U.S. specialty crop growers are getting help in making their field conditions more visible with venture capitalists sinking billions in recent years into a growing number of agtech start-ups, writes Lauren Smiley at The New York Times. A share of this new crop of businesses is dedicated to what’s known as precision agriculture — the Platonic ideal of providing just enough water, fertilizer, and pesticide that a crop needs for maximum yields in an era of climate change and increasing global population. The United Nations estimates that the world’s growers will have to produce 70% more food using just 5% more land by 2050 — and technology is seen as the force that will get them there.
Among the new start-ups are those flying planes over fields to capture highly detailed images, seeing factors that the naked eye and even satellites cannot. The flyovers use heavy, sophisticated imaging cameras that provide growers with an unprecedented level of data about their crops, including where they need water or, just as importantly, where they already have enough. One company, Ceres Imaging, began in 2013 while its founder, Ashwin Madgavkar, a Texas-raised engineer, was working on his M.B.A. at Stanford University. Ceres uses high-resolution cameras to capture various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum — measuring the amount of light reflected by the crops in near-infrared as well as green, blue and red edge.