New entity providing X-ray vision for growers

Wireless soil sensors to make monitoring soil moisture easier

Soils can vary significantly in their ability to hold water and supply it to different types of crops. That’s why soil sensors are performing an important function for farmers supplying supplemental water to their fields.

GroGuru, Inc., a San Diego-based startup, has been working on a wireless configuration of soil sensors to help make it easier for farmers to monitor their soil moisture and maintain the monitoring systems.

“We’ve been in a number of field trials in the central Valley of California, mainly in perennial crops such as fruit and nut trees,” said Patrick Henry, president and CEO of GroGuru, speaking at a Farm Innovation Field Day at the Memphis, Tenn., Agricenter. “And we recently got involved in a row-crop trial here in Tennessee.”

GroGuru was one of three startups invited to present at the Farm Innovation Field Day sponsored by the AgLaunch Initiative, a Memphis-based organization whose aim is to help new ag-related ventures working with farmers in the Mid-South. Henry was introduced by Pete Nelson, president of AgLaunch.

“We do precision soil monitoring,” said Henry, who became CEO of GroGuru three months ago but has been working with the company as an investor and advisor for more than a year. The entity was founded by Farooq Anjum and Jeff Campbell, systems engineers, in 2014.

“These are very accurate sensors and very reliable for being buried in the ground for long periods of time for measuring soil moisture, salinity and temperature,” said Henry. He said the batteries in the sensors can function for up to 10 years without needing to be replaced.

“One of the things we noticed in the industry was there wasn’t a good complete solution that was highly reliable and took a big system approach,” Henry said “All of our backgrounds are in system engineering and sensing technology. So we built a system that basically is the only 100-percent wireless technology available.”

When the sensors go in the ground in the present configuration, they communicate over cables that connect them to a stem device.

“Then a LoRa network connects the stem to a base unit,” said Henry. “Each base unit can support up to 1,000 stems. Our typical deployment density in the perennial crops is about five stems per 100 acres, and we think it will be about half that in row crops. So our deployment costs on a dollar per acre per year basis are extremely competitive.”

Henry said the company is now working on sensors that can be buried up to 20 feet in the ground and that can connect wirelessly with a stem unit. “So the stem unit can be located on an irrigation unit, or a pole out in the field,” he noted. “But the poles can be removed when you’re ready to harvest or do other field work.”

The base unit Anjum displayed during Henry’s presentation connects to a cloud, aggregates all the data and can make irrigation recommendations to a mobile device such as a phone through a web-based app. “This includes machine learning which improves the recommendations over time,” said Henry.

“The results we’ve seen so far in the perennial crops indicate a 10 to 15 percent water savings, and these are with growers who were already using water very efficiently and up to a 15 to 20 percent crop yield improvement.”

Growers are also seeing improvements in quality. To learn more about the system, visit https://www.groguru.com.

TAGS: Soil Health
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