Today crop threat detection company Taranis announced that they closed a $20 million Series B funding round led by Viola Ventures, with participation from existing investors Finistere Ventures, Vertex Ventures, and others. This latest round brings the company’s total funding to $30 million.
Founded in 2014 and based in Tel Aviv, Taranis uses aerial imaging to help farmers monitor their acreage for crop threats and irregularities, such as disease, weeds, soil nutrition, and harmful insects.
To do this, the startup combines multi-spectral imagery gathered from satellites, planes, and drones to keep constant tabs on farmers’ fields. The image resolution is so high, according to Taranis co-founder and CEO Ofir Schlam, that they can see a single beetle on a single leaf.
All images (they’ve captured 2 million in the past year alone) are uploaded into the Taranis database, which then analyzes them and creates a synthesized report of any potential threats/problems they “see”. Farmers can access said report through Taranis’ mobile app or via a web browser and decide how best to remedy any issues.
Pricing varies depending on the type of crop: high-value plans like sugar beets or potatoes, which require more scans, would cost farmers around $15 to $20 per acre per season. Lower-lift crops like soybeans, wheat, or cotton would cost them only $5 per acre per season.
Considering the average U.S. farmer has 444 acres, the price of Taranis’ service can really add up. However, Schlam was quick to emphasis that the return is 3 to 5 times the price, and that their technology can increase crop yields by up to 7.5 percent. As regulations around drones relax and open up in rural areas, he also expects that they’ll be able to reduce their price.
While I’m wary of any company that claims to do anything so drastic as increase crop yields across the board by 7.5 percent, Taranis seems to have the technology and team to back it up. Schlam has a background in tech and intelligence, and another cofounder came from aerospace engineering. He told me that the company has been awarded three patents and has 24 others pending. Earlier this year, Taranis also acquired Mavrx, a San Francisco-based agricultural aerial imaging platform.
As of now, the company has around 60 contracted agronomists who manually train the system to identify problems. However, once the technology has learned that a certain discoloration equates to, say, a potassium deficiency, it can make the connection on its own from then on. Bad for any future agronomists, good for farmers.
Taranis isn’t alone in using technology to make farmers’ lives easier. On the ground, companies like CropX (also based in Tel Aviv) and Teralytic use wireless sensors to help farmers manage things like moisture and fertilizer in their fields. Most similarly, Walmart has filed a patent for an application which uses machine learning to monitor pests, though to our knowledge they haven’t done any pilots so far.
The startup currently works with 19,000 farms across 30 states in the U.S., with an additional footprint in Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Russia, the Ukraine and Australia. With their new funding, Schlam said Taranis would continue to scale up operations in their existing geographies. They’ll also invest in R&D so that their service can identify more types of pests and diseases.