Kibbutz Yad Mordecai is close to the border with Gaza, and it’s been the target of rocket attacks by Gaza terrorists for years — long before the current conflict. But that hasn’t stopped the village’s agriculture tech firm PhyTech from developing an innovative cloud-based crop yield monitor system that is in use on dozens of farms in Israel. This week, PhyTech is introducing its system to US farmers at a major agricultural technology show.
PhyTech’s PlantBeat service equips crops with sensors that record information about the growing environment and plant reaction to it — how much water a plant has been getting, how moist the soil is, temperature, and other data. The sensors upload the information to a cloud server, where it is analyzed and downloaded to a mobile app PhyTech users download. The app indicates how healthy the plant is and what to do to improve its performance.
Like a physician who monitors heartbeat, said PhyTech Vice President Itay Mayer, the PhyTech system measures “plantbeat,” the physical signs given off by the plant — hence the name of the sensor monitoring system. “If you are seeking to optimize yields during the season, there is no better sensor than the plant itself to help you make the best decision,” said Mayer. “By listening to a plant’s needs, we are able to produce a predictive model for precise decision-making. Through PlantBeat, a plant’s needs are identified before the stress is visible — before a health decline is visible — in the field or orchard.”
The low-cost sensors can be attached to sample plants to take readings within an immediate area of several square meters. Multiple sensors are set up as an array to get a full picture of conditions in a growing area. The sensors include simple lithium batteries which can last for up to a year, and the sensors upload the data in an encrypted manner using cell phone networks, so that the data is secured from prying eyes.
According to PhyTech, some 60% of tomato farmers and 40% of cotton growers in Israel already use the system. Last year, the company set up a pilot program in California, and it has proven to be successful. That led to the decision, the company said, to expand across the US.
First established in 1998, PhyTech, now with about 20 employees, was reorganized in 2011, when it developed the plant sensor system.
“We are bringing the ‘Internet of Things’ vision to the world’s farmers via a unique, in-season decision-making tool,” said Mayer. “The PlantBeat service removes the burden of data interpretation from the farmer. Providing data charts and graphs to a farmer can be time consuming and even meaningless if unaccompanied by expert interpretation and real insights. And by sending real-time insights to a farmer’s mobile device, we are essentially putting a 24/7 expert agronomist in the hands and pockets of farmers.”