“Nanofabrication” is probably not the first word that comes to mind when you think of farming or agriculture. But it’s how Teralytic builds a wireless sensor that detects nitrogen, phosphate and potassium (NPK) levels in soil to help farmers reduce waste and improve their yields.
The Teralytic sensor is a battery-powered, meter long device that farmers stick in the ground. Packed inside are 26 different sensors that measure the surrounding soil’s NPK levels, pH levels, soil moisture, temperature, and aeration, as well as the temperature and humidity above ground.
Once set, the sensors take a snapshot of soil conditions every fifteen minutes and use LoRa wireless technology to broadcast data back to a base station and through to an online analytics dashboard. Teralytic Founder and CEO Steven Ridder notes that technology has provided farmers with tons of data, and “The challenge for farmers is that too much information has confused them more than helped them.” Ridder says Teralytic’s stripped down dashboard has a more “farmer friendly interface.”
Armed with this data, farmers can be more efficient with their inputs (like fertilizer) and generate better crop yields. Optimizing fertilizer can also help farmers reduce cost and avoid over-fertilization, thus reducing excess fertilizer runoff and greenhouse gas release.
Teralytic sensors also measure soil moisture levels, which can help farmers with water management and prevent overwatering. Ridder says this improved moisture data can also help farmers make better-informed sales decisions. As he describes it, non-irrigated Midwest crops are planted in May and farmers typically check their soils in July. During that check, farmers may note that surface soil is dry. Historically, they wouldn’t be able to see that, down by the roots, moisture levels were actually fine. But because they didn’t have accurate data, Ridder says farmers had a tendency to panic about crop yields and settle for a lower locked in price before the harvest.
Each Teralytic sensor costs $100, plus a per acre charge. The number of sensors required depends on the type of crop grown. Ridder told me “Strawberries and avocados will need a sensor every 2.5 – 10 acres. Most grain crops will need a sensor every 30 – 50 acres. Cotton and canola need one every 50 – 70 acres.” The company has an online tool to help farmers determine the number of sensors needed.
Teralytic isn’t alone in bringing robust data to farms. Arable has developed the Mark sensor, which includes acoustic and spectrometer measuring, and can be sent placed in fields to assist with crop management.
What sets Teralytic apart, says Ridder, is his company’s focus on soil measurements and NPK. Teralytics says it offers “the world’s first wireless NPK sensor.” The company has eight Ph.D.’s developing the product, split between New York City and the UC Berkeley nanofabrication lab, who are creating the proprietary chipset that powers Teralytic’s sensors. They’re so secret that Ridder wouldn’t talk about them.
Teralytic launched a year and a half ago and raised a $2.25 million seed round in August of last year. It has conducted pilot projects in California and Ridder says they have 150 additional clients that want to conduct their own pilot programs starting in April. The company will officially debut on March 20th.