Today’s grocery shoppers expect their fruit and vegetables to be fresh, and that means grocery distributors, stores and online sellers must provide produce that both looks and tastes good. But fruits and vegetables have a short shelf life in the best of circumstances and a good portion of produce spoils on its way to market, a condition that makes farmers, food processors and resellers vulnerable to wide price fluctuations.
“We’re seeing a tightening of the food supply chain, a growing impatience on the part of consumers to buy what they want and have it as soon as possible,” says Adam Wolf, CEO of Arable, a company that develops farm field data measurement tools and technology. Farm produce is expected to show up on time, in salable condition at a predetermined price. “The problem is, often growers and processors only have the most basic understanding of what is growing, when it will be available and its quality,” Wolf says.
To enable more precise monitoring of produce, Arable has developed a device that measures conditions in farm fields and produces data that can be transmitted via the internet for analysis. It’s all about predictive farming, which aims to cut down the guesswork involved with crop planting and harvesting, thus improving quality and reducing spoilage, Wolf says. It’s an application to farming of the internet of things, or IoT, which refers to physical objects that contain embedded technology that can collect information and transmit it digitally.
Arable, which has beta tested devices and data analytics, announced last week it received $4.25 million in a Series A funding round. The funding was led by Middleland Capital’s agriculture technology fund and S2G Ventures, and includes new investors Chase Field, Spark Labs and Cantos VC. Arable will use the capital to expand its data and analytics technology along with mass production of the Arable Mark IoT device later this year, the company says.
The Arable Mark devices measure more than 40 environmental factors, such as crop water demand, water stress on plants, the microclimate in different parts of farm fields and level of chlorophyll, the green pigment that enables plants to acquire energy from light. In addition to the devices, the new cloud-based Arable Insights software platform will be available to farmers, crop consultants, large-scale producers and food processors in the agricultural supply chain.
Farmers can gather field data with the Mark devices and then choose who can access the data and in what degree. Predictive data can help all parties anticipate produce quality and when it will be ready, but especially the farmer, says Steve Polski, co-founder of Red Horse Financial Advisers, which specializes in agriculture. Polski is also a former supply chain executive with Cargill Inc., a privately held agriculture commodities and livestock company in the U.S.
More than 40% of food produced in the world never hits the human palate because of spoilage, Polski says. “Data can improve usability,” he says.
Polski served as an unpaid advisor to Arable, but has no investment or commercial interest in the company. “Farmers and food processors needed a logistics plan for moving produce from field to retail shelf,” he says. “This is an immediate opportunity for fresh produce suppliers to improve their inventories. It helps mainly to prevent spoilage.”
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