By Stephanie Metzinger
On any given day, farmers face a number of unpredictable variables that can take a heavy toll on their bottom line, including labor strikes, changes in consumer preferences, currency swings, drastic weather conditions, market crop pricing and more. A predictive analytics startup has come up with a tool that aggregates immense amounts of data and simplifies it down to key factors to improve decision-making for farmers, suppliers and buyers.
“We mine official data—think facts and stats from government agencies, research institutes, central banks, satellites—and put it all into one place,” said Martha Montoya, founder of AGTools. “Our algorithm takes that information to make the data accessible and easy to understand so we can predict better.”
The algorithm was developed by Montoya’s brothers—two accomplished engineers from Boeing and Amazon—and already has a proven track record of success. During the testing of the tool, the game-changing system was able to predict the May 2018 Brazilian truck strikes affecting papaya shipments. AGTools’ ability to track exchange rate trends also prevented one farmer from sending his blueberries to Spain, as it was more cost-efficient to just keep his product in the United States and donate it to the food bank.
“That grower would have lost a significant amount of money on that sale, paying for transportation, cooling and handling paperwork. We prevent farmers from spending more money on the ground,” said Montoya.
Today, AGTools has 513 fruits, vegetables, nuts and floral products in its database. It also has more than 81 million records of market data plus 25 years of historical data of all commodities on a national and global scale.
Providing Easy Access to Real-time Data to Increase Profits, Reduce Food Waste
Montoya, who grew up on a coffee farm in Colombia, originally launched AGTools after noticing there was a communication gap between farmers and food retailers. While serving as an international agricultural development liaison for companies such as Calavo and Del Monte, she would hear discrepancies between the growers and buyers.
“The farmer would say that the price of a certain commodity was good while the retailer was saying the price was in the dumps,” she said. “Only one party could be right so I ended up pulling government data and sending it over to both of them. That’s when it clicked. We need an algorithm that can put everyone in the same lane of information.”
While government organizations maintain archives of data, they can be cumbersome to access. For example, to acquire data on retail buys of a certain commodity over a 10-year period from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it would be 15 pages long and would take at least seven working days to create, according to Montoya. With AGTools, users can filter through the website and obtain that information in seconds with one click. Plus, they can see that data in an easy-to-read Excel format or through a visual graph. Users can also filter further to analyze spikes in volume, trends on which box sizes sell the most, which states are producing the most of a commodity at any given time of the year, and other data points.
Furthermore, there is a lack of accuracy in government data as it relates to real time. In many instances, the data that is reported Friday night will not be updated in time for a shipment Tuesday morning. Lack of real-time data impacts the agriculture industry and is part of the reason why more than $74 billion dollars of food is wasted between the harvest and distribution centers every year in the United States. AGTools has refined its software-as-a-service (software that is available over the internet rather than the traditional on-site installation) to ensure that its website is intuitive and simple to use, and that the most up-to-date data can be accessed quickly. The software also has the ability to provide alerts to ensure that farmers are continuously informed on any variable that can affect their profit.
“Our industry has suffered so much. I see farmers struggle and lose money, and more are closing their doors. They work around increasing rules and regulations while trying to still feed more people,” said Montoya. “I came to the U.S. to avoid violence in my home country and then decided farmers were my priority. So it’s a priority to me that AGTools remains affordable and accessible to everyone in the food supply chain.”
Collaborating to Expand Women’s Access to New Technologies
In addition to helping increase farm profits, AGTools is focused on accelerating the adoption of technology among female farmers. The startup, in collaboration with Western Growers and Charter Communications, is officially launching a pilot program in May 2019 to improve access to vital data and expand broadband reach for women growers.
“We want to train women farm owners on how to use data to improve their businesses,” said Montoya. “I believe, actually I know, if women have access to accurate data, they will be able to negotiate better and increase their profits.”
The pilot program provides 10 women farmers with access to the AGTools software for six months, free of charge. During that period, the AGTools team will train these farmers on how to best use the data to navigate better business outcomes. As a startup housed in Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, AGTools will work with Western Growers to identify and partner with other start-up companies also looking to improve access to new technologies for women growers.
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