Aker Technologies develops crop diagnostics tools to boost yields

As the global population grows and requires more food sources, the agricultural industry is answering the call to action with innovation that aims to be efficient, cost-effective and sustainable.

Aker Technologies is providing an “under the green canopy” drone-based solution for farmers to improve the way they monitor crop disease, insects and other common crop stressors. This technology guides farmers’ decision-making when it comes to managing their crops in hopes of producing higher yields.

The agriculture industry continues to become more tech-driven to keep up with demands for higher yields. Advances in technology have created many opportunities to improve farming operations, and with future generations looking for even more availability with tech, there are new ideas, products and services being developed every day.

Everything from vertical farming, new satellite technologies, and even the emergence of autonomous tractors have changed the industry in a matter of years. Aker Technologies seeks to do the same.

Based in Chicago, Aker had six employees and 57 customers in 2017. It expects to grow to more than 1,000 customers by the end of 2018, in part because of successful pilot programs in Faribault County, Minn.

Company principal Orlando Saez, a veteran entrepreneur, told an audience at the Early Stage Symposium the company has raised about $2.3 million in financing and is looking to close out a round in which it raises $4 million more.

Using drones to fly over fields and monitor crops at a level below the leafy canopy, Aker Technologies’ agronomists can identify areas in a field that may have an affected yield due to crop disease, insects and other stress factors.

Once images have been analyzed, and data has been gathered, Aker gives farmers the information they need to make informed crop management decisions for their operations.

The company’s free app, “AkerScout,” allows users to store and organize information regarding in-season crop damage.

In addition, they offer imagery and analytics services as well as their “Aker Pest Network.” This network detects and measures pests in the field using sensors. This service could also help farmers limit yield loss.

Farmers lose millions of dollars to weather, crop disease and inefficient practices. The biggest impediment is that agronomists and farmers don’t have the resources to observe what is known as the disease triangle, Saez said.

“This triangle describes the conditions necessary for disease: susceptible crops, a good host and the verified presence of pests,” according to Saez.

With a world market of $71 billion for crop protection, Saez believes there is ample opportunity for growth.

“Seed and weather companies have spent billions of dollars on GMOs to reduce host susceptibility and weather models to screen environmental conditions,” he said. “The problem is that there is no easy way to detect and measure pests. This is the problem that Aker solves.”

By Taylor Matrisch

Matrisch is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.