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​The Yield - Inside the mind of Mother Nature

​The Yield - Inside the mind of Mother Nature

As organisations begin to experiment with intelligent apps, The Yield founder and CEO, Ros Harvey, explains how the Australian start-up is racing ahead in agriculture.

Ros Harvey - Founder and CEO, The Yield

Ros Harvey - Founder and CEO, The Yield

“We work closely with our customers to design apps and dashboards that help them make those decisions faster and hyper-contextualise it.”

Oyster for entree

The Yield released its first solution designed for the aquaculture industry in August 2016 – specifically targeting oysters - rolling out to 80 per cent of harvest areas across Tasmania, as well as in Pambula, New South Wales.

Harvey and her team used Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite to power real-time sensors that sit in the oyster leases and analyse the water the oysters drink.

The information is ingested into Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, where machine learning and advanced analytics capabilities make data- based predictions that are shared with growers and regulators via real-time dash-boarding.

“The regulator was shutting down harvesting to protect human health, but they were doing it using rainfall as a proxy and that rainfall could be coming from a public weather station that could be 100km away,” she explained.

“We put a salinity sensor, together with temperature and depth, in the water that the oyster is drinking so as the salinity goes down, it is a better proxy for runoff.”

Using data analytics, Harvey said The Yield’s technology is set to reduce unnecessary harvesting closures by 30 per cent, saving about $5.3 million a year for the Tasmanian growers’ $24 million industry.

Such innovation through intelligently collating and interpreting data has resulted in both the Tasmanian and NSW food authority’s coming onboard as key customers.

The Yield intelligence at work
The Yield intelligence at work

According to Harvey, The Yield offers an enterprise productivity tool designed for the regulators, pulled from the same knowledge infrastructure and data.

“We also give our data to researchers to create new knowledge and improve things such as animal husbandry and disease management,” she added.

“In return, we can take their algorithms that they create and can put them into our product. We essentially create a mini ecosystem.”

Given that the oyster industry represents a niche market, Harvey explained that the initial building of the platform was part of a wider plan.

“We describe oysters as an entree to your meal as it is to our business,” she said. “Now we’re pivoting into agriculture, with the same underlying business model of measuring things at the micro-climate level that matters, rather than having weather stations that are miles away.”

All systems go in agriculture

Subsequently, The Yield released its first tailored app for the agriculture industry, available on the Apple app Store and Google Play.

“Our app focuses a lot more on what growers’ care about,” Harvey said. “It’s not just a weather app - the core part of it is that we have developed evapotranspiration that measures the amount of water that a plant uses.

“Irrigators use this to help them understand how much they need to irrigate.”

Harvey said the interface offers data showing the past seven days of daily evapotranspiration, rainfall and water balance plus the weekly totals for each.

Ros Harvey - Founder and CEO, The Yield
Ros Harvey - Founder and CEO, The Yield

“It also shows the forecast evapotranspiration, together with the rainfall and water balance for each day,” she added. “This is a model that we run every six hours and we’re generating a million data points every time we do it.

“Users can now get today’s evapotranspiration based on our accurate model of approaching 90 per cent and they could never get this before.”

Fast-forward to 2017 and The Yield is now headquartered in Surry Hills, with staff in Sydney, Melbourne, Toowoomba and Hobart.

“We’re moving forward with the release of Sensing Plus, which allows us to predict using artificial intelligence and then build crop-specific apps,” Harvey added.

But in keeping with Harvey’s character, The Yield won’t be confined to Australian shores.

“How are we going to feed the world?” she asked. “We need to increase food production 70 per cent by 2050, when productivity in agriculture has been stagnant for decades and when we have to cope with growing input constraints and the unprecedented challenge of climate change.”

This article was originally published in the February issue of ARN Magazine - to subscribe, click here


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