Israel’s crystal ball of agriculture

Israel’s crystal ball of agriculture

AgriTask, a ‘dream technology’ for farmers across the world to crowdsource essential data for growing better crops.

When major international companies came to talk at Israel’s Agrivest conference in Tel Aviv, better predictive software to minimize farmers’ risks was the most requested “dream technology” from Israel, according to panel speakers from companies including PepsiCo, Syngenta and Monsanto.

While no company can ever predict everything that Mother Nature has in store, one Israeli startup company, ScanTask, may have the answer to helping farmers understand the complexity of weather, climate change and pest patterns –– all in a cloud-based application that relies on crowd-sourcing information from global farmers.

ScanTask’s AgriTask solution can help farmers detect, identify and treat their crops earlier, letting them use less chemicals in the field.
AgriTask is easy for the user but complex on the back end.

Minimizing chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides — not only for the cost savings to the farmer, but also for environmental responsibility — is one of the goals that ScanTask’s founder and CEO Israel Fraier has built into the system with his team.

“In agriculture, if your neighbor has a problem it will pass to you, so it’s worth addressing the problem as soon as possible to avoid bigger problems,” he says. “We are transforming agriculture from a high-risk business into something that can manage its risk.”

“One must have control over all the parameters, including pests and disease, and have a regional view while knowing what stage you are in,” Fraier continues. “If you are a farmer and you are before your harvest, you may have a lot of pests on your leaves.

“Looking at initial stages, this could look like disaster, but you need to look at the chronological stage. We put in some algorithms and weigh parameters to help farmers with decision support information so they can make an educated decision.”

AgriTask, which is licensed month by month to any farmer or farming cooperative based on the size of plots, collects data from a range of open-source locations like geographic information system (GIS) and weather services. On top of that, it adds a layer of data that the participating farmers supply to the system.

Will there be a heat wave next week? How are the potato crops doing with pests? What does the professor from Denmark say about the moth outbreak in China? Does this chemical spray work on that kind of pest? This is the kind of data that AgriTask collects so that farmers can connect to their neighbors, to government-held information and even to university professors, to help them make better judgment calls on managing the farm.

AgriTask can help farmers plan for the future planting season, and save enormous amounts of time so that more land can be farmed, explains Fraier. Some alerts are automatic, and with the data the farmers can get a better handle on managing their annual output.

Taking the crowdsourcing data and approach into account, ScanTask compares itself to the enormously successful Israeli navigation app Waze, which helps people find a way around traffic faster. AgriTask, says Fraier, is Waze for the farm.

Theoretically it could be applied to managing and tracking any kind of agricultural problem, even diseases in animals.

Piloted at Israeli farms

AgriTask is currently being used on 22,000 farming plots in Israel to help decision-makers better optimize crop yields and minimize supplies and chemicals used on the farm.

The system can be accessed anywhere there is Internet or the 2.5 G mobile network. It has multilingual and cross-language support so farmers can communicate in different languages.

How do the experts who have tried AgriTask feel about it? Eli Shlevin is a seasoned expert in plant protection, who is using the system for various field crops and protected crops in Israel.

According to Shlevin: “AgriTask is an outstanding, comprehensive agronomic management system, which provides both sophisticated real-time decision support tools to agronomists and researchers and real-time practical agronomic information to farmers of any size, in any language, and in any corner of the world.”

After years in the making, AgriTask is ready to market globally. “We have developed this system for a long time because it’s complex,” says Fraier.

“It’s very easy for the user, but it has to deal with a lot of parameters. It’s even more complicated than medicine. If the conditions are not good enough, the plant cannot run away, so it has a lot of adaptive processes to take into account.”

Fraier is a serial entrepreneur from Israel who has previously built companies in electro-optics, medical software and medical devices as well as enterprise software. He is now seeking about $4 million to take AgriTask to the next level.

ScanTask was founded in 2008 in Holon, Israel, and employs 10 people. It boasts a $650 million no-strings grant from an EU program called Galileo.

Written by Rivka Borochov