Agriculture is essential for the sustenance of the human race and it is more than just planting a few random crops in a wide-open field. Plants need to be nurtured before they can nurture us and a crucial resource for the same is water. Determining the correct amount of water to be used for irrigation can make a lot of difference to crop yield and crop quality and can also be an arduous task. Plants, unlike us humans, aren’t privileged enough to communicate their needs. Though they do show signs, more often than not, we are ill-equipped to understand those signs.
Facing a ‘brown thumb’, frustrated with the watering system at his home garden and struggling to keep plants from dying, Farooq Anjum, PhD, an engineer with expertise in wireless systems, machine learning and cybersecurity was looking for a solution. He thought that there must be a better way and went on to establish his company, GroGuru in 2014 as he kept looking for a solution that could help him and also prove to be useful for the wider agri market.
In late 2015, Farooq joined-up with Jeff Campbell, PhD, a physicist, with expertise in soil moisture sensor designer and near field communication technology, and the company pivoted to focus on strategic irrigation management in the commercial agriculture space. Jeff Campbell had experience installing cable-based soil sensors in broad-acre row crops, and when doing and install, knee-deep in mud, he thought “there must be a better way”. Farooq and Jeff teamed up on the development of a system solution including the company’s patented soil sensors, patented algorithms and system approach, and patented wireless underground system (WUGS).
In 2017, Patrick Henry, a serial entrepreneur and Angel investor started working with GroGuru as an investor and advisor and joined the company as the third Co-founder and CEO in mid-2018. This led a rapid expansion in the skill base and product roadmap, including the hiring of David Sloane, PhD, as the company’s Chief Agronomist, and Vince Ferrante as head of sales. In 2019 the first wireless underground systems (WUGS) were installed and this has proved to be a winning product in the western corn belt, where GroGuru is rapidly gaining great traction within the industry.
GroGuru is all about strategic irrigation management. Their mission is to help farmers make more money by increasing crop yield and more efficiently using water and other scarce resources efficiently and sustainable. This helps in the big picture where we will need to increase the world’s food supply by 50 per cent by the year 2050, and over 70% of the world’s freshwater supply is already used for agriculture irrigation.
GroGuru’s system solution includes soil sensors, communications telemetry, Cloud-based software, and an intuitive, farmer-friendly user interface that farmers can assess on their computer, tablet or mobile device. The solution enables strategic irrigation management of row crops and permanent plantings that result in a 10–20% increase in crop yield, whilst simultaneously, reducing input costs by 10- 20%. The result is a substantial increase in profitability and sustainability for farmers and irrigators. The offering is sold as a Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription.
A Streamlined Approach
Farmers have been using soil moisture sensors to improve irrigation management for decades however it has always been a bespoke, consulting style approach with many individuals and no industry-wide leader. The reason for this decentralised approach, explains GroGuru’s team, has been the inability to scale the annual installation and removal of sensors in row crops. It has also been hampered by the need for higher-level understanding and no company has been able to truly capture agronomy into artificial intelligence and machine learning.
GroGuru’s mission is to be the clear industry-wide leader through its ability to bring scalability to on-farm monitoring of crops. It is the company’s vision to be able to bring true artificial agronomic intelligence to farmers that will enable them to be more productive and more sustainable around the world.
A Team Built to Succeed
GroGuru has assembled a world-class team of experts in the key areas of software and hardware development, agronomy, strategic irrigation management, business leadership, and agri-business. “The key personality of our business is confidence. We have deep industry and technical knowledge and we know what is required to succeed,” says Patrick.
Some of the industry achievements to date include winning numerous industry pitch competitions, acceptance into premier AgTech accelerator programs including AgLaunch, SVG-Thrive and The Yield Lab. GroGuru is also the first and only company to provide a wireless underground solution. The company recently was the first AgTech company, to successfully raise an equity crowdfunding round of financing over $2 million on WeFunder, one the most successful fundraisers using a Regulation Crowdfunding platform.
Staying Relevant and in the Competition
Over the next 5 years, GroGuru will fine-tune it’s Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms to provide industry-leading automated decision support that will enable the entire irrigation industry to be far more efficient with dwindling resources. “Our permanently installed sensors will enable closed-loop automated control of irrigation systems. Essentially this will create smart irrigation controllers that will think for themselves and turn all irrigation farmers into experts,” says Farooq.
Staying ahead of the competition requires GroGuru to be nimble yet focused. It has the deep industry expertise and leverages wide industry networks to better understand industry requirements. Patrick adds, “We stay close to our customers and we listen. This ensures we build products that farmers want to buy rather than trying to sell them something that we built. We use a lot of contractors to get projects completed quickly but also enabling GroGuru to assemble different skill sets quickly if we need to pivot to meet market opportunities.”
In Time to Come
GroGuru’s most immediate plans will be to leverage the scalability that its wireless underground sensors will bring to the industry and to expand its dealer network. It also has a software development plan that will elevate GroGuru technology to the undisputed industry leader in irrigation decision support.