Farming accounts for a full 70 percent of the water consumed around the world. Irrigation practices are often inefficient and data incomplete, leaving farmers with high water bills or sub-optimal crop yields.
Aerospace engineers Liz Buchen and Adam Snow saw an opportunity to use Internet of Things (IoT) technology to improve this situation. Buchen says that once they saw the connection, they hit the ground running to figure out how sensors could help farmers improve their bottom line.
“We started calling farmers and talking to them about their problems and what information they wish they had,” Snow tells Hypepotamus.
The most common pain point farmers spoke about in these interviews was related to water: namely, how to track moisture content in the field to figure out optimal irrigation times.
And one study from the University of Georgia found that, on average, using moisture sensors improves crop yield by 10-30 percent while cutting water usage in half.
While there are existing solutions that use wireless connectivity to track moisture, farmers were largely unhappy with them as they were too complicated and too expensive.
“Communicating wirelessly in agriculture is one of the biggest challenges since there are wide, open spaces with a lot of materials or crop canopy in the way,” says Snow. “It’s pretty similar to wireless communication for a spacecraft, which we worked on.”
The rocket scientists co-founded Trellis to connect farmers to their crops in real-time. They had two guiding principles: making the solution both affordable and easy-to-use.
“We are always trying to make things simple and coming from outside of agriculture, that’s really given us the advantage,” says Buchen. “If we don’t understand it, a farmer is definitely not going to either.”
The affordability aspect allows farmers to purchase more sensors that they can spread across their farm, Buchen says. Five Trellis sensors may be the cost of one of its competitors.
The self-proclaimed “hardware-enabled software startup” uses probes that go down to multiple depths throughout the soil. The farmer determines how deep it goes to make sure they can monitor that particular crop’s root zone.
The moisture data is transmitted wirelessly to the cloud-based platform.
The farmer can easily review the moisture content of their fields through the Trellis app or desktop dashboard to decide when they should irrigate. This information can help them make decisions on labor, irrigation, and what trends are occurring on their fields.
“We’ve started to expand that on-farm network platform to incorporate other sensors that can help the farmer make better decisions such as rain gauges, weather stations, soil temperature and soil salinity monitors with a few others on the pipeline,” says Snow.
The platform has an AI component to improve upon specific crop timing.
The Atlanta-based startup works with farms of varying sizes in 24 states across the country and has tripled sales over the past two years.
The team is currently in fundraising mode, aiming to raise $1 million to scale their sales and marketing teams and provide more on-site support for dealers and farmers.
“We’re in the habit-changing business in agriculture. It’s very easy to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, the way your grandpa watered the crop,” says Buchen. “We’re trying to help farmers see the benefits of adding a little bit of tech to improve their bottom line.”