Plants having “A Field Day” in South Africa thanks to Israeli expertise
By David E. Kaplan
While South Africa poured cold water on the recent groundbreaking United Arab Emirate’s deal with Israel – expressing it was “regrettable” – Israeli companies are only too happy to provide water solutions to South Africa.
One such Israeli company is the startup SupPlant that develops a sensor-based system that autonomously waters crops according to gathered data, while optimising water consumption and alerting farmers of the status of their crops, the soil and the air.
SupPlant’s motto imbedded in its brand:
“More Produce, Less Water”
One of the biggest problems in agriculture is weather.
While South Africa’s regional rainfall pattern for the 2020/21 agricultural season is encouraging as the bulk of southern Africa is expected to receive an adequate rainfall throughout the growing season, previous years of substantially less rainfall resulted in adverse impacts on agriculture, water resources and hydropower generation in much of the region.
Very hard hit were South African farmers.
The SupPlant system processes hyper-local weather forecasts and provides the farmer with irrigation recommendations for a week ahead. As an example, when a large heat wave is approaching, its system will alert the farmer and recommend the necessary steps needed to overcome this heat wave without suffering crop damage while maintaining a reasonable use of water. SupPlant has accumulated years of experience in dealing with extreme weather events around the world – including South Africa – and thus is well positioned to advise its farmers globally.
Back to the Roots
Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Afula in Israel’s picturesque Yezreel Valley, SupPlant has been active in the South African market since 2017. It started with two farms in the Western Cape that yielded impressive results in citrus and apples then subsequently expanded to the county’s northernmost province of Limpopo.
SupPlant’s system assists farmers by providing the tools to maintain a correct irrigation regime all year long. It focuses on the needs of the crops and the changing conditions in the environment. “Using our system, farmers can manage their precious water resources correctly, prevent plant stress, reduce fruit loss, improve production, and maximize their crop potential year after year,” says Ori Ben Ner, the CEO of SupPlant.
In South Africa, “We have been able to decrease water usage by 37% in apple crops, increased lemon yield by 60% and Macadamia nuts have been increased by 21%. This is worth $4500 savings per hectare,” says Ori.
Apple Does Not Fall Far From the Tree
CEO Ben Ner is following in the footsteps of his revered grandfather, Avner Ben Ner, who was born and raised to be a farmer in a small village in the northern part of Israel. It was “Grandfather Ben Ner” who came up with the original concept based on his experience – literally and figuratively – “in the field”.
At 88, the elder Ben Ner is today still actively farming.
Very proudly CEO Ori reveals that “all of the experiments and R&D is done on grandfather’s original plot.”
Today, with climates so unpredictable that can change so rapidly, “we have to rely on the available technologies to communicate with plants and prepare them for any scenario,” says Ori. “Our mission,” he asserts, “is to equip farmers and agri-businesses to manage their water challenges with the most relevant and potentially effective agronomic insights.”
Today, SupPlant is a world leading company in the field of “IOT” (“Internet of Things”) relating to agriculture. By shifting away from antiquated irrigation methodologies, SupPlant’s unique technology significantly saves water and improves productivity.
How it works is that its artificial intelligence system analyses the data from the crops acquired through sensors which it then processes to provide irrigation commands.
A lot of farmers talk about “sensing the needs of their plants” but what SupPlant has found is a way to scale the sensing: “We place sensors strategically which transmits data to the cloud on what the plant is sensing. It then translates that data through the use of artificial intelligence and big data to irrigation recommendations,” explains Ori. “We use all the data we have accumulated about 31 crops from 14 countries to create the best knowledge base.”
SupPlant has partnered in South Africa with Nulandis to service the country’s agricultural sector by assisting its farmers achieve two goals:
– increasing crop yield
– reducing water usage
Listening to the Plants
Farmers can now listen to their plants and hear directly how they are feeling or even likely to feel! SupPlant’s new mobile app will allow farmers to monitor plots and control their water budget from anywhere. The mobile app will also send real-time alerts to the farmer in case the plants show a high stress level as it continuously monitors plants stress. In addition, it will alert when the soil is too moist, or a technical malfunction has occurred and will send advance notice and recommendations for dealing with extreme weather conditions.
This more intimate relationship between man and his crops reminded me of in the 1969 musical western classic Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood singing “I Talk To the Trees”.
Who would have thought that in 2020 the trees are now talking to the farmer!
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