An Inside Look at Cloud Agronomics

This is one in a series of interviews for the 2018 Impact Challenge finalists at Business Today’s 44th International Conference.

Cloud Agronomics is a student-run organization founded by Brown undergraduates. The team met at a conference, where they decided to explore the viability of solar energy for sustained flight. As they discussed with each other, they discovered a large problem in the domestic agricultural industry: food waste.

The team explained that twenty percent of crops are lost to disease, and while there is no cure, there are preventative measures. Cloud Agronomics explains that if farmers were able to detect disease early, they could isolate infected crops and thereby limit the spread of the disease.

Traveling to Florida and California, the team realized that despite Florida’s optimal growing climate and ample farming land, California’s citrus production is greater than that of Florida. In fact, one hundred percent of mature trees in Florida have been infected by citrus greening disease.

What Cloud Agronomics does differently, compared to its predecessors, is that it utilizes NASA Mars Orbiter technology to aerial map disease. Current imagery has limited spectrometers that only identify five bands of colors. However, their technology utilizes three hundred bands of color, which allows it to improve outdated data. They have created hyperspectral equipment that costs $25,000 USD to produce, and they believe that with enough of this equipment being used, they will be able to collect enough data points to detect early onset disease. They also explain that current identification of disease is incredibly inefficient. Farmers currently use leaf clippings to determine whether crops have been infected: yet, with few samples and long turnover time, leaf clippings cannot act fast enough to detect disease.

In terms of funding, Cloud Agronomics has raised most of their capital through pitch competitions and college-friendly venture capital firms. With better funding, they hope to secure more hardware and employ a team of full-time engineers. Cloud Agronomics describes that their biggest limitation is time, yet, as undergraduates, their achievements are incredibly commendable. Hopefully, after graduation they will commercialize their methodology and analysis — improving farming as we know it.

 
 From left to right: Aidan Chodorow (conference director), Cloud Agronomics team, Moody’s Analytics’ Cristina Pieretti and Keith Berry

From left to right: Aidan Chodorow (conference director), Cloud Agronomics team, Moody’s Analytics’ Cristina Pieretti and Keith Berry