The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Krishna Kumar, co-founder and CEO of Cropin, a global agricultural intelligence company that leverages artificial intelligence, machine learning, and remote sensing to help farmers improve crop yield and quality and reduce costs. Kumar spoke about the data used by agri-tech tools and some of the challenges associated with this emerging field.
Gillian Diebold: What is agri-tech, and how is Cropin transforming this emerging industry?
Krishna Kumar: Broadly speaking, agri-tech is the use of digitization, data, and technology to help agricultural ecosystem players like farmers and agri-businesses increase farming efficiency, scale productivity, and improve the sustainability of their operations.
Cropin is a pioneer in the agri-tech space. When we started in 2010, there wasn’t a category called agri-tech. We were the first technology company to build a comprehensive digital standard operating procedure (SOP) for the agriculture industry. At that time, there was no agriculture-specific technology solution addressing the challenges faced by farmers, agribusinesses, and other ecosystem players. We have spent the last decade building SOPs, digital solutions, business applications, agri-knowledge graphs, and intelligence from scratch to address these planet-scale challenges.
There is an urgent need to transform agriculture into a connected, smart, and data-driven industry to address food security challenges and concerns related to climate change and safeguard the planet’s sustainable future. We recently launched Cropin Cloud, the world’s first industry cloud for agriculture. This has the potential to revolutionize global agriculture. With Cropin Cloud, we are bringing together a suite of agriculture digitization applications, access to powerful, ready-to-use data sources, and AI-powered agri-intelligence into an integrated, easy-to-use platform to accelerate digital transformation across the agri-ecosystem. With this, Cropin enables agri-food and allied businesses to manage the complexity of converging multiple-point technology solutions while enjoying the flexibility of choosing the right solutions based on where they are in their digital transformation journey.
Diebold: What types of data do agri-tech tools typically collect?
Kumar: Agritech tools interface with and collect data from multiple sources. In the case of Cropin, our platform interfaces with multiple agri-data sources such as on-field farm management apps, IoT devices, drones, mechanization data from farming resources, remote sensing satellite and weather data, etc. The types of data collected during the crop lifecycle include soil data, harvest quality and quantity, plot data, crop images, pest and disease incidents, irrigation details, fertilization, and chemical input details, sowing date, seed variety, satellite data, and various agronomic data records and observations at different crop stages. Cropin’s data lake provides customers with a unified view of all the data points in a single platform so that actionable insights and intelligence can be derived from them.
Diebold: Are there any types of data that are particularly difficult to collect or have low levels of availability?
Kumar: There are some types of data that are difficult to collect. For example, satellite imagery of farmlands is often blocked by clouds. Cropin has pre-built advanced data frameworks and proprietary AI models to deliver cloud-free satellite imagery. The common challenge with agriculture data is that this sector is one of the least digitized industry segments worldwide, and having access to quality data has always been challenging. On top of that, agriculture technology is complex and needs specialized expertise in multiple areas like GIS, agri-science, AI/ML, remote sensing, weather, and IoT, among others. Crops are copiously diversified, and the digital solutions required to monitor them need hyper-tuning. One can imagine the complexities of bringing all these under one digital umbrella.
Today, Cropin has successfully digitized over 16 million acres of farmland and transformed the lives of over seven million farmers. Over the last decade, we have spearheaded a global agriculture intelligence movement with a knowledge graph of 500+ crops and 10,000 crop varieties. With its AI/ML platform tailor-made for the agri-ecosystem, Cropin has computed 200 million acres of farmland in 12 countries, covering 34 crops.
Diebold: What types of clients do you work with, and what are the benefits of Cropin’s tools for each group?
Kumar: Our business primarily caters to three segments: private enterprises (agri-food and allied industries), governments, and development agencies. Our solutions are deployed in 92 countries across six continents.
In the private sector, we work with farming companies, seed manufacturers, food processing companies, commodity traders, agri-input providers, agri-lenders, and insurers. In the seed segment, leading seed companies use Cropin’s solutions for testing, collecting accurate data and streamlining across the research and development stages. Our solutions help these organizations identify base grade quality and improve profitability by fast-tracking seeds-to-market and reducing time spent on research & development while meeting certification standards. In the food processing segment, Cropin enables organizations to digitize their farm operations and achieve end-to-end traceability of produce from their farms. Our solutions help meet export standards, improve acreage, build brand loyalty, eliminate malpractices and reward the farming community for adhering to good agricultural practices.
Agrochemical and input companies use Cropin solutions to get real-time plot-level insights into input usage, field officer productivity, acreage insights, and weather & pest alerts. For agri-lenders and crop insurance companies, Cropin solutions help them to streamline their lending process, loan and claim disbursals, and monitor risk in real-time. Our solutions solve various challenges that agri-insurance companies face, such as risk variability, claim verification, insights into crop losses, farmer verification, plot-level insights, and regional-level insights, and help minimize the cost of operations by automating disbursals.
Government and public sectors are critical business verticals for our future growth. We help governments worldwide transform the agriculture ecosystem at scale in their respective regions, helping them deliver good governance, uplift domestic agriculture production, manage food security, offer critical citizen services (agri-food sector specific), and build a futuristic and sustainable agri-food value chain. Governments also leverage Cropin to help adhere to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), promote sustainable farming, improve farmer income, meet certification standards, monitor crop health, build farm and farmer profiles, and enable end-to-end visibility of farming operations.
The final segment, the development agencies, use Cropin solutions to help small farmers digitize their farm operations to minimize farm operation inefficiencies, thereby helping farmers improve yield quality, farm sustainably, boost profitability, and enable hassle-free financing for themselves. Climate-resilient agriculture is a critical focus in this segment.
Diebold: Have you encountered any skepticism of data-driven agriculture? How do you handle that?
Kumar: Yes, many times. In 2010, digitization and automation were completely unknown in a labor-intensive segment such as agriculture, especially in developing economies. Given that basic tech infrastructure and connectivity were non-existent, most stakeholders, including farmers and a section of agri-businesses, were skeptical about the success of digitization in farming. However, they soon saw the immense value of our digital platform, and we onboarded 250+ businesses and millions of farmers worldwide.
Enabling digital transformation of the complex, collective, human effort-intensive operations such as farm monitoring, data capture and management, field scouting, and farmer engagement form the base of our work. Today, with the industry’s first cloud platform, we provide a complete set of agriculture-specific capabilities with the specific intention of helping accelerate business growth and bring about a rapid and far-reaching digital transformation across the agri-ecosystem.