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article imageWhy farmers need advanced imaging: Interview Special

By Tim Sandle     Oct 24, 2017 in Technology
Today, farming and technology are becoming one. A key example is with imaging technology to help optimize crop production. To obtain an overview of the agriculture imaging technology sector we spoke with Ashwin Madgavkar of Ceres Imaging.
Many farmers face issues like natural resource constraints, labor shortages, climate change, and increased regulation. Growers have a greater than ever need to work with agtech companies, such as Ceres Imaging to help maximize productivity while minimizing input costs, labor, resources, and waste.
To gain an insight into agriculture technologies, Digital Journal spoke with Ashwin Madgavkar, who is the CEO and founder of Ceres Imaging, an aerial spectral imagery company. Ceres Imaging helps growers optimize their water and fertilizer application.
Ashwin Madgavkar. Founder at Ceres Imaging
Ashwin Madgavkar. Founder at Ceres Imaging
Ashwin Madgavkar
Digital Journal: Thank you for the interview. What are the main challenges facing farmers today?
Ashwin Madgavkar: Farmers today face many of the same challenges they’ve always faced: they must figure out how to use water and fertilizer in a smart way to get the best return on their investments, and they must target trouble spots, pests and disease before those problems can ruin crops.
On top of that, there are a ton of products out there that claim to help farmers, and they must sort through them to find the ones that really work and help their bottom line.
DJ: How can new technology assist farmers?
Madgavkar: Traditionally, farmers might water a whole field the same way, or apply fertilizer in a blanket, one-size-fits-all way. Today, farmers can save money by putting resources to work in a very targeted way.
DJ: What advantages does Ceres Imaging technology offer?
Madgavkar: At Ceres Imaging, we are focused on bringing the best science to aerial images for farmers — science that has been tested and shown to work. That’s why we developed our own sensor rig to take pictures, our own software to create the highest quality end images, and why we have eight PhDs and expert agronomists on staff who know how these images can really help farmers save money and resources.
DJ: What type of imaging sensors are used?
Madgavkar: Our sensor rigs each have multiple lenses and capture up to six different wavelengths of light at once. The sensors capture a range of information from thermal images, to visible light, to far-infrared.
DJ: What functionality does the software offer?
Madgavkar: Our processing workflow involves a lot of advanced software. We use computer vision to achieve feature extraction, georeferencing, and matching. We use machine learning for segmentation—like picking only vegetative areas and excluding areas not intended for analysis. We use morphological algorithms and clustering algorithms to achieve this pre-classification. We also use convolutional neural networks to analyze down to the individual plant level and compare differences over time.
DJ: How was your technology developed and tested?
Madgavkar: Ceres began in an academic setting. In the early years, Ceres aerial image data was tested on almond orchards with researchers from the University of California system. Experts at Stanford helped shape the company, and Ceres evolved even more as part of the Imagine H20 Challenge, which we won in 2016.
Farming in Jiangyan  Sichuan  China. Notice the air pollution.
Photo taken: Dec. 6   2006
Farming in Jiangyan, Sichuan, China. Notice the air pollution. Photo taken: Dec. 6 , 2006
Mamin27 at en.wikipedia
DJ: Why is your approach superior to the use of drones?
Madgavkar: Drones don’t capture all the spectra that Ceres’ cameras do, and they can’t cover the same amount of ground as planes in a short time. That matters not only because it’s a hassle to move around large acreage with a drone, but because capturing images in a short time window is an important factor for quality: aerial images need to be adjusted for ambient weather, and a photo session that stretches across several hours leads to lower quality, less-detailed images that can have erroneous results.
DJ: What has the take up been like?
Madgavkar: We started with a lot of research to back our work, collaborating with industry authorities at the University of California Cooperative Extension. That paved the way for our success with almond growers, and Ceres is now working with six out of ten of the world’s largest tree nut and vine growers. Outside of our core area of California, we do extensive work with vineyards, and growers of fruits, vegetables and other crops in Australia and Hawaii. The total individual acreage we fly over each year is at 550,000 acres, and growing all the time.
WHO warned that tobacco farming had become the main cause of deforestation in several countries
WHO warned that tobacco farming had become the main cause of deforestation in several countries
INTI OCON, AFP/File
DJ: What other projects are you working on?
Madgavkar: The scientific approach we take means that our images are carefully tailored to each crop type, and even to each farm. We’re very excited about expanding our offerings to help corn and soybean growers; early results have shown our solutions to be incredibly effective at helping them catch pests and diseases.
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