Using AI in agriculture to boost citrus yields

By combining precision agriculture and aerospace technology, two Florida companies are joining forces to show how using AI in agriculture can vastly improve yields.

The companies in question – Agriculture Intelligence and Satlantis – are developing offer a tool to let citrus farmers more closely monitor their trees, and manage problems faster.

The long history of science and agriculture

Science has helped growers fight declining productivity for decades, even centuries.

For example, researchers have developed disease-tolerant trees, and are in the process of breeding disease-resistant trees.

They are creating new nutritional applications to help existing trees.

But they still need more data on about how many productive trees they have, and how many non-productive ones.

AI in agriculture to more accurately monitor inventory

An accurate inventory of citrus groves and other specialty crops around the entire state is what Agriculture Intelligence and fellow Hub resident client Satlantis hope to make possible by joining forces.

Their goal is to shorten the amount of time between data collection and analyses, which would allow growers to take action sooner to save their trees.

Agriculture Intelligence uses a system called Agroview, which captures inventory data using drones.

The collaboration with aerospace firm Satlantis could drastically speed up that data collection using a satellite pointed at Earth.

“Our alliance will enable us to develop one of the most on-demand applications for Earth observation —precision agriculture —and we will do it in collaboration with a company that owns an impressive technology,” said Aitor Moríñigo, executive vice president of Satlantis LLC.

Satlantis is a space technology company offering satellites for Earth observation and universe exploration.

If it were to point its cameras downward, it could fly over areas that Agroview has already mapped.

It could repeat it every month if desired or after a major storm or freeze to capture changes.

“While drone technology can provide higher resolution than satellites, it lacks the scale that is required to cover large extensions of crops,” Moríñigo said. “The combination of drones and satellites covering these fields results in the optimum methodology, well ahead of the current state of the art.”

Applying AI technology for better decision-making

Both companies are deeply rooted in science, and their collaboration is a matter of exploration and innovation.

“The agriculture industry is already using satellite imagery to monitor crop status, but they lack the resolution required to extract detailed and accurate insights for perennial trees,” Moríñigo said.

“The combination of our very high-resolution satellite systems with drone pictures and Agroview software is the perfect fusion of data collection at different altitudes.

Add the software that is capable of processing all that data, and we transform it into actionable information for farmers and growers.”

Using Agroview’s powerful artificial intelligence software, the companies could produce not just maps but data demonstrating the growth and health of the trees, including nutrient analysis that informs practical decisions to reduce per-field fertilization treatments, a crucial step in improving sustainability.

“Without that information, the citrus industry is like a cardiologist trying to diagnose a patient without taking his pulse,” Donovan said.

“The patient might arrive pale and sweaty.

That could be indigestion, or he might be having a heart attack.

The doctor must take the vital signs to know how to treat him.

“The analogy is appropriate.

If the Florida citrus industry is the patient everybody is trying to stabilize, then Agroview gives the vital signs, the metrics,” Donovan said.

Precision agriculture meets space technology

Agriculture Intelligence’s Agroview is a science-first approach to data collection using high-resolution drone imagery, artificial intelligence and software to report the inventory and health of groves down to the individual trees and the leaves on those trees.

It monitors, analyzes and helps growers understand if their efforts are having the intended effect.

Agroview caught the attention of one of the nation’s largest crop insurers, NAU Country, and the company entered into a multi-year agreement with Agriculture Intelligence for what it called “proven, accurate, and consistent results” the startup would deliver.

Satlantis designs and manufactures very high-resolution Earth observation payloads for small satellites and is unique in its market for its specific characteristics of agility, spectral resolution and VHR image quality.

It recently launched one of its satellites from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“Who would have imagined an astrophysicist and an agriculture leader working together to boost economic development for the state of Florida? But that is exactly what they are doing,” said John Byatt, associate director of UF Innovate | Tech Licensing.

The technology is also accessible enough to have potential widespread use and is already creating a buzz with private industry.

“By providing full-field data – not a sample – and aggregating that with our data, we can help every single grower in Florida fight the battle and, hopefully, win the productivity war for citrus,” Donovan said.

Moríñigo credits the unique alliance to the staff at The Hub, who saw how the two companies could work together to increase their impact, he said.

“To see two of Florida’s major industries — aerospace and agriculture — connect to advance the scientific technology for the benefit of our growers, many of whom are struggling to make their bottom line, is significant and exciting,” said Karl LaPan, director of UF Innovate.