Plant world to get Israeli Internet of Things tech

Phytech is teaming up with ADAMA to bring its PlantBeat service to farms in the US and Brazil

Sensors attached to tomato plants. (Courtesy)
Sensors attached to tomato plants. (Courtesy)

Phytech, an Israeli agritech firm that is bringing the Internet of Things to the plant world, has teamed up with ADAMA Agricultural Solutions to sell its plant-alert system to farmers in North and South America.

The deal, said Phytech CEO Sarig Duek, is a key one for the company. “We believe that ADAMA’s grower-focused approach will ensure the successful implementation of the technology for the benefit of growers worldwide,” he commented.

ADAMA is the new name for veteran Israeli company Makhteshim-Agan — once one of the world’s largest supplier of insecticides and herbicides, and today a part of even-bigger ChemChina, which acquired the Israeli firm in 2014. ADAMA still operates as an independent unit, and is as dominant in the business as ever; the company’s 2014 revenues were about $3.2 billion, up $200 million from the previous year.

As a result, Phytech should have no problem reaching customers globally for its PlantBeat service, which equips crops with sensors that record information about the growing environment. The system keeps track of how much water the plants have been getting, how moist the soil is, the soil temperature, and other data. The sensors upload the information to a cloud server, where it is analyzed and migrated to a mobile app that Phytech users download. The app indicates how healthy a plant is, and what to do to improve its performance.

Like a physician who measures a heartbeat, explained Phytech Vice-President Itay Mayer, their 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,” continued 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, with multiple sensors set up as an array to get the full picture of conditions in a growing area. The sensors include simple lithium batteries — which can last for up to a year — and they upload the data in an encrypted manner using cellphone networks, with the data 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, which has proven to be very successful — hence the decision, the company said, to expand across the US.

Phytech, established in 1998 and now boasting about 20 employees, was reorganized in 2011, when it developed the plant-sensor system. As part of the new collaboration between the two companies, pilot projects are already underway in the US and Brazil, with more countries expected to follow in the coming months, the companies said.

Dani Harari, SVP of strategy and resources of ADAMA, said that “the company’s core purpose is to simplify farmers’ lives and improve their yields by ‘creating simplicity in agriculture.’ This collaboration with an innovative company like Phytech is a powerful example of how ADAMA, with its global, farmer-centric commercialization platform, is uniquely positioned to bring simplicity and the best of Israeli innovation to farmers around the world.”

Itay Mayer of Phytech added: “We are bringing the Internet of Things vision to the world’s farmers via a unique, in-season decision-making tool. 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.”

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