A group of University of Waterloo engineering graduates who first got together as a student design team to convert a Camaro into a hybrid electric vehicle has turned its talents towards improving agricultural fleet management.
Their small Ontario start-up, Intelliculture, is now working to help farm profitability with intelligent, simple, and affordable telematics to help farmers get the most out of their farm equipment.
Why it matters: A lack of preventive maintenance combined with mostly handwritten maintenance records cost farmers money in untimely and often avoidable breakdowns. Existing tech-based solutions can be expensive to buy and complex to use.
“We love technology and we’re all very passionate about agriculture; it’s an industry that’s the backbone of society and it’s a lifestyle with genuine people and a strong sense of community,” says Intelliculture co-founder Cole Powers, who is originally from Brooklin, a rural community near Whitby. “The whole premise of why we came to be is that we see technology coming to agriculture, but there is a disconnect to some growers who aren’t as familiar with technology.”
The company has developed two streams of products: equipment health and maintenance and crop monitoring. Its farm equipment management solution involves installing a logger that can track and transmit data and issue alerts that can minimize breakdowns.
The fleet monitoring portal provides an overview of the farm fleet from a maintenance perspective. Weekly summaries highlight issues that need immediate attention, and usage alerts can pinpoint equipment mistreatment that can lead to breakdowns or performance issues.
“We’ve scaled down smart farming technology into a simple platform, and we’ve tried to make a universal system because we know growers run multiple colours”of equipment, says Powers. “We’ve also worked to keep the system affordable so there is a lower barrier to entry.”
COVID-19 restrictions have forced the team to be less hands-on with in-person installation, so Intelliculture has refocused its technology to become more “plug-and-play” and provide virtual support to farmers when needed.
The crop monitoring and in-cab systems track on-farm tasks like spraying, helping equipment operators know where they’ve already sprayed. The focus here has primarily been on horticultural operations like orchards, where growers must keep careful spraying records to meet worker safety and food safety certification requirements.
“The mapping is useful to show where our orchard tractors have sprayed and be able to see if a block was missed,” says Brett Schuyler of Schuyler Farms in Norfolk County. “We use daily reports to see where equipment has been and weekly reports to keep us on top of our oil changes and let us know about check engine errors.”
According to Powers, case studies with Ontario horticulture growers have identified potential savings of $5,000 – $8,000 a year through proactive maintenance, and approximately $20,000 in annual savings by mitigating yield loss through improper spraying.
“Our big point is simplicity. We’re not monitoring yields or output but gathering barebones data to make sure crops are taken care of,” Powers says. “This is a low tier option for growers; anything on wheels we can monitor.”
Sales have been exclusively Ontario-focused to date, but Powers has recently moved to Alberta to help get the business off the ground in western Canada. Intelliculture has also been working with London, Ont.’s RH Accelerator, and Powers joined RH’s private virtual ag-tech community set up to support entrepreneurs when COVID-19 hit earlier this year.
With data collection and sensor use becoming ever more widespread, RH co-founder Joe Dales sees plenty of opportunities for companies like Intelliculture that can crunch that data and turn it into something meaningful to help with on-farm decision-making.
“They’re still in the early stages of data collection from equipment, but that will be a major tech platform, so strategically, it makes sense to me (what they are doing) and I hope that they will develop into the next great agricultural business,” Dales says.
That’s Powers’ hope too, whose long term vision is expansion into prognostics, which is commonly used in the automotive sector to identify breakdowns before they happen.
“Digitization is coming to ag whether growers like it or not, so we believe in putting farmers first,” Powers says. “Our goals are to help growers bridge the technology gap and bring some comfort and tangible value to an entry level precision ag system so that precision ag becomes ubiquitous instead of a luxury.”