From the Marine Corps to the Farm

Out in the field, pathogens and pests can ravage farmers’ fields in a matter of days—so they need to make decisions with speed and accuracy. Until recently, plant pathologists were their last line of defense, though they required days or even weeks to diagnose crop-destroying bugs.

Today, though, the creator of FARMWAVE, Craig Ganssle, says he’s narrowed that process down to “around ten seconds.”

FARMWAVE utilizes AI and machine learning to identify and diagnose plant pathogens and diseases. This may sound complex, but Ganssle insists that the process is as easy as teaching a kid with flashcards.

“We show a kid a picture with a word underneath it, and we tell them, ‘this is an apple.’ We do the same in artificial intelligence—except with machines, not people.”

Ganssle came into agriculture by accident. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, he was once in charge of radio systems and infrastructure in the military. After he was medically discharged for a previously-undiagnosed heart problem, he found himself obsessed with early iterations of Google Glass.

At a conference for agtech developers, he had an epiphany: farmers could use a hands-free device to identify common pests and weeds.

He decided that instead of identifying bugs in code he’d try to spot real ones. FARMWAVE’s app works not only by integrating with smartphone cameras, but also via drones, machinery and field sensors: all the necessary components in creating the connected farm of the future.

“Community collaboration is a very big part of it,” Ganssle say. “Because when farmers’ land kind of butts up against each other, they communicate with each other. One sees a problem, they’ll often let another farmer know, and a more experienced farmer may help a less experienced one.”  

The app doesn’t just help those growing fruits and veggies, but also allows for collaboration along a wide-spectrum of different agriculture industries. Ganssle uses dairy farmers in Wisconsin as an example. “We have farmers who are milking 8,900 cows, three times a day, who say to me, ‘I’d absolutely love to help a dairy farmer in India who’s maybe got just 10 cows.’ And, you know, the Indian farmer could take a picture, and the American farmer could say, ‘Oh, I can tell you right now that’s mastitis, and it’s pretty severe. Here’s what you need to do.’”

FARMWAVE joins a number of other ventures helping farmers do their jobs. Autonomous tractors help farmers cope with the lack of qualified labor during peak seasons, while drones can spot weeds from the sky.

“With farmers, specifically, it’s about explaining how the process works,” he explains. “It’s not a bunch of magic pixie dust, nor is it that we’re spying on everybody. It’s about improving intelligence and predictive modeling so that farmers can see a true increase in yield and decrease in crop destruction, all while using fewer of the chemicals and pesticides that are destroying our planet.”  


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