Farmers have traditionally fertilised their crops by guesswork, based on last season's experience and have, occasionally, bagged soil samples and taken them to often distant labs to obtain rather imprecise data on soil and plant nutrition.
Tests were inaccurate, not timely and not taken from identical areas. The results were inadequate for calculating how much fertiliser the crops needed, usually resulting in over fertilisation.
In today's unstable weather, production costs are climbing and profits eroded. Farmers require more accurate data on their crops and soil to calculate optional fertiliser quantities.
Croptimal offers a solution to this quandary. Its laboratory optimises the basic nutrition, and the micro and macro elements of several components: leaf plant tissue, soil and water. Laboratory services include collecting samples and preparing them for analysis. An agronomist then studies the results and the farmer receives recommendations the following day, thus facilitating on line fertiliser quantification.
Lab tests of this nature usually take about two weeks; Croptimal does it in ten minutes.
From the chemical industry to agriculture
Croptimal is part of a Business incubator, one of three industrial analysis firms owned by a Canadian company, Xenemetrix Ltd., which bases its technology on energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF).
Company CEO Doron Reinis says that it all began three years ago on a chance visit of a chemical company employee, who wanted to know whether it was possible to measure the quantity of potassium in lettuce. Realising the business potential of ED-XRF technology, constituted a quantum leap forward into precision agriculture.
The extended learning process encompassed work with farmers, market studies and realising that frustrated farmers lacked information. A meeting with Netafim, which had seen the beneficial potential for farmers worldwide, was an additional development incentive.
The lessons learned during the study period led to some important conclusions regarding development:
1. Correct sampling methodology is essential and must therefore be part of the solution.
2. Since different people will produce different results, sampling must be automated and follow a protocol. The resultant process takes 6 minutes, compared to 48 hours hitherto.
3. In addition to the soil, plant tissue must also be tested, which most farmers fail to do.
In addition to savings on fertiliser and costs, Croptimal's main advantage is that it can affect the plant's ability to absorb nutrients and thus optimise fertilisation. For example, peppers growing in the Arava region will not absorb nutrients at temperatures less than 7OC. Since temperatures can be forecast, fertilisation can be adapted accordingly.
How does it work?
We make seasonal agreements with farmers per unit of area that include sampling and testing frequency, types of tests and precise sampling locations.
The tester brings bar-coded sampling bags, linked through a smart phone to barcode identification software. The samples are tested at either mobile or regular laboratories and all data is sent to a Cloud database, where meteorological data is also stored (each area has a metrological station). The Cloud has an algorithm that correlates weather and fertiliser data, and this produces a protocol adapted to the farmer, region and local conditions.
Doron says that no other fertilising protocol in the world is as accurate.
He envisages a future in which robotics will provide the necessary fertilisation recommendations automatically; it is a future for which his company is striving.
Croptimal is still learning, progressing and developing, and this needs very deep pockets.
Croptimal started out in Israel and works with farmers all over the country and with all crop types. 'Israel is a good laboratory', says Doron. 'Our climate allows us to test small areas of almost all climate and soil types. That is why we started in Israel. We are progressing at a satisfactory pace.'