Find out how NGA developed a smart agriculture solution
The NGA Smart Agriculture Solution uses artificial intelligence to unlock the full potential of your crop while also protecting the planet.
Food insecurity and low-nutrition crops are Big Data problems, but first, you need to think vertically about them. Also, it’s pronounced daytuh. And about vertical thinking: that means literally stacking crops on top of each other to save horizon space for humans to live or enjoy. Let’s unpack this revolutionary idea. It begins with hydroponics. You grow the crops in a closed system that recirculates water and a precisely controlled mix of micronutrients. The result is a modular, fully optimized growing environment that yields crops of exceptionally high quality and that can scale as high as your budget will allow. And that’s where big data comes in.
NGA International is constantly looking to find new and creative ways to apply data-driven solutions to clients
Who doesn’t necessarily realize the opportunities available to them because data science isn’t as accessible as it should be? Agriculture has already been touched by data science through satellite and drone-based imaging solutions, but those are expensive and don’t offer a meaningful evolution of farming practices. Under the stewardship of long-time CEO Mark Germishuys, NGA took a holistic view of agriculture and identified the benefits of hydroponics as a solid foundation to build a comprehensive future-facing solution. That solution includes vertical farming.
Large vertical farms can be overwhelming because each plant needs to be monitored individually. Humans don’t do well processing that much data at once, but artificial intelligence does. With an integrated network of sensors, every measurement becomes a data point and machine learning can help farmers replicate the best growing conditions down to the micron level Agronomist Al was developed to help augment human intuition with machine precision and when the data is fed through an app interface, growers get remote monitoring to have full control of the quality of the produce from the palm of their hand. Where checking plant health used to be a process of examining each plant individually by inspecting the leaves, automatic image analysis leverages the power of computer vision, Al, and machine learning. These cameras can see the plant and identify problems proactively because the system can also see the nutrient content in the water through another set of sensors.
NGA’s Vertical Tunnel
Machine learning algorithms can also chart the growth rate of each plant and optimize the nutrient mix in real-time to meet the plant’s needs in response to ambient temperatures. But all that is only part of the growing story. What’s the use in producing the best possible products when science shows that most produce loses as much as 30 percent of its nutrients three days after harvest? Because vertical tunnels can be built in urban environments. Old buildings or even existing buildings are actually acres of unused farmland. You can grow on the roof of the store that you sell from or in the building next door. Reducing the distribution time increases the nutritional value by getting it from farm to plate in a short turnaround time.
There’s also much less water waste through evaporation irrigating the soil between plants. When growing 5 000kg of lettuce in three different environments – conventional, standard hydroponics, and Agronomist Al monitored hydroponics – on average the conventional growing method used 25 times more water per kilogram of produce. The crop yield for hydroponics was also much higher and of more consistently high quality than conventional methods and with no discernible differences in nutrient concentration. Further studies using basil over a 12-month period allowed optimization to maintain a consistent crop yield regardless of the season by adjusting the nutrient dosing to respond to the ambient environment. Adding climate control to the vertical tunnels removes the seasonal fluctuations.
The NGA Smart Agriculture Solution combines Agronomist Al with the optimized vertical tunnel infrastructure design to create a unified system that works from the moment you turn it on.
The full suite of sensors provides constant insight into the health of the crop in real-time with GPS-linked event capture to precisely locate any problems. Machine learning is encouraged through a regularly updated knowledge database that is informed by subject matter experts, accurate weather reporting, and disease and pest information updates. The neural network can then disseminate and gather data that is relevant to the location of your crop. What you get is a system that grows and learns alongside the crop to create a complete picture of your unique environment for a truly tailored solution. It’s a system that can almost predict the future and offers an early warning of any possible disease or pest outbreaks. Harnessing a broad spectrum of the Internet of Things (IoT) allows users to be alerted if there is any disruption to the power or water supply. NGA is a complete solution that uses the latest best practices to increase the quality of agriculture and reduce the impact of farming on the earth.