In less than 10 years, the world will need 30 percent more food to feed some 8 billion people.

Israeli agricultural technologies help farmers everywhere in meeting that challenge by increasing yield, decreasing use of water and pesticides, bolstering crops’ nutritional profile and disease resistance, and lowering costs.

But no technology is smart enough to control the weather. According to IBM Research, weather is to blame for 90 percent of the world’s multibillion-dollar crop losses, and an estimated one-quarter of those losses from disease and infestation could be prevented through more accurate predictive models.

Maybe that’s why the Israeli startup Taranis was accepted into two prestigious Israeli accelerators — Microsoft Ventures and 8200 EISP — at the same time.

The two-year-old company, based in Tel Aviv, just completed a $2 million funding round supporting its predictive product. The system combines site-specific big-data meteorological analytics and real-time observations input by the farmer, via a mobile app, to determine optimum preventive measures against weather-related disease and pest infestation.

The Taranis app lets the farmer input daily observations to fine-tune the predictive capabilities. Photo: courtesy
The Taranis app lets the farmer input daily observations to fine-tune the predictive capabilities. Photo: courtesy

Israel’s pear growers served as the test group, proving Taranis 97% accurate. This model is now being adapted for pear and apple farmers in the states of Washington and Michigan, and another model for almond farmers in Australia. The young company also has customers in southern Russia, Africa and Brazil.

“Brazil is our main target market because it’s one of the biggest agricultural markets after the US, China and India,” says COO and cofounder Ayal Karmi. “We think it’s the right time to introduce them to our technology.”

Images, sensors, farmer input

“We take our own meteorological data including satellite images, and combine them with off-the-shelf sensors we put in the fields,” Karmi tells ISRAEL21c. “Our app asks you questions as you walk through the field daily.

“All this goes into trying to predict occurrences before they happen, to save money on water, insecticides and other chemicals. Using these substances preventatively costs about a fifth of using them after the diseases happen because you can use so much less.”

Ag-tech already has much to offer farmers in the way of sensors and smart management, but the four Taranis cofounders saw an unmet need for applying weather analysis to preventing crop disease and insect infestation.

“This is a complicated niche to predict,” says Karmi. “We have a team with PhDs in the relevant areas, a unique combination of R&D and software developers.”

CEO Ofir Schlam is former R&D manager in the Prime Minister’s Office and comes from a family of farmers. CTO Eli Bukchin invented meteorological systems for the Israel Defense Forces. Asaf Horvitz, the company’s software architect, has 20 years of experience as a senior software engineer and big-data, server and optimization expert. Karmi, a former product manager, previously developed anomaly-detection algorithms for the Bank of Israel.

“Our main enabler is our weather model that is very granular and can calculate weather precisely within a one-and-a-half-kilometer area,” says Karmi.

He explains that Taranis uses advanced forecasting and “now-casting” technology to zero in onspecific weather parameters critical to agricultural decision-making.

“We try to predict, for example, leaf wetness, which you won’t get on a regular forecast,” says Karmi.

“We take all these data sources and our system adapts and learns from the actual sightings by the farmers reporting through the app. So the system becomes very individualized.”

The system also alerts the farmer to upcoming severe conditions like frost, hail, storms, drought or heavy precipitation, and sends actionable insights to the farmer’s smartphone. The B2B platform is priced on a per-acre basis.

Karmi says Taranis could be used on any type of farm, but is mainly intended for commodities crops such as corn, soy, wheat and cotton.

As adoption of Taranis’s platform grows, he points out, “the company will accrue an enormous dataset of great value to agricultural insurers, the pesticide industry and others.”

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