Digital integrated pest management: A conversation with Farm Dog's founder and CEO
By Thomas Grandperrin of UAV-IQ Precision Agriculture
This article is part of a series on biological control and Integrated Pest Management written by UAV-IQ (www.uaviq.com).
I had a chance to discuss with Liron Brish, founder of Farm Dog, an award-winning pest and disease management platform, used on about a million and a half acres in the United States, Canada, and across the world. We had a great conversation during which we covered several topics, ranging from how his interest in agriculture roots back to his grandfather’s experience as a farmer in Ukraine before WWII, to his vision of what he calls “Digital Integrated Pest Management, or Digital IPM” for short.
The challenge of technology adoption in agriculture
Digital agriculture, also commonly referred to as precision agriculture, is a common topic in the media and conferences: farm management software, drones, field sensors, artificial intelligence, etc. Yet, the reality is that there still are a lot of growers who struggle with its adoption or even recognizing the value of some agriculture technologies (also called “AgTech”).
To reduce these barriers to adoption, one of the key points for AgTech solution providers to keep in mind, according to Liron, is not to increase a farmer's existing workload.
"The reason we, at Farm Dog, started by building a field scouting software, is because in the US more than 90% of farmers are already scouting their fields, whether it's the farmer himself or the farmer's agronomist, somebody is scouting the field. We don't ask the farmer to start doing a completely new process and fit in an extra 30 minutes into their day, we just make more efficient what they are already doing".
Liron Brish, co-founder, and CEO of Farm Dog
Liron pointed out that during the past decades, many AgTech companies have over-promised results to growers.
"How many companies put on their website that they would help you save 25% water or increase your yields by 15%? No wonder farmers got sick of it. After a while they would look at this stuff and ask, “wait a second: how are you going to even prove this out?"
The value proposition of any AgTech solution should be simple to explain and test. In the case of Farm Dog, it is to help growers save time on a task they already perform, field scouting - and increase efficiency by providing easier access to historical information and benchmarks.
And while a decrease in input usage is a positive long-lasting side effect of the use of the software due to its ability to enable farmers to better tailor and target applications, growers will start seeing short term benefits right away, which is key to adoption according to Liron.
Tech companies, no matter how much data they collect, should also be aware that it is difficult to make accurate recommendations given that they are not standing in the field. Conversely, growers need to have realistic expectations and accept that technology is not a magic wand that will solve all their problems right away.
From "sustainable farming" to "digital integrated pest management"
"Sustainability" is a word we've heard a lot in the past decades, and it is rare to go to a field day or walk into an agriculture conference without hearing it. Liron likes to remind people of the fact that there are three aspects of sustainability: environmental, financial and social. In his own words, “sustainability is the way farmers stay in business".
Whether it is because of the farmer’s ecological conviction, a response to a shift in customer demand or to comply with new regulations, the reasons why farmers adopt more environmentally sustainable practices can differ greatly.
But one thing is for sure according to Liron, "as a grower, if you look at the longer-term picture, unless you adopt environmentally friendly practices you're probably not going to have a seat at the table anymore", before adding "at the end of the day, farmers and their agronomists are stewards of the earth and they need to make sure they can keep growing in their field one year, five years, and 25 years from now.”
When asked about how Farm Dog is helping growers implement more sustainable field practices, he said that scouting is key to reduced pesticide use, for the simple reason that it is easier to see what works and what doesn't work, and to quickly stop using inefficient or non-targeted solutions.
"Without knowing what risks you have in your field, you can't make a decision on what treatment to utilize. And so from that aspect, Farm Dog helps growers adopt the first step in sustainable IPM".
The Farm Dog platform
Liron is promoting the expression “digital IPM” and where he envisions that precision agriculture tools - field sensors, remote sensing, scouting apps, to name a few - are going to be connected together to provide the insight and data analytics farmers need to make decisions.
Pest and disease management decisions become more clearly defined and the corresponding action in the field will be tracked to create new cultural practices in addition to refine techniques such as variable-rate spraying or protocols for releasing beneficial insects, either manually or via emerging technologies that utilize drones.
Continuous education and collaboration in AgTech
For US growers interested in IPM, Liron recommends referencing the information provided by local extension services across the country so they can find information that is relevant to the region where they are growing, not just general information on the crop they are growing.
Growers should also remember that AgTech companies are at their service, and not the other way around.
"We recognize the challenges that the growers have from an agronomic, regulatory, consumer and financial perspective, and our goal is really to ease those challenges, both in the short term and in the long term," says Brish.
So farmers around the world should proactively share their challenges with the entrepreneurs of this world like Liron and continuously look for ways to collaborate to find solutions.
UAV-IQ is helping organic and conventional growers implement biocontrol in an efficient and cost-effective manner by using drones to release beneficial insects exactly when and where they’re needed to suppress pests.