By: Allison Nepveux
More and more startups are developing technologies geared towards agriculture, which could revolutionize the way those within the produce industry operate. Startups are helping improve performance and reduce risk from the field to fork. We talked with iUNU as the final installment in a three-part series to learn how technology providers are driving change and what that means for the future of the industry.
Just over two years ago, iUNU optimized a full spectrum, dual-bulb plasma lighting fixture that contains half the electricity and a third of the heat of a 1000-watt high-intensity discharge light. Today, the company has launched its flagship Luna greenhouse management platform that uses a rail-mounted, autonomous mobile camera that captures close-up, high-definition plant images to track the total growing process down to the millimeter.
“We take all of this data and analyze it and deliver it back to the grower, owners, and C-levels so they have a simple, easy-to-use decision support tool,” said Adam Greenberg, CEO of iUNU. “We are repurposing facial recognition technology for plant recognition.”
The technology facilitates automated inventory tracking and helps growers identify any potential problems, such as disease, which can spread quickly through certain crops. It allows growers to create a normative growth curve for every crop in every facility. “You have a growth curve so you can say what one is growing the best and we can tell you when something is slowing down or speeding up, which can help the predictability,” Greenberg said.
The information could also allow growers to slow crops down to optimize harvest times to get a higher price per pound and drive profits. Another benefit is that operators can view the images from anywhere. “You don’t have to be on site to be part of the team to be engaged,” Greenberg said.
Luna can work on any plant as long as descriptors for each one are added to the system. Today it is being used for fruits and vegetables as well as the flower industry. Both Lowes and Home Depot are our customers’ customers, Greenberg said. “People are using it for everything, but the fastest adoption is through leafy greens,” he explained.
The system uses 1-inch x 2-inch rails that attach to cross bars or rafters in greenhouses. Miles of track can be installed quickly and easily, and installation doesn’t disrupt daily operations. Because the system is on rails, the cameras can follow plants around if they move. They also can be replaced when new technology comes out.
The ability to constantly monitor produce will allow growers to meet greenhouse standards, which Greenberg said are getting harsher. “The FDA is putting more onerous data collection records into the policy. Having to have all of the data readily available is something that will increase the cost, and, if something goes wrong, the burden of proof is on you to prove you didn’t create the problem.”
With Luna, growers have data as well as a visual record that they can pull right when they need it.
Going forward, one of the biggest benefits of Luna will be its ability to help growers improve their yield and keep up with increasing demand for fresh produce. Greenberg said he sees a future where technology will result in improved production. “We can grow the fresh produce industry even further because there is more demand we haven’t met. We haven’t hit our ceiling,” he said. “Consumers are demanding fresh produce.”