50 Most Admired Companies of The Year 2019
The Silicon Review
“By combining data collected in farms across the globe, we continuously improve our diagnostics and suggestions.”
For farmers attempting to identify crop deficiencies, an effective and timely process is imperative to maximize crop yield.
In light of the foregoing, we’re thrilled to present Scientific Cal Ag, Inc.
The company has engineered a drone that flies, land, and drive to conduct further analysis (ground truth-ing) meant to reduce the costs associated with hiring crop specialists.
Scientific Cal Ag was incorporated in 2018 and is headquartered in Santa Clara, California.
Anthony Hall, Scientific Cal Ag, Inc President/CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.
Why was the company set up?
The drone concept was created within the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo School of Engineering. It is the only drone that can fly, land, and traverse fields to carryout further crop analysis. Two student entrepreneurs, Jacob Lindberg, and Kaveh Nemati, designed and built the prototype. I was approached as an early investor and quickly realized that not only did they need seed funding but they also needed my experience to get beyond prototype. We are currently pre-revenue and have demonstrated the value proposition to farmers with the wine industry given the close proximity to Paso Robles and Cal Poly.
While we plan to build our drone with sustainability in mind, it’s the service that we bring to farmers that create enormous sustainability. Our ability to identify pest and diseases reduces the number of chemicals used in farming. Presently, farmers apply chemicals to combat pest and diseases throughout the farm, although our targeted approach eliminates the need to apply a one-shot-treat-all approach.
What challenges did you face in your initial years?
Initially, we promised too much with the drone. While on the ground our drone can identify pests, diseases, irrigation issues, and plant canopy problems. In addition, our unique probe technology allows us to provide soil analysis. It is this latter probe technology that created doubt with the overall drone technology. Potential investors questioned the practicality of being able to probe the soil and we spent too much time trying to convince them that our probe design would accomplish its task. The key learning was that our MVP was identifying pests, diseases, irrigation issues, and plant canopy problems.This offered significant value to farmers. Hence, we decided to shelve the probe and will instead offer it as a product extension in a few years time.
How successful was your first project roll on? Share the experience.
While filming the PBS upcoming show: ‘American Grown: My Job Depends on Ag’, which premieres at 7:30pm on Wednesday October 2nd, we partnered with a leading sustainable vineyard in Paso Robles to roll-out our drone. The problem with sustainable farming for our drone is that weeds are left dormant for animals to eat; there are no weed control chemicals used. Whereas we had worked with many typical vineyards that use chemicals to control weeds, the invasion of weeds along the rows where our drones would traverse made it literally impossible for the drone to overcome. Although 95 percent of our farming base use chemicals, we have, of course, made subtle changes to our rollers to allow for such instances of overgrown weeds.
A company’s behavior is as important as its economic performance or the quality of its products. How do you interpret this saying?
In the farming space, drones are currently providing aerial images to farmers identifying problem areas. However, farmers still need to use pest control advisors to carryout ground truth-ing to identify the cause of the problems shown from these aerial images. Hence, no real cost savings to farmers, only leaving them instead with a feeling of uncertainty towards Ag technology. Our technology, on the other hand, promises and can demonstrate cost savings as we reduce the time associated with using expensive pest control advisors.
Is your company a leader or follower?
Our company will be a leader in our space, and as such will lead with a set of core values that farmers and other stakeholders can acknowledge.
‘Leaders cannot optimize results by themselves; they need employees’ support and assistance.’ How does your company interpret this saying?
Well, I would say that successful companies are those that have found ways to be more transparent and open with their supply base. At an early stage in my career, a mentor once told me that, “no man is an island” and this has stayed with me throughout my business life. Within our start-up, we tend to run at a fast pace. We all share in the vision of the company, and decisions are made at the ground level, similar to the concept of Kaizen, we empower our key individuals to make decisions that they are comfortable with being accountable for. During our team meetings, everyone is aware of our progress and shortcomings with a mindset that successes are rewarded.
What do you feel are the reasons behind your company’s reputation?
Disruptive new drone technology that saves farmers significant amounts on costs, while improving yields. The halo effect from the commercialization of drones has helped farmers to get better acquainted with the technology. Farm data is considered Big Data and our drone has the ability to collect such data in a meaningful and rapid way. As farmers adopt AI, farm data will be a critical enabler to that space.
Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?
We intend to focus our attention on the grape farmers and then move onto nuts and orchards. This will be accomplished against a backdrop of existing and bolt-on technologies, such as the soil probing capabilities. Manufacturing will be outsourced with go to market strategies through large distributions and pest control advisors that service the farming industry.
"At SCA, we are driven by the desire to improve food quality and production worldwide. As our technology improves, we see a future where agricultural science, mechanical engineering, and machine learning come together in the form of a productive, efficient, and cost-effective process.”