Feed the world without wrecking the planet… This ethos shapes and guides the strategy of The Yield, a leading Australian agtech business which uses data and artificial intelligence (AI) to help its corporate customers to grow, distribute and sell more profitability with less environmental impact. The Yield focuses on specialty crops such as trees, vines, nuts and vegetables.
The challenge that the world’s farmers face can’t be overstated. According to the United Nations, in recent years almost 690 million people have gone hungry and it is concerned that, without a massive effort, the world will be challenged to achieve the UN goal of zero hunger by 2030. The challenge of this is staggering. We need to produce 60% more food by 2050. Land and water are needed for food production. But we have lost 30% of arable land in the last 40 years – a trend that is accelerating. By 2030 we will have a 40% water gap – less water than we need – and Agriculture irrigation accounts for 70% of water use worldwide.
At the same time, if we are going to keep global temperatures within the 1.5-degree Celsius target set by the world’s community we have to reduce carbon emission targets to zero by 2050. Food and agriculture production currently generates more than 30% of those emissions.
The resources available to farmers are not infinite. As world leaders meeting in late 2021 noted, to protect the planet, more investment is needed in agricultural research and innovation to create more climate-resilient, low-emission technologies and practices.
Ros Harvey, Founder and CEO of The Yield said, “The bottom line is we have a compelling imperative, we simply have to do more with less and it can’t be business as usual. This challenge is the primary issue that drives us at The Yield – and digital technology and innovation is a big part of the solution.”
The Yield has developed Digital Playbooks that use AI to deliver highly accurate crop predictions and recommendations for on-farm practices such as irrigation, spray, nutrition, harvest and mitigating extreme weather events.
The Yield’s technology enables a 10% lift in grower revenue and a 45% Internal Rate of Return for customers in its core crops through improving yields, reducing costs and mitigating weather risks.
“Customers are able to scale faster by using common data-driven tools in easy-to-use apps, wherever they grow in the world,” Harvey said.
Our customers can then adjust their Digital Playbooks to reflect their practices and their knowledge about their crops and how they want to grow.”
Taking the data from senors and weather stations on farms, even inside canopies and growing tunnels, The Yield creates microclimate predictions using its patented AI-algorithms.
“Using microclimate data rather than traditional gridded weather models to power our customers’ Digital Playbooks delivers significant results – a 57% reduction in water requirements, a 47% increase in safe spray windows, 150% more accurate identification of extreme weather events and 20% improvement in harvest forecasts. This is good for our customer’s profitability and good for the planet,” Harvey said.
But value creation does not stop at the farmgate. The Yield also produces highly accurate crop predictions – for quantity, quality, and harvest timing.
“Food loss and waste is a massive issue with 30% of food produced lost from farm to plate,” Harvey says. “Using accurate harvest predictions, we can better match supply and demand. Many of our customers are vertically integrated, not only growing but packing, processing and marketing. With better crop predictions they can make better decisions on how to process, distribute and sell their products along the value chain.”
Harvey is excited about The Yield’s work with partners on robotics and farm automation. She sees this as a big step forward as analytics-initiated actions can be sped up while the additional data that the robot collects is fed back into the system to fine tune the algorithms in what amounts to a digital loop.
As Harvey says, “We are on a trajectory that will see us have AI-driven autonomous farm practices that are continuously adjusting to what the value chain needs as the season unfolds. This supports investment in the sustainable intensification of agriculture.”
The Yield’s customers are some of the largest AgriFood businesses in the world. They have a range of IT and data systems such as digital growing systems, back office systems, Enterprise Resource Planning platforms, customer relationship management solutions and HR systems.
The Yield harnesses the power of its customers’ data in its analytics. That signals an opportunity for Microsoft partners, says Harvey. “We want to collaborate with systems integration partners who can help us get not only data into our systems, but we can push data back into our customers’ systems. And so, we’re looking for more ways to partner with Microsoft SI partners through the Microsoft partnership network. We always ask ourselves ‘How can we scale faster through partnering?’”
Treasury Wine Estates; data worth bottling
Treasury Wine Estates is one of the world’s largest wine makers, and is listed on the ASX. It sells into 70 countries, employs 2,600+ people, has access to 12,700+ plus hectares of vineyards and focusses on sustainable growth.
Harvey explains, “We are rolling out Digital Playbooks with TWE including predicting their harvest for every variety, region and block across their vineyards. We predict how much tonnage and when it will be harvested. We start our harvest predictions 18 months in advance and give fortnightly updates from 12 months out adjusting for weather right through until every block is harvested.”
This process allows Treasury Wine Estates to fine tune its financial forecasts, pinpoint the time to harvest, and adjust its vineyard management and wine production accordingly.
“You have different vineyard management choices as you progress through each season. For example, you might prune hard and achieve higher quality and less volume. In a drought year you can decide to redistribute precious water allocations to the most valuable blocks and varieties. You also want to get the right mix in the fermenters that is going to deliver to the market the wine portfolio which gives the best financial return.’
Harvey says Treasury Wine Estates is partnering with The Yield and Yamaha Motor Co. in a trial for the use of spray robots in NZ and USA.
“The aim of the trial is to combine our AI-driven recommendations to tell the robots when are the optimal conditions in which to spray. We then collect the data on what the robots have done plus what they have seen to feed back into our analytics.”
“It closes the loop so that we can get to an AI calibrated system where our customers’ digital playbook dynamically adjust as the season unfolds to delivery on the market strategy,” said Harvey.
NZ Apples – Digital Playbooks and the pick of the crop
A leading global apple exporter based in New Zealand is already realising the benefits of The Yield’s Digital Playbooks. Use of the mobile app has become daily practice for customers.
Users start their day by checking the Digital Playbook on the mobile app to see if the weather is compatible for spraying to protect crops from pest and disease risk. Spraying is very weather dependent. Get it wrong and applications can wash off or drift robbing the crop of its protection and increasing the risk of it getting into the environment through run off and drift.
The grower also uses The Yield’s Digital Playbooks to determine the best times for fruit thinning applications. Thinning results in getting just the right number of fruitlets on the tree – not too many and not too few – so that they will grow into the perfect apple to meet market size and quality requirements.
Through accurate weather predictions that provide insight into optimal spray windows, the grower is now able to target specific crops and increase the effectiveness of sprays.
The results of the Digital Playbook speak for themselves, “With an NPS score of 9 out of 10, our customer has experienced great results with thinning this year using our Digital Playbook recommendations and microclimate predictions. It is really motivating to hear growers talk about how it helped them doing what is a really important job,” Harvey said.
New horizons beckon
This winning combination of expert insight, cloud computing, data and AI infused analytics is opening new horizons, says Harvey. “We are actively looking at creating Digital Playbooks for carbon farming. Carbon farming requires a change in farm practice, to keep more carbon in the soil such as using no-till farming and growing cover crops rather than keeping the soil fallow.”
Harvey says this could lead to farmers being able to build carbon credits to create a new revenue stream while increasing carbon sequestration in soils.
“AI and data are key to this,” says Harvey. “You often hear people say that data is the oil of the digital economy. But this is the wrong analogy.
Thanks to its ground breaking work, The Yield has carved out a significant reputation in Australia’s AgTech sector. It’s now keen to work with partners, with systems integrators and independent software vendors that can help expand its reach and build an ecosystem around The Yield’s vision and expertise, as well as Microsoft-based technologies, allowing it to scale not just in Australia, but globally.
Harvey says that each Digital Playbook helps to identify new opportunities revealing where digital platforms, solutions, apps could be built to create more value.
The Yield is also working with the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney and Central Queensland University to make agricultural data available to researchers in controlled settings so that they can develop new algorithms using real data.
Those algorithms can then be rolled into The Yield’s Digital Playbooks, tested, with results shared with customers and researchers who can continually refine the algorithms.
“Adding models and driving accuracy, actually creates this continual engagement with data, and creates value – thereby getting it out of the lab and into people’s hands faster.”
“We’re helping to feed the world without wrecking the planet.”