Startup Stories: Facing Changes in Agriculture With Remote Sensing
Many farmers acknowledge the use of Agtech but are unsure how to get started in precision culture. In these cases, specialized firms come into play. One such company is Agromapping who specializes in precision farming, data analysis and remote sensing in agriculture. We talked to founder Fran Garcia-Ruiz about Agromappings success story, the need for a change of paradigm in agriculture, the bottleneck for technology adoption and his advice for graduates who want to start a career in Agtech.
Please introduce yourself briefly. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Fran Garcia-Ruiz. I am an agronomic engineer and PhD in Crop Sciences with specialization in remote sensing in agriculture. After more than 7 years of researching in different universities and research centres in Europe, USA and Chile, I decided to create my own company, Agromapping, dedicated to providing consultancy to farmers in areas such as precision farming and remote sensing. Furthermore, I teach remote sensing, precision agriculture and data analysis in national and international courses.
Why the Agtech sector and what was your pathway into the field?
I came to know precision agriculture and robotics applied to agriculture when I did my bachelor thesis, for which I worked with different sensors for vineyard canopy characterization. After that, I was so enthusiastic with agrotech, that I decided to keep involved in projects related to 3D vision for obstacle avoidance in an autonomous tractor, drone base remote sensing, etc. In my opinion, the only way of making agriculture sustainable, both economically and environmentally, is by adopting precision farming as much as each farmer can. That is the main motivation to work with farmers to help them introduce and adopt precision farming in their daily crop management operations.
What is the biggest Agtech project you’ve led so far?
I have been leading several projects with clients, where we have mapped more than 8000 ha of forest to detect suitable areas for crop production. But one of the biggest projects I have been involved with consists of developing a platform for data integration which will allow correlating data from different sources, and representing it in a geographical space to provide insights to farmers at a very affordable price. This is a worldwide project which is being accelerated by the ESA in Barcelona.
To what extent do you interact across the world and how important are the international markets for your company?
I work at two different scales, from very local within 500 km from the headquarters of Agromapping, to worldwide in Chile, Argentina, UAE or Angola. For us, it is important to distinguish the type of service we can deliver to each of the markets, since what we can offer to close clients is not the same product that we can offer to clients that are 12.000 km from Barcelona. We spend time designing the services we offer to make sure that our clients get what they expect.
Why is now the time to start work in the field of Agtech?
Agriculture is one of the most important businesses for our society, and is currently suffering a big change due to the food demands of the world’s population, together with climate change effects, which are demanding a sudden change of paradigm in agriculture. The irruption of IoT and high tech in agriculture is a fact, led by technology availability at lower costs. Data generation is massive in agriculture, as important to generate good quality data, is being able to analyse and interpret it to provide crop prescriptions. We are at the very beginning of all this, and right now is the moment to start digging into agrotech to help solve new challenges that will appear in the near future. This is also a way of positioning the individual, as new careers are arising related to agrotech sector, and new profiles will be needed in the future.
The Appeal of the Agtech Sector
How do you perceive the current labour market of the Agtech industry in general, and how does it modify the demand for employees in your company at the moment?
New profiles are arising, but usually the agronomic background is missing. There is demand for young people with new skills, especially in the technological understanding of agriculture, but at the same time, we face the real world every time we go to the field. Field workers are frequently not competent at understanding new tools and technologies, and this is a bottleneck for technology adoption. We need professionals who can translate complex things into easy to understand prescriptions to farmers, altogether inside a comprehensive and user-friendly framework.
How is the Agtech sector going to change our lives and society in 5, 10 and 25 years?
Modern agriculture is suffering a period of professionalization, where small and isolated producers are disappearing, and farms are gaining size and being managed as a company, where every cost and benefit is tracked and analysed. In 20 years, big farms are going to be common with a team of technicians that will need technology to properly manage the different plots and crops. Technologies such as remote sensing, field sensors, robotics, GPS and others will be of daily use by technicians to better plan their actions. Food traceability from field to consumer will be standardized, and data streams normalized. Businesses based on offering prescriptions and information based on data generated by devices in the farm will increase their market share and be broadly used all over the world.
For enthusiasts and students interested in the Agtech sector
What can your company offer that other employers cannot?
Agromapping can offer a deep knowledge of customers’ needs and demands by working together at field scale and applying agrotech to its final use. This is important since being able to develop, test and get the results and feedback of any service or product, offers important ground knowledge that is needed if we want technology to be adopted by farmers.
What careers and fields of knowledge are demanded the most in your company?
Data analyst is one of the more important knowledge areas.
Which measures do you perform to promote the cooperation of your employees in different departments of your company?
We create multidisciplinary teams, where we incentivise cooperation and brainstorming to solve the new projects that come along.
How important are foreign experience and international communications skills to you in the Agtech sector?
This is basic. Agriculture is very different from country to country, and being able to learn new ways of doing things is of vital importance for self-development. There are referent countries which are adopting in higher rates precision agriculture and agrotech. From them there is a lot to learn, and having a strong network helps to solve new problems that we might face at home.
Which basic qualifications should an employee fulfil to get employed at your company? What are basic requirements to getting started?
Having a strong knowledge of agriculture, complemented with data analysis, GIS or remote sensing. Being a team player, organized and capable of interacting with farmers in their own language. Capable of delivering creative, innovative and engaging ideas, and eager to learn new things every day.
Fran, thank you very much for this interview!