How Agrilyst Is Disrupting Indoor Ag Data: An Interview with AVF Changemaker Allison Kopf
Allison Kopf is the founder and CEO of Agrilyst, the intelligence platform for indoor farms. Andrew Blume and Chris Powers with the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Allison about Agrilyst and her partnership with the AVF. Below is a summary of their conversation after getting to know each other.
Andrew: Allison, tell us a little bit about yourself and the history of Agrilyst.
Allison: At Agrilyst, we build management and analytics software for indoor farms. Indoor growers have the ability to use technology to control farm inputs and create artificial environments within their facilities. The most important question, then, is: “how do you optimize your inputs to grow the highest quality and highest yielding crops most profitably?” Agrilyst aggregates the data from all of a farm’s processes to help farmers understand their data and to proactively plan for that optimization.
My co-founder Jason Camp and I launched the company just over a year ago. Jason was a software engineer at Google and I had been working at BrightFarms. Like many commercial greenhouses, BrightFarms had a lot of technology and automated processes. There was a control system that regulated climate strategies and really efficient growing and harvesting systems. However, many of the production processes still required recording information by hand. It took hours to record all of the information about crops before spending many more hours going through the data from systems, like the climate control system and handheld sensors, by hand in order to make sense of it all.
Farms have a vast amount of production data, and, unfortunately, the information exists in fragmented, independent systems. As a result, growers are spending time and money creating optimization plans while still performing in a sub-optimal state. Farms are leaving revenue on the table. Our goal with the Agrilyst platform is to turn a burden for growers, data management, into their most useful tool.
Andrew: Can you tell us about the process of winning TechCrunch Disrupt and what it meant for your business?
Allison: Participating in TechCrunch Disrupt is an amazing opportunity for startups. In the time leading up to the competition, we had to craft our story, practice pitching to both tech audiences and investors (who were the judges), create the beta of our platform, and acquire our first initial beta users.
After participating in the competition, we walked away with feedback from top investors, media coverage, and the $50,000 prize. It’s the ideal stage to launch a company.
Andrew: It must have been a surreal experience to have won the competition and walked away with a giant check.
Allison: Surreal is a good way to describe it. The competition was exciting, terrifying, and a ton of fun.
Chris: Tell us a little bit more about what motivated you to start Agrilyst?
Allison: I can see a future where we optimize food production for flavor profiles, and color, and health benefits. One where we use farm data, academic research, industry data sets, and institutional knowledge to learn from farms and predict trends ahead of time. A future where we can push the boundaries of optimal states and turn farms into an asset class that is both predictable and financeable… and I don’t believe that future is very far away.
Our food system is evolving to meet the new needs of society. I imagine it will evolve into one that not only focuses on yields, but one that prioritizes profitability, and health, and quality, and safety, and equity — and I want to be a part of this evolution. That’s why I get out of bed every day; that’s what’s exciting to me.
Chris: You mentioned solving problems using a scalable platform. Can you dive a little deeper and tell us which problems you’re most excited to solve with Agrilyst?
Allison: One of the most exciting things for me is production planning.
Instead of manually recording data on crops as they move from seed to harvest — with Agrilyst, you create templates for entering crop data. You no longer have to write crop information down with pen and paper each day.
You can use a barcode scanner to pull up crop profiles right from your mobile device while you are out in the field. You can track farm performance and manage operations remotely at any time.
Better yet, Agrilyst then uses that data to predict farm performance in the future. Data is not just information anymore; Agrilyst is turning data into predictable and actionable insights for growers.
Chris: Are there any other things that an indoor grower should consider, in terms of the benefits of Agrilyst, if they are reading this interview?
Allison: We’d like growers to know that, with Agrilyst, they can:
- Save time. Growers are spending way too much time collecting and analyzing data. Agrilyst streamlines that process, transitioning data from a burden into a tool and freeing growers to do what they’re best at — growing great crops.
- Contain costs. We’re analyzing things like energy, yield, workflow, and other factors to help growers forecast production needs and manage costs ahead of time. The platform helps you make sure that your farm is operating in its most productive environment.
- Increase plant yield. Having your data in one place is the only way to start learning from your crops’ performance. Then you can truly understand what you’re doing to manage and mitigate risk, and how to optimize your available resources for maximum yield.
Another question we hear often is:
“How is your system different from say, a climate control system?”
A climate control system and data management system are complementary, not interchangeable. If you have a climate control system, it will strengthen your data management platform by adding additional inputs.
At Agrilyst, we’re monitoring and analyzing data, not controlling your pumps and fans. We’re looking at your processes and helping with things like planning, strategy, and managing your operations. Ultimately, it’s up to the grower to implement strategy.
Chris: As a follow up to that, if your customers don’t have certain systems, like a climate control system, will they still see benefits from using Agrilyst?
Allison: Yes. The system is made to be scalable to an individual grower’s needs. Growers can choose to turn on the functionalities that are right for his or her farm. If a grower doesn’t have a climate control system, they won’t import that data into the system.
Andrew: You’ve mentioned being technology agnostic. How do the integrations work?
Allison: Agrilyst is a software platform. It’s the layer of technology that sits on top of hardware and other software to provide growers with forecasts, reports, metrics, benchmarking, standards, and actionable insights. We integrate with hardware, like sensors and barcode scanners, to create a more complete picture of farm performance. With Agrilyst, growers can visualize their climate data from sensors on the same graph as crop yield. Growers can see how climactic trends and crop growth cycles impact pest cycles.
Andrew: Is there anything that your platform can do with packaging or tracking sales once a product leaves a facility?
Allison: If you’re packing in-house, the final product is tracked directly in our system as final yield. After the product leaves your facility, integration with sales software would be necessary to track product sales.
What’s really interesting is that consumers are starting to pay more attention to where and how their crops are grown. Advancements in food safety regulation and food labeling have people asking, even demanding:
“If I buy a handful of lettuce in the supermarket, who grew that lettuce and how was it grown?”
We’re beginning to see a complete picture of crops and how they’re grown. In the future, I believe we’ll see more and more farms asking to package some of this information for not only regulatory compliance, but also for end consumers.
Andrew: Food transparency is an interesting application of big data for the end consumer. What else do you want farm owner/operators to know about how their data can and will be used?
Allison: At the core of what we do as a company, we’re building tools for growers. So we aim to be incredibly transparent about how data is collected and used in our platform. We want to ensure that growers not only have an understanding of that process, but also to make sure that they can always access their own data. At the end of the day, data that they collect and create belongs to the grower.
We value data privacy. At no point do we allow personalized data to be shared or sold.
So how is data used in the system? Agrilyst uses your individual farm data to help improve your individual forecasting and insights. Aggregate, non-identifiable data strengthens Agrilyst’s predictability algorithms. We are also building a shared knowledgebase with insights offered by growers, academic institutions, researchers, and technologists to showcase innovation and industry trends. The goal with the shared knowledgebase is to give growers access to research that could be applicable to their farms. We have one grower who is using Agrilyst’s platform to run analytics for publishing peer-reviewed papers and would like to make that research available to other growers. Not all growers want to share research like this. It’s up to growers what insights, if any, they’d like to contribute to the shared knowledgebase.
Andrew: What else is in store for the next 6 months?
Allison: We’re excited about a few things in the upcoming future. We just added our first Canadian customer and we are entering the European market later this year. We are thrilled to be working with some of the greatest growers in the world. We are also working on increasing offerings for a broader range of crops including cannabis and ornamental production. We will be releasing additional features in the very near future.
In September, as part of the 2nd NYC AgTech Week, we’re organizing a panel about financing for AgTech startups. There are so many different kinds of financing options for agriculture businesses, from project finance to venture capital to grants. We want to help entrepreneurs identify the appropriate financing for their business so they can scale.
Andrew: Speaking of future projects, the AVF, Agrilyst and some other partners have been doing a ‘State of the Industry Survey.’
Allison: We partnered with Cornell University, the Association for Vertical Farming, Urban Ag News, Foodshed.io, and FarmersWeb to survey over 100 growers from around the world about the current state and future growth of the indoor farming industry. We want to understand from growers, how they are performing currently, where they are struggling and succeeding, and where they see opportunities for the future.
We’re really excited about the collaboration and being able to spend time talking to so many different kinds of growers.
Chris: Do you plan to make that information available to the public?
Allison: Yes. We are trying to broadcast this industry knowledge as widely as possible.
There’s a lot of speculation about the agriculture industry. We think it’s really important to share our findings and help investors, growers, and entrepreneurs understand what’s happening in the industry and how it’s growing.
Andrew: Did you know data transparency is actually one of the goals of the AVF and that we have a project group that is pushing for greater data transparency?
Andrew: Yup, you can contact Mark Horler to get involved. It would also be great to hear about why you decided to join the Association for Vertical Farming and what you’re looking to get out of your membership?
Allison: I’ve known the folks behind the AVF for many years. We worked with a number of the AVF members when our group of organizations founded the NYC Ag Collective, we’ve met some of our customers through the AVF, and some of our technology partners are members of the AVF.
The AVF has brought together organizations that stretch the whole span of the vertical farming industry. I believe that we all benefit tremendously from collaboration.
Andrew: Tell us about someone who inspires you?
Allison: I am inspired by a lot of people. I’m inspired by people who are fanatic about pursuing their goals, even when the odds are stacked against them. They find a way to beat those odds and they help others do the same.
I had a professor in college who is one of the most inspiring women I know. Everything about her was inspiring: her work ethic, her tenacity about research, and her commitment to helping others achieve. There’s an honor to that type of spirit that is exciting and inspiring to me.
I’m an advisor with #BUILTBYGIRLS and I get to meet young women who are learning to code, building companies, pitching investors, and working with investors to evaluate startups all in the hours after they go to high school, after their sports practices and music rehearsals, and after their homework. After all of this, they find the time to code and to build. These women are kicking down the door of the old boys club and setting up shop. How inspiring is that?
Andrew: Last question. What are you going to work on right after this interview?
Allison: I’m heading out for a run. I’m training for my second marathon in a few months.
To sign up for a demo and see how Agrilyst help you streamline operations, you can email TJ at email@example.com or call him at 502–435–0909.
If you’re a grower and would like to be interviewed for the State of the Industry Survey, please email Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Blume is a writer and blogger based in Los Angeles, California. He is currently serving as USA Regional Manager for the Association for Vertical Farming and is an active contributor to agritecture.com. Explore Andrew’s other articles about vertical farming.
Originally published at agritecture.com.