologies that will give them value, while understanding their specific necessities. Supplant claims to know the Agriculture language ─ an international language that belongs to people who dedicate their life to growing food.
SupPlant will continue to work towards the expansion of the GBI technology into new markets and inside existing markets, since the market for the Autonomous irrigation technology is absolutely endless. SupPlant envisions expanding the use of their Big-Data irrigation technology, which will enable millions of users in almost any country in the world to receive dynamic irrigation regimes directly to their SupPlant cellular app.