The Silicon Review
As we know it today, the world is fast-paced. Changes, alterations, and digital transformations happen in the blink of an eye. Adaptation is critical, and given the growing population and the global shift in weather conditions, farmers are required to utilize new-generation technologies to address emerging challenges. Aerial scouting technology, incorporating drones and fixed-wing aircraft, is a phenomenal innovation that continues to have far-reaching effects across today’s society. The agricultural industry seems to have embraced aerial scouting with open arms, using these advanced tools to transform modern farming. Fixed-wing aircraft enables a birds eye view of larger properties, while high-tech drones can inspect specific regions at much higher resolution. From crop monitoring to planting, livestock management, crop spraying, irrigation mapping, and more, drones play a pivotal role in crop yield management.
Pollen Systems Corporation is one such developer of an agriculture analysis system designed to improve crop yields. The company’s patented processes uses aerial drones and fixed wing aircraft to survey and photograph farms and vineyards: regularly stitching the images together so that they can be analyzed for crop growth, over or under watering and the presence of pests or diseases, enabling farms and vineyards to monitor crop growth, discover irrigation issues, and investigate and remediate potentially damaging issues which in turn will enable customers to grow better crops.
The company was founded in 2017 and is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington.
In conversation with Keith McCall, Founder and CEO Pollen Systems Corporation
Q. Can you tell us about your services in brief?
Pollen Systems Improves crop vigor, quality, and yield while reducing labor costs and managing irrigation, pest, disease issues. To do this, we harvest data for agricultural growth: helping farmers manage their crop growth and vitality, identify irrigation and moisture issues, and note pests and disease problems by incorporating data collected from drones, fixed-wing aircraft, satellites, IoT Sensors, and mobile device applications: delivering data analytics and proactive alerts.
Our Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) portal solution aggregates agricultural data from multiple data sources and applies advanced analytics to devise solutions to enable farms to flourish and grow. Augmented by a sophisticated data platform, we can quickly and accurately scan plots of land with multi-spectral crop analysis techniques and provide advanced farming analysis to inform and instruct farmers on improving crop quality and yield.
Q. What motivated you to induce advanced analytics to farming techniques?
In investigating high-value crops, we determined that there were few available agricultural data analytics services available to farmers managing more than 50 acres. Labor costs rise substantially to address water utilization and stress, pests, and diseases, optimizing crop quality, and predicting yield. By combining multiple data sources from drones and fixed-wing aircraft equipped with state-of-the-art near-infrared and thermal cameras to IoT weather and moisture sensors with advanced data analytics techniques, we helped farmers improve crop quality, reduce variability, and adjust yield.
Q. Tell us in brief about your patent-pending agricultural analysis software.
In May 2020, we received our first patent covering our methodologies and agricultural data analytics technology applied to vineyards and wine grape growth. After expediting a Continuation-in-Process application, we received notice of approval of our second patent on June 8. This patent extends the use of our technologies into Hops, Kiwis, Apples, Berries, Cherries, Citrus Fruit, Avocados, Pears, Plums, Hemp, Cannabis, or any fruit or vegetable growing farm. We have also filed for international patent protection.
Tell us about some of your milestones in building the business?
In October 2018, the company was awarded Innovator of the Month by Puget Sound Business Journal to become the wineries’ eyes in the sky.
We received several awards in March 2019, including Innovator of the Month from Puget Sound Business Journal, and closed a million-dollar series seed round. In October 2019, we were recognized by Geekwire magazine as the GeekWire Winner of the Agtech Elevator Pitch Competition.
In October 2019, we expanded our efforts with pilots in Peru and South Africa and expect to continue the growth of those operations directly and with partners in the latter part of 2020. We have launched our 2020 North American efforts with a 90% customer retention rate and significant growth within those customers. In February 2020, we were awarded an Innovation+Quality Award from Wine Business Monthly for our PrecisionView™ Mobile Application available for Apple and Android Devices.
Q. How did you get into Chile? Seems a long way from Washington and Oregon?
It’s important in young companies to follow new leads, regardless of how odd they may seem. For instance, in September 2018, the company was contacted by Carlos Cruzat, the Presidente of the Comite del Kiwi in Chile, noting that the technology we used in the fields was similar to that used in their warehouses to sort bad kiwis from good ones. In partnership with Carlos’ team, we began to analyze the kiwi crops at the farm before being transported to the warehouses at harvest. This reduces high transport and processing costs, improve the supply chain, and identifies those growers who grow the best quality crops.
We piloted with several farms in Chile during the 2018-2019 growing season and applied our technology to new crops. All farms converted to customers for the 2019-2020 growing season, and we added more: analyzing wine and table grapes, citrus fruits, avocados, cherries, and apples. Chile and other South American countries like Peru, Argentina, and Brazil allow us to operate our agricultural services 12 months of the year and to expand our capabilities globally.
Q. There are other players in this vertical. How do you distinguish yourself from the rest?
Past drone and fixed-wing flyover solutions provided growers pretty pictures of their farms, typically once per year. Pollen Systems collects images of the crops regularly throughout the growing season and works collaboratively with the farmers to combine data that they may have already collected, including ground-truthing through our freely available PrecisionView™ mobile applications. Our historical data collected from their farm and other similar crops at other farms can be applied globally to other similar crops and varietals, offering us a significant competitive advantage at scale.
Q. What are your trajectories for the next five years?
Over the next five years, we plan to offer our services in additional regions throughout the world. We will deliver those services directly to farmers and are also developing a business partner network that will perform the flyovers. At the same time, we use our extensive knowledge base and analytics capabilities to analyze the crops remotely. We welcome those who are interested in becoming a Pollen Systems partner to access our website for more details.
The pre-eminent leader behind the triumph of Pollen Systems Corporation
Keith McCall is the Founder and also serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Pollen Systems Corporation. After a trip to Singapore, he started the firm where he was inspired by how that city is applying technology and data analytics to sustainable agriculture. Previously Keith founded and ultimately sold Enroute Systems Corporation to Pitney Bowes: helping retailers (including zulily, Zumiez, lululemon Athletica, Nordstrom, Brooks Sports, CVS, and Tiffany) optimize omnichannel shipping. He also founded and sold Azaleos, one of the first hybrid SaaS e-mail management companies. Keith has spent 13 years with Microsoft and IBM in first-generation software development roles.