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Monitoring crops from the ground up
Farmers draw on long experience with their crops to anticipate challenges. Now, remote sensors and artificial intelligence promise to supercharge their expertise. CropHound – the brainchild of Mark Elliott, a Northern Ireland agritech expert – allows growers to monitor their crops non-stop and address issues early.
CropHound comprises two components. The sensor unit features a remote camera and soil and climate sensors, while its supporting software uses artificial intelligence and cloud computing to interpret the data. CropHound's software can track growth rates, weeds, disease, and pests for various crops in fields, orchards, and vineyards. In addition, the system's continuous monitoring identifies emerging issues early, helping farmers nip them in the bud at a lower cost.
CropHound also compiles a vast amount of data over growing seasons, helping farmers optimise their crops to suit soil and weather conditions over time. That means higher yields on smaller investments. It also supports food safety protocols by providing an account of specific growing conditions for every ton of produce that passes the farm gate.CropHound has found buyers here in Northern Ireland and further afield. That's why we have awarded him a Gold Level Innovator Award. He followed the four-step Innovation Framework to bring CropHound to market.
Mark began developing CropHound when he realised that traditional methods of monitoring farms were becoming less effective. Farms are growing more extensive, and monitoring an entire property on foot is no longer feasible. Furthermore, the price of inputs such as fertiliser and chemical sprays rose by 150% in 2021.
Mark researched possible solutions. Using satellites and drones was one possibility, but this remote approach only provided images of crops. It told users nothing about soil conditions. Other sensors were available, but Mark decided to design his own system that simultaneously monitored crops and soil conditions.
Mark validated his approach by speaking to industry experts and scientists at the Agri-Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI).
Development & testing
Mark secured an Innovation Voucher from Invest NI to develop his concept and build prototypes. Next, he worked with local farmers to test six CropHound units throughout 2021. He placed the units in the centre of the fields to provide an overview and supplied a smartphone app to each farmer. Here, they could access the unit's camera and soil and weather data.
The farmers used the devices from January to November to test their durability in all weather conditions. The devices collected data and uploaded it to the cloud, where Mark could analyse it manually. The results were then relayed to the farmers' smartphones, where they could review the data and consider adjustments to their fields.
Two farmers that Mark worked with went on to buy two CropHound units each. His other collaborators plan to purchase CropHound units for the upcoming growing season. Mark has also worked with farms in the Republic of Ireland, where three customers used the system in 2021.
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