The team behind the Estonian start-up VitalFields, which develops management software for agricultural enterprises, includes European agriculture leaders and masters in machine learning and IT.VitalFields was established in 2011 as part of the Garage48 hackathon.We started out with weather forecasting, explains Vahur Meus, one of the founders and the current CTO at VitalFields.
We set the company up with an initial functioning service in just 48 hours at an event called Garage48. We realised that farmers and their work were hugely affected by the weather, so VitalFields originally concentrated on field-based weather forecasts.I also remember the times in the early days when we simply got in the car, drove to farm and listened to what the farmers had to say, he adds.
Today, those farmers are everyday users of VitalFields.In collaboration with the farmers and agriculture experts the team soon realised that the farms and agriculture companies needed more in order to ensure effective growth.Once we saw that there was a link between the weather and the occurrence of plant diseases and that lots of other agricultural indicators could tell the farmers how to make better decisions, we started developing our product along those lines, says Meus.
At first, the team worked on VitalFields on the side. But at some point we realised that regardless of our mortgages and leases and mouths to feed, we needed to step out of our comfortable nine-to-five zone, he says. You cant excel at doing two things at the same time.
Today, the VitalFields programme includes tools that are designed to make everyday work easier for farmers. We have electronic field records, a weather forecasting system, a warehouse, planning, reports and analyses, lists Martin Rand, the companys co-founder and current CEO.IT specialist and hobby farmerBesides being an ex-Skyper, Rand had previous experience in the field of agriculture he had worked as the IT manager of a predecessor to the Estonian Agricultural Board.
Meus only had a background in IT. You might say that VitalFields has given us the farming bug! the CTO smiles.
Were both submerged in agriculture at work, and as a hobby I run my family farm in Haaslava municipality near Tartu, Estonia.Its normal that you dont recognise every problem until youve faced them yourself, he adds. What makes agriculture interesting and challenging is that the plans you make on paper keep changing due to the weather and your technical or logistical possibilities.
You can make a detailed five-year sowing plan, but within the first couple of months it might turn out that you have to redo everything.VitalFields possibilitiesVitalFields is accessible online and via a mobile app. Its main function is to act as an electronic field record.
In it you can make entries about work that is being done. The solution allows you to mark all entries in one go, thereby reducing repeated activities. The VitalFields warehouse system lets you compile all of the input invested in the fields yield.
The entries made in the electronic fields record and warehouse are linked. Several analyses and reports update themselves based on the information in the field records and warehouse. Additionally, VitalFields features a weather forecasting system which allows you to view a forecast for each field separately.
The weather information is received from two sources: Yr.no and GISmeteo.Distribution and future prospectsOne of the most important areas for VitalFields is that the information in the electronic field records is needed by the farmers themselves, he adds.
Instead of it being about having to fill in the field record, we want to help the farmers analyse their data. And all so that in future the farmers can make wiser decisions based on actual data, not just intuition.Estonian data scientist Andres Kull, who is also an angel investor for VitalFields, says that the company offers a great opportunity for development.
One of the questions Im often asked by developers is how to get started with machine learning, he says. If you want to do machine learning, VitalFields gives you the perfect opportunity to learn it step by step and burrow into the wonderful world of big data, or constantly improve yourself in other areas.According to Meus the principle in VitalFields is that managing a farm is a science.
To be good at it you need to gather and understand your data.Numerous similar management systems have been developed around the world, but they are mostly only used in the countries they originate from. VitalFields, on the other hand, operates in several countries at once.
At present, approximately 6000 farms covering half a million hectares are using VitalFields. The rise in user numbers has been rapid: whereas in 2015 around 40 new users were joining the system each month, today this number has reached between 300 and 400. There are approximately 22 new users from Estonia every month.
The most rapid expansion is taking place in Germany and Poland.On this journey weve had moments of pure bliss where everythings been great and the futures looked bright, Meus smiles. And then weve had moments where everythings just seemed impossible!
But weve reached a more stable stage now where farmers in Estonia, Germany and Poland are very happy with the VitalFields service and our user numbers are increasing by the day, he adds. Our teams also growing in addition to IT specialists we also have leading agriculture specialists.The founders are hopeful regarding both VitalFields and the field of agriculture generally.
FAO analysis says that due to the increasing global population and middle-class population in large countries, food production around the world will have to double by 2050, Meus explains. Demands growing, but the land areas still the same.Farmers need to produce more within the same area of land, and that requires precise planning and smart decisions based on data, says Rand.
As such, the market for VitalFields is also growing. .