May 16, 2022
Farmers are capturing information in new ways every day, and turning that pile of information into a decision-making tool has proven to be an even bigger lift. By utilizing sensors in individual fields, one California startup is aiming to take on the challenge of precision weather forecasting.
Carlos Gaitan, co-founder and CEO of Benchmark Labs, is aiming to turn local information gathered by field sensors into precise weather forecasts.
“We understand that weather models from the National Weather Service divide the world into boxes like a huge Rubik’s Cube,” he says. “Everybody inside that cube gets exactly the same forecast. And for people in agriculture, that’s not sufficient.”
The challenge in farming is the various microclimates impacting production. Every farmer can tell a story about a 1-inch rainfall that fell within 3 miles of the house, missing key fields. Sensors in the field, soil information and weather service data can be combined to create new information, Gaitan says.
He explains that Benchmark Labs can take information from an on-farm Internet of Things-type network, which may include soil sensors, moisture sensors and weather stations. Using that information combined with National Weather Service information and its own proprietary artificial intelligence engine, the company creates a field-level weather forecast.
“We’re not installing the sensors,” Gaitan clarifies. “We understand that there are already 22 million sensors based on a [University of California]-Berkeley study they did for us.” That’s a global number but shows there is already an installed base of sensors providing information.
Those installed sensors are from different manufacturers, which makes connecting the data more difficult. “They don’t talk to each other, but we see that as an opportunity to ingest that data and provide a forecast for those locations using those specific sensors,” Gaitan explains. “So far, we have integrated with leading manufacturers, and we keep doing more integrations every week.”
Initially, Gaitan says, the company is focused on those specialty crops in California, where many farmers have installed sensor networks. But more farmers across the country are engaging tools to capture weather data and other information on their farms.
Benchmark Labs can provide field-level weather information based on sensors installed on your farm. “So when a farmer contacts us and says, ‘Hey, I have a Davis [Instruments] weather station,’ we ask them to give us access to that station’s cloud information,” he says. “We can develop the forecast the same day or the next day.”
The cost for the service is about $500 per sensor per year, but farmers don’t need to sign up every sensor on their farm to use the system. Gaitan says it’s possible to identify those sensors most representative of field conditions. In some cases, a field with multiple sensors may sign up only one or two to use the Benchmark Labs service.
Managing water use
Benchmark Labs works with avocado growers in South America. The water-intensive crop requires accurate measurements of evapotranspiration. “Getting that right is key for their water balance and their activities,” Gaitan says. “Unfortunately for them, the Brazilian and Colombian weather services provide accurate information, but it’s a complicated microclimate.”
While the company is starting with specialty crops, Gaitan sees row crops as an opportunity. It would allow farmers to know the weather on a field-by-field basis. Find out more at benchmarklabs.com.
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