If centuries of agriculture have taught humanity anything, it is the fact that rich, biodiverse topsoil produces increased yield and increases the quality of the crop. Topsoil is considered the quintessential requirement for fruitful farming, forming the organic layer of the land composition and housing essential nutrients required for crop cultivation. Ninety eight percent of the crops consumed grow on the upper 3 inches of topsoil.
However, in the last 100 years alone, the world has lost nearly 30 to 50 percent of its topsoil, even across some tropical bio-diversities such as southern Asia, due to urbanization and substandard agricultural practices. The integrity of the topsoil is of paramount importance to agriculturists worldwide, which has become a global concern in the current day and age. These factors have caused soil erosion, further degrading the quality of crops and the fertility of the land. “Due to improper soil management, productivity per acre of land diminishes,” says Jon Trask, Co-Founder & CEO of Dimitra, a data-driven agriculture technology company. By ensuring efficient soil management, bolstered by healthy farming practices, Trask’s business helps agriculturists thrive through precision farming, thereby upholding the critical drivers of agriculture: Transparency, Sustainability, Traceability, and Provenance.
A Touch of Technology
Upon engaging with a farmer, Dimitra defines the farming goals of an agriculturist, which serves as a blueprint for the company’s technological deployments. “Let us look at a pepper farmer growing jalapeno peppers, for example,” begins Trask. “There are definitive soil conditions and nutrients that are conducive to growing peppers, as is with any crop in the world across any geography. Ensuring these ideal conditions is the first step to farming.” Dimitra has developed a platform that takes into account these definitive farming goals to help farmers achieve two distinct objectives:
1) Obtain the most biodiverse and rich soil conditions that a farmer can attain to increase yield.
2) Ensure soil fertility in harmony with nature, steering clear of any harmful substances that could harm the environment.
Adopting a regenerative philosophy to farming, Dimitra charts a soil remediation plan, providing an ongoing roadmap to help farmers consistently improve their crop yield. The company achieves this by retaining a bird’s eye view on the topology of the agricultural land, from a comprehensive view obtained through satellites and drones to a much more granular perspective obtained through IoT (Internet of Things) sensors and AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies.
To start, the company has adopted a model tapping information from millions of virtual weather stations to provide geographical weather insights based on extrapolations from nearby weather stations. This model also uses a wide variety of satellite agricultural indices for spatial and temporal analyses to extract the most relevant information from satellite data. Dimitra analyses soil and vegetation to generate a dataset developed through satellite imagery and spectroscopic signatures, calibrating and correlating with ground data samples and laboratory analysis. These data sets are then fed into practical machine learning models (empirical and dynamic crop models) to derive actionable insights for smart and sustained agricultural practices. By analyzing weather data, topographical data, and crop performance requirements, Dimitra recommends farmers on the best practices needed for efficient cultivation.
An example of such a collaboration can be observed through Dimitra’s current initiative of assisting over 1.3 million farms in India with their soil assessment and remediation needs.
Actualizing Smart Farming through AI
When considering a variety of parameters for soil assessment and remediation, Dimitra packages recommendations combining different services, each customized to enhance farm performance. Once Dimitra is fed with the correct data, it begins learning from the farmers’ inputs and creates a model which produces outputs in recommendations on-farm management, alerts, notifications, and reports. For example, Dimitra sends farmers alerts for the best times to plant and harvest by running time-series analyses over the historical satellite data, seasonal information, and the current weather conditions/forecast, alongside phenological developments of crops. To derive actionable insights, Dimitra also combines satellite and drone spectral signatures with soil or vegetation properties, such as nutrient concentrations, pH, soil organic matter, and soil stability and capacity. The company aggregates all this information, including the historical data from satellites, which in most cases is freely available (e.g., Sentinel 1 and 2, Landsat 7 and 8, etc.) for the last 5 or 10 seasons along with current phenological data to determine the precise regions in a field which consistently produce lower yields to recommend fertilization treatments.
We Work With Not For-Profits, NGO's, and Governments to Find Ways to Deliver the Mobile Tools Into the Hands of the World’s Most Needing Farmers Free of Charge
Likewise, Dimitra regularly monitors fields to detect pest and disease outbreaks with geographical precision. Upon inspection and based on the necessity, the company’s precision farming platform sends alerts to the farmers in accordance with actual regions in the field where the farmer needs to spray herbicides or pesticides. Additionally, Dimitra runs crop models to recommend specific doses for spraying. This type of precision agriculture, of only acting on the specific area that needs spraying and with the proper doses, often results in significant savings for the farmer and less contaminated products and the environment. Dimitra focuses on helping farmers maximize their yield and quality, minimizing their risks and cost, and providing many efficient services to governments. For example, by using satellite data, the company provides governments with insights on the compliance of deforestation quotas or rates and information related to the rotation of crops that some governments require minimizing the development of pests and diseases.
In addition to leveraging effective Data Analytics technologies to improve the livelihood of Smallholder Farmers worldwide, Dimitra also makes the resulting mathematical models and statistical inferences available to agricultural and economic research programs around the world. This enables an improved global collaborative effort involving national, corporate, and university-level scientific development.
We Focus on the Agricultural and Food Chain Niche
“We focus on the agricultural and food chain niche,” adds the CEO. “Combining practical experience with Data Analytics requires the combination of industry experts with Data Scientists. We have an amazing team that combines Ph.D. data scientists with Ph.D. Agronomists, Geneticists, and Livestock Experts and surround them with a great cast of analysts, developers, and project management professionals.”
Providing insights to key stakeholders is just one of the many benefits proffered by Dimitra within the agricultural community. The Connected Farmer platform is directly aimed at the world’s 570 million smallholders and family farms, which provides many benefits. The solution incentivizes the platform’s usage, rewarding farmers’ behavior that maximizes farming results. Farmers can earn points by registering and managing livestock and crops, using the marketplace, and providing data; Dimitra tokens ($DMTR) and points can be utilized to purchase agricultural services from other members of the Dimitra Ecosystem. Collectively, the overall usage of the platform assists farmers in developing the businesses of ecosystem members and creates a sustainable network economy within the ecosystem. “We work with not-for profits, NGO's, and governments to find ways to deliver the mobile tools into the hands of the world’s farmer in most need of most needing farmers free of charge. For example, if we can generate benefits for the farmer, that also generates benefits for the government commercially, why not provide the app for free,” substantiates Trask.
The company and its decision-makers firmly believe that if they can generate benefits for the farmer, the collective effort would also commercially generate benefits for the government. With this forethought, the company decided to offer the application and its myriad of functions accessible to farmers worldwide.
A Farmer’s Friend
Alongside the Connected Farmer application, the company maximizes the affordability of its solutions by offering free plans and then providing the option to scale higher based on farmers’ necessity. More importantly, Dimitra understands the technological limitations of agriculturists, and as a result, offers feature-rich solutions through user friendly web and mobile interfaces. Irrespective of the size of farms, Dimitra collaborates with agriculturists of different types, from small-scale farmers to large governments. Dimitra boasts a global presence across 75 countries with corresponding local expertise and a global sharing of successful strategies through a value-driven portfolio of solutions.