Traditional farming methods are linked to soil degradation and health risks. Therefore, an increasing number of farmers are transitioning to regenerative farming, a more sustainable yet challenging shift for farmers. Yet, this transition can be challenging for farmers as it requires acquiring knowledge and updating their practices.
Advancing Eco Agriculture (AEA) supports this transition, promising similar or improved yields and drought resistance post-transition. AEA produces and sells organic fertilizers, provides free consulting when buying products, offers lab services to detect crop nutrient issues, and produces agronomic content, including podcasts.
We reached out to AEA’s founder, John Kempf, to learn more about the company’s vision to grow in a market shifting towards sustainability amid the environmental impact of conventional agriculture.
In your own words, how would you describe your company?
I founded Advancing Eco Agriculture as an engine for change to drive large-scale adoption of regenerative agriculture management systems. There is a key need for trusted technical advisors who can give growers the information and reassurance to manage a transition to regenerative ag confidently.
What are your four lines of business?
The four facets of our work with growers include in-depth agronomic consulting, developing and manufacturing exceptionally effective products to support plant nutrition and microbiome integrity, pioneering analytical technologies that allow us to precisely measure crop and product performance, and sharing as agronomic content for farmers the knowledge we have learned as pioneers in the space to accelerate adoption across the farming community.
Who are your typical customers?
Our customers include both specialty crop and broadacre crop growers. We work with hundreds of different crops, including tree crops, vines, vegetables, berries, and grains. We work with growers of all sizes, from market gardeners to commercial farms with tens of thousands of acres representing a large segment of the food supply chain.
How do you acquire new customers and generate growth?
We are fortunate to have an outstanding reputation in the farming community of being able to help growers produce crops with greater disease and insect resistance, and being able to reduce the use of pesticides while increasing crop performance. Many new growers approach us based on the recommendations of their colleagues. Many evaluate our information available online, and reach out to ask us to solve specific agronomic problems. We also market directly to key growers we desire to work with in the future.
How are you currently using data to help farmers identify nutrient deficiencies and help them improve their farming practices?
Our mantra is “Never guess when you can test.” Our reputation of delivering consistent results is a reflection of making recommendations based on a thorough analysis of nutritional and microbiome balance. When we first begin working with a grower, we learn about their historical fertilization and management practices, their historical pest challenges, and yields as a reflection of those historical practices. We observe their current crop physiological expression and soil characteristics. We thoroughly analyze soil and plant mineral profiles using several different laboratory methodologies. A fundamental premise of our success is that nutritional and microbiome integrity are the foundation of plant immunity and performance, and that as plant health improves, you can’t stop yields from increasing as well.
You want to use your data to build a product using machine learning to help farmers improve their farming practices. Can you tell us more about your vision for this product?
Here is a real-world example: A farmer has a dozen different potato fields. One day he gets an alert that he needs to begin scouting for Colorado potato beetles, as they are expected to emerge from winter dormancy in the next couple days. Two of his fields have a particularly high susceptibility rating to Colorado potato beetles, because of specifically identified nutritional imbalances. To reduce the pest susceptibility rating, the grower receives a recommendation of which specific nutrients to apply, and in what amounts, to reduce the susceptibility rating to a minuscule level. We already have the knowledge and the data to forecast disease and insect susceptibility into the future based on nutritional imbalances, and how to adjust these imbalances to prevent problems. Using technology in this way completely shifts the narrative. Instead of reacting to pest problems after they are present, they can now be managed proactively to prevent pests from becoming a problem. This technology also changes the narrative, from pesticides as the treatment, to nutrition and microbiome management as the prevention pathway.
You’re not a technology company yet. What will it take to build a product relying on machine learning?
In many ways we are already a technology company, but that technology is not yet publicly visible. We already have an existing database of soil and crop nutritional profiles, and we already have internal software tools that are used by our team of agronomic consultants. In the next six months we expect to release a crop scouting app to facilitate the collection of high fidelity data by field scouts, a recommendations engine to provide recommendations for in-season crop nutrition adjustments based on sap analysis data, and a recommendations engine to provide protocols for a growing season’s crop nutrition management based on crop physiological needs. Early prototypes of these tools are already in development. To continue our rapid development as a technology company will require continued investment in our data collection, machine learning, and AI development efforts.
How will this new product impact your future revenues?
This technology will be useful for any grower globally who has access to analytical technology or lab services to measure soil and crop nutritional profiles. While pricing models have not yet been developed, it seems reasonable to expect that the service will be offered as a subscription model.
If we talked again in 12 months, which milestones will you have achieved?
We will have achieved the milestones of integrating high fidelity crop scouting data, nutritional profile data, microbiome data, and crop performance data into a complete dataset that we can train AI and machine learning on. We will have released the in-season recommendations engine, the crop protocol recommendations engine, and the crop scouting app. Additional recommendation engines for irrigation water treatment and soil amendment recommendations will also be developed in the near future.