Agrifly: drones for crops

AgriFly uses drones to measure the biomass of crops, making it easy to see which crops are growing faster than others. Farmers can use this data to see whether their crops receive too little fertilizer, or too much. The startup is one of the first lucky few to start experimenting with the new 5G mobile network in this year, and in fact is the first Dutch company using 5G for drones.

Agrifly was founded just a little over a year ago by Peter Hooghuis and Wilco Stollenga. In May last year, they received the Audience Choice Award of the Anner Awards for student entrepreneurs. Their autonomous drones are fitted with special cameras that measure the biomass of crops, making it easy to see which crops are growing faster than others. Farmers can use this data to see whether their crops receive too little fertilizer, or too much.

Both founders have their own area of expertise; Peter knows all the ins and outs of IT and drone technology and Wilco is the son of a farmer and business student at the Hanze University.

5G Fieldlab

5Groningen, an initiative by the Economic Board Groningen, will transform the northern part of the province into a testing ground for innovation. Starting this year, entrepreneurs, 5G experts, students and other talent, will start testing new and innovative applications for the lightning fast mobile network.

Wilco was already involved in the 5G project when he started Agrifly: “I’m also involved in the initiative to bring fiber optic Internet to the northern part of the province and that’s how I came into contact with the Groningen Economic Board. They invited me to join the 5G project and the idea for Agrifly was also a perfect fit for the project, since agriculture is one of the five focus areas.”

Using the lightning fast new network will make things a lot easier for Agrifly, because the drones collect a whopping 20 gigabytes of data in a single flight. Using the old network, it would take about 10 hours to process all of that information, but using the 5G network, all of the processing can be done during the flight. The scan will be complete the moment the drone has landed. “It saves us a lot of hours, but also means we can have more flights per day, which means our prices can go down too”, Wilco adds.

Soil and biomass

The type of soil and the fertility on a single acre of land can vary greatly . “I grew up on a farm and still live there, so I know a lot about crops and agriculture. But what’s really interesting, is when you fly over crops and get a bird’s eye view, it really gives you a whole different perspective, because there are all these subtle differences in color”, Wilco explains. “And these differences in color actually tell you how well a crop is doing.”

The drones are fitted with cameras that can accurately measure the biomass and density of crops. “We use high precision cameras now, but the first one we used was actually a consumer camera that we hacked and turned into an infrared camera.”

Based on the data, Agrifly maps out which crops are doing well, and which could be doing better. “The crop yield depends on a lot of factors”, Wilco explains. “But by mapping out how well crops are doing, we can sit down with farmers, look at possible causes and come up with a solid plan. So using drones is only half of the service we provide, and giving advice is the other part.”

That way, farmers will not only save money on fertilization, but Wilco estimates the total yield can be 10% to 20% better. “Once we show the data and maps, farmers are very enthusiastic. But of course they’re also interested in hard data and figures and practical results. Last year was our first season, so this coming harvest season we should be able to see more exact results of our advice and help. That will give us a lot more leverage and proof of concept, so more and more farmers will get on board.”

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