Ep.47: Using Artificial Intelligence to Create Agronomic Plans
Ep. # 47: Using Artificial Intelligence to Create Agronomic Plans
As growers collect more data points than ever before, their service providers are often tasked with the unique undertaking of making sense of it all, to help the owner of that data make profitable insights. Arva Intelligence is a comprehensive data solution for those retailers and service providers with services ranging from data analytics, seed selection and remote sensing to carbon offset markets. In Episode 47 of Precision Points, Matt Rohlik, director of sales and strategic partnerships for Arva, shares the work they are doing to help growers extract as much value as possible out of their data.
Built as an enterprise solution, they use cloud-based storage to ingest all data streams. From there, they analyze field data by environment to create yield reports. They have integrated artificial intelligence tools that then help place seed and fertilizer by environment and create a comprehensive plan for the growing season.
“Arva set out and created an approach that's unique by micro climates. We look at micro climates, which think about a micro climate as a certain part of the state might get different rainfalls and higher GDDs (growing degree days) than another part of the state, and just weather patterns are different,” started Matt. “So, we put together micro climates across the United States and around the world. And then sub those micro climates, we came up with a biochemistry approach to soil.”
Arva has had a busy year creating new partnerships to better serve their customers with top of the line service and connectivity. As director of strategic partnerships, Matt shared that the partnership with Augmenta was one of several releases we would be hearing about this year.
“So, actually we're on our farm here in Arkansas today. We've had a two-day field day with a company we just signed with called Augmenta. Augmenta is streamlining nutrient efficiency for in-season for the cotton people that are doing variable rate PGRs, for pulse crops and other grains that have opportunity for variable rate foliar applied product, fungicides, etc. And it's just dry enough here where they're out testing some of their new equipment,” shared Matt. “So this is something I can say now is they've got a green on brown solution. So, just for kicks, we threw it on the side by side here yesterday and ran down the road and it'll pick up a weed that, no lie, is probably a half inch tall and all ground in brown at 40 miles an hour. It was just amazing. So, it's really neat.”
Partnerships and advancing technology in how we use and understand artificial intelligence is going to continue to progress for Arva on their quest to make data management more insight driven. If you’d like to learn more about Arva Intelligence’s services, tune into our full episode. You can also learn more at Arva Intelligence or find them on Twitter.
Matt grew up on a farm in southwest Minnesota raising corn, soybeans, and hogs - farrow to finish. He attended SDSU in Brookings, SD for college where he majored in finance with a minor in accounting and business. After college he entered into the precision ag world working for two John Deere Dealerships as their Integrated Solutions Manager for a total of 11 years. In 2015 Matt started farming and working for an aerial imagery company, where he would help with a merger and acquisition and lead North America sales until the summer of 2019. Matt is now the Director of Sales and Strategic Partnerships for Arva Intelligence, a company focused on Agronomic Optimization and Environmental Asset Markets.
Welcome to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast where we plant seeds of innovation to inspire informed decisions about precision technology and its impact for growers like you. We explore precision ag tools and technology from the soil to the sky with your host, Morgan Seger.
Morgan Seger (00:22):
Welcome back to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host, Morgan Seger, and in each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased ag tech information and ideas. Today on the show, I am joined by Matt Rohlik, the managing director of sales and strategic partnerships from Arva Intelligence. Now, Arva Intelligence is a pretty new company for me, so I was really interested in what he had to say, and how they are working to bring precision ag and real value from the carbon market together for their customers.
Morgan Seger (00:57):
Arva delivers a united data analytics platform for advisors and suppliers to use with their grower customers to increase profitability and sustainability. Arva leverages machine learning inside the farm gate to significantly improve economics and soil health for growers. In our conversation, Matt walks us through how they do this and also shares some exciting news about the partnerships he's been working on.
Morgan Seger (01:22):
Welcome back to Precision Points. Today on the show, I'm joined by Matt Rohlik, the Managing Director of Sales and Strategic Partnerships at Arva Intelligence. Matt, welcome to the show.
Matt Rohlik (01:33):
Thank you so very much. Glad to be here.
Morgan Seger (01:35):
So, I'm excited to get to know you. We got connected through a mutual colleague. Could you just kick us off by sharing your background so I can learn a little bit more about you?
Matt Rohlik (01:45):
Absolutely, Morgan. I'd love to. So, I originally came from Minnesota, grew up on a rural crop farm in a farrow-to-finish operation, and went to college actually to be a banker. There was no money in farming when I went to school back in the day, I guess. I worked my way through college working at a manufacturing company that injects plastics. And part of them, we were working on Raven products and a few other medical products, and that was about the time when robots were starting to come into the manufacturing world. So, I was fortunate enough to learn how to program some robots.
Matt Rohlik (02:22):
Got done with college, and went on the banking field for a little bit. It wasn't really my cup of tea. I missed the fields and the farms, if you will, and got an opportunity to go work for a John Deere dealership in South Dakota. And then shortly after that, I came a little bit closer to home in Minnesota, and worked for a John Deere dealership for about 11 years. And then got into the ag tech startup world, have been director of sales for a couple ag tech startups. And so, yeah, we farm a little bit in Minnesota and down in Arkansas, and I lead up sales and strategic partnerships for Arva now.
Morgan Seger (02:57):
Okay, wonderful. Well, you have a very diverse background then. So with your work with startups, I'm sure you're bringing a really interesting set of perspectives to Arva. Arva is actually a fairly new company for me. Could you maybe just tell me more about your company and the work you guys are doing?
Matt Rohlik (03:14):
Yeah, absolutely. Arva started in 2019, with two clients is all. And we set out to optimize fertility and genetics by environment. So, think about fertilizer and hybrid recipes at a field level, and at scalable. One of the two hardest things in farming is understanding what fertilizers, and where they work, and how you should place them. And then what hybrids you should put where and where to place them. So, that was really where we kicked off with.
Matt Rohlik (03:49):
And in 2020, we were awarded a contract from the Department of Energy on thing called ARPA-E Smart Farm grant. And we're the largest network of greenhouse gas measurements of any commercial company here in the United States. So think about yield mapping, and what we do there we're actually mapping the greenhouse gasses on the field level. So, it's really exciting what we're doing.
Matt Rohlik (04:20):
We're were working in corn, soybeans, rice, cotton, wheat, and milo, just sending a few crops, and we're understanding from an environmental perspective, how practices and different things change. So, when we got that contract, we said, you know what? There needs to be a little bit different approach in the carbon markets. And last year, well, in 2021, about March-April timeframe, we released a program called Arva Carbon Ready, which is pretty much preparing farmers and their trusted advisors for the carbon markets. And not just carbon, but ESG and a couple other things that are coming down the pipeline.
Matt Rohlik (05:01):
So, it's a grower focused, trusted advisor led program. So, partnering with retailers, precision ag people, equipment dealers, whoever it may be that has that trusted advisor role for the farmer and helping them along their journey. So, that's really exciting, and I think we were fortunate enough to be named one of the top ag tech startups or something like that in the last couple weeks here.
Matt Rohlik (05:25):
So, we went, I think almost almost a million acres in the last 10 months. So we're really excited about that, and really feel like our methodology of approach is really grower focused and grower centric. And it's leveraging all the data that they've been collecting for the last 10, 15, 20 years in the precision ag world. So, really kind of leveraging the agronomic perspective and decision precision ag to feed the environmental markets.
Morgan Seger (05:52):
Very cool. Yeah. I did see that you were one of the top startups. So, congratulations on that. We can link out to that article, I saw that online, in our show notes. So, actually in that article, they say that you're going about the carbon market in a different way. By that are they just saying that you're grower centric or is there something else to what you're doing that's helping growers capture real value?
Matt Rohlik (06:17):
Yeah, it does revolve around a lot of that. A lot of, I would say, our competitors in that space are trying to go farmer direct or grower direct. And nothing against these companies, because they all are very good companies and we all purchase products from them. But the advisor here, at least in North America, is the retail chain. It's the agronomist. It's the person that has that trusted advisor role for the farmer. And from being in precision ag for almost 20 years now, if there's one thing I've learned, you need to crawl, walk, run.
Matt Rohlik (06:52):
So, if we put that into like auto track or swath control or any of those other ones for anybody that's been in that sales position, you normally got to go out and demo it, right? People got to taste it. They got to touch. They got to feel it. And it's like, "Hey, I could, I could really use this," or "There's an ROI on it. Count me in." And no farmer ever throws it all on one operation all at one time. They just have got burnt so bad.
Matt Rohlik (07:17):
So, we just say, look, test it out. It's a no obligation, but we do want the trust advisor there because the trusted advisor is the one who's probably taken a lot of soil samples for them, which is very important for this. Probably done some EC or, or TSM type work. And they're the ones advising them on what products to buy in the future. So, how does the products, the regimen of those products being put out, affect the carbon environmental assets is very important moving into the future.
Matt Rohlik (07:48):
So, it's not just about carbon, because there's a lot of people out there who can't necessarily get carbon, but they will be able to get premiums for grain, for sustainability acts that they're already proving. And that's another thing that's very unique to us. It's not just about carbon. We want a more holistic view to the environmental asset market.
Morgan Seger (08:10):
Okay, interesting. So, when you think about grain, I know some of the issues I've heard come around, like traceability and things like that. Would it be a specific market built for that, or is that already out there and how they're capturing that looks different?
Matt Rohlik (08:26):
That's a very good point, Morgan. So, we have a couple of press releases or some partnerships that we're wrapping up that will be public here in the next couple weeks. And really what we're we're doing is rewarding farmers for what they're doing, and the growers for what they're doing. So, I'm going to say it hypothetically so I don't call it anybody's name. But let's say that the end customer, what's called CPGs or consumer product goods, my wife buys food at the grocery store. A lot of people care about where their food comes from. There's a big disconnect from our urban cousins to us farmers.
Matt Rohlik (09:02):
So, how do we bridge that gap? Well, they're hearing all this farmers are so bad. They need to do this to sequester carbon. No, we're not. We're really not. We actually have been doing this stuff way before they even asked for it. But if we're not benchmarking it, or understanding, what does that mean? So, for instance, if you're hauling your grain to an ethanol plant, which low carbon feed stocks are going to be very big, as you probably well know as you look at biodiesel and the airline industry making some big claims and so on and so forth.
Matt Rohlik (09:32):
But let's just say, we're going to bring our corn to the ethanol plant or is going to a feed mill. And that feed mill goes downstream to hogs, chickens, other poultry, cattle, etc. And you know that that corn was raised sustainably. And sustainably is you did things right. You documented them. You did things right. Well, anonymizing that data in the future to say 45% of the grain delivered to Champaign, Illinois processing plant had cover crops or no-till, or leverages split applied nitrogen. They're all environmentally sustainable, good for our crops, etc, etc.
Matt Rohlik (10:12):
That goes downstream into the processing and say, Hey, we really like that. Here's an opportunity to get more acres like that where a grain premium is paid for for a specific product. So, think about in like conventional corn or somebody that might go to premium market today, it's getting paid for the practices and what you're already doing.
Morgan Seger (10:34):
Okay. That makes sense. Yeah. And I did actually see another partnership just released here in January of 2020, and you have some work coming. So, what does this partnership work look like? How are you working with these other companies to create a better environment for the grower?
Matt Rohlik (10:50):
Yeah, absolutely. So, actually we're on our farm here in Arkansas today. We've had a two day field day with a company we just signed with called Augmenta. Augmenta is streamlining nutrient efficiency for in-season for the cotton people that are doing variable rate PGRs, for pulse crops and other grains that have opportunity for variable rate foliar applied product, fungicides, etc. And it's just dry enough here where they're out testing some of their new equipment.
Matt Rohlik (11:21):
So this is something I can say now is they've got a green on brown solution. So, just for kicks, we threw it on the side by side here yesterday and ran down the road and it'll pick up a weed that, no lie, is probably a half inch tall and all ground in brown at 40 miles an hour. It was just amazing. So, it's really neat.
Matt Rohlik (11:44):
But one of the things that they're doing with that partnership with that nutrient efficiency is optimizing placement of fertilizer in real time. So, obviously weather events affect all of us, and what we might have planned on needs to be adjusted. This is kind of streamlining and speeding up that process. So, if you can offset nitrogen in areas where you didn't or where you wanted to, we can create a carbon credit off of that as part of a holistic view. So, any customer that works with them in the future will be able to be leveraged on Arva's platform and be able to help create carbon credits and sell them into the market.
Morgan Seger (12:25):
So, that makes sense. So, with the green on brown technology, are they mapping it or are they spraying it? What are they doing with the information?
Matt Rohlik (12:34):
Right now they're running it on our sprayer out here. They're they're spraying it.
Morgan Seger (12:37):
Matt Rohlik (12:38):
Yeah. So, think about people that, if there's a specific weed that you're spraying, or burn down, or something like that's more for the farmer hat in me, but it was just really cool to see.
Morgan Seger (12:51):
No, I get it. I get it. Well, very interesting. Can you walk us through some of the original tools that you talked about? You mentioned optimizing your fertilizer and your seed with genetics and the environment it's going into. Tell me more about that.
Matt Rohlik (13:08):
Yeah, I'd love to. So, Arva set out and created an approach that's unique by micro climates. We look at micro climates, which think about a micro climate as a certain part of the state might get different rainfalls and higher GDDs than another part of the state, and just weather patterns are different. So, we put together micro climates across the United States and around the world. And then sub those micro climates, we came up with a biochemistry approach to soil.
Matt Rohlik (13:41):
Big mouthful. But at the end of the day, what it means is for those of you who have worked with soil maps or soil grids or those type of things in the past, you can maybe manage on a field-by-field basis, but it's hard to make that scalable across multiple fields. Because here I might call it something silty clay loam, and somebody else calls it another silty clay loam, which when you cluster those soils together or look at the micros and the macros and the PHs and everything else, they're actually very similar and they're in the same micro climate.
Matt Rohlik (14:12):
So, we have a way of clustering those soils together, which allows us to put scalable prediction models out for fertility and genetics. So, writing prescriptions at scale, product efficacy. So I think the number one thing, I just got out of a meeting here 20 minutes ago, was biologicals. Biologicals don't work everywhere or a specific biological doesn't work everywhere. Some biologicals work really well in some conditions and others work really well in other conditions.
Matt Rohlik (14:43):
So, understanding how and the why behind what's actually happening is very important. So, as we get higher abilities to leverage technologies that'll split apply, kind of like multi hybrid corn planters, and soybean planters today. Think about that with multi biological products being injected in and being placed in the field appropriately. So that's the type of work that we do on fertilizer optimization and then understanding what products work best where and why, from AMS to different types of urea coding, Dap, Map, Mesz, you name it. Just kind of really understanding what should be best placed on what fields. Farmers still got a choice to change that. The retailer still got a choice to change that. But we at least help set up a roadmap for them to do that.
Matt Rohlik (15:35):
On genetics because of what we've created. We've got a very large data set of genetics, and we can map them by environments. So, if you're unsure of what hybrids should go into what field, which I think a lot of us struggle with, and a lot of us can relate to. Hey, I planted hybrid A in these four fields. Two of them did really good. Two of them didn't. Hybrid B got placed in all four fields. In the two fields they didn't do very well, and the other two fields they did really well. Well, why?
Matt Rohlik (16:10):
That's where we come in and say, "Okay, here's the reasons why." That opens up a whole other can of worms on supply chain and if there's enough hybrids to go around to do that. But it at least gives a game plan moving forward so that people can start to understand where, what, why. And if you're brand loyal, we can put it down to a brand specific. So, if you want to deal with Becks or with Pioneer or Gold Country or DeKalb, or whoever it might be, you can do that, and we'll help you place them to the best of our abilities.
Morgan Seger (16:42):
So that makes a lot of sense. My wheels were turning around the seed portion just because the supply and demand is so tricky, and the hybrids are changing so fast. So, do you guys have like a network of research places where you're collecting this data, or is it mostly data you're collecting from other sources?
Matt Rohlik (17:04):
So we have a lot of public data that we gather from for a very generic tool, a very generic seed selector we have that anybody can use. But for a trusted advisor or retailer or a seed dealer themselves, they have the ability with very close data privacy laws. If they choose to work with their growers specifically, and their growers want to put their information in, that seed dealer or retailer can look at their client's data across whatever, how many locations they got, or regions they got, and help everybody out. Pick hybrids better and place them where they're at.
Matt Rohlik (17:44):
So, it's funny in a lot of precision ag, we look at ROI, and when I put my farmer hat on, one of the fastest ROIs is putting hybrids in the right fields. Let's just not take today's markets of $6 corn and $14 beans at the close today. But let's say corn is $4, 10 bushels better by just changing a hybrid. I never adjusted my fertilizers. I never did anything like that. All I did is just change my hybrid, and I'm $40 more net profit in my pocket, which for a lot of years here has been, sometimes that's all the profit you get. So it's important, you know?
Morgan Seger (18:25):
It is. It is. 10 bushel is a very modest change that you could see by getting the right hybrid. So, yep. I can appreciate that. So, when you're talking about the fertility piece, how much of that is like an in-season change, or is most of this getting done ahead of the season?
Matt Rohlik (18:45):
I think it's a blend. If I look at areas like Minnesota, we have soils that can hold a lot. And if we put NH3 down in the fall time, rarely do we ever lose anything because it freezes rock solid, and it's not a difference. Our farm in Arkansas, if you did that, it'd probably be gone in two weeks. It's just not realistic. So, everybody's a little bit different. Everybody's got their regimens and plans of how they do that.
Matt Rohlik (19:12):
So, we try to help come alongside and work with that trusted advisor, with that farmer, to understand what is their current regimens and what are some optimization pieces that we could be doing and helping them out for that. That's really all. And we're not saying, "Well, you need to change your whole program over to here," because we're not that local trusted advisor. That's not what we want to do.
Matt Rohlik (19:38):
I think there's some companies that did that in the past and that wasn't such a good thing. So, we would rather take that ground truth data that the retailers have and optimize it. One of the long time things I've heard from retailers is how do you take Bob who's been here for 35 years and train this kid that's coming in right out of school. Like there's such a knowledge gap there. How can you speed up that knowledge gap and use technology to do it?
Morgan Seger (20:08):
Yeah. And that's going to be a serious thing that we keep working through because there are some agronomists and retail folks that just, man, if I could know half of what they know about agronomy and what they've seen in our area, I would be such a better farmer. So, that's cool that you're trying to kind of bridge that gap and make some of that knowledge more accessible. That's awesome. So, what else should growers know about Arva Intelligence?
Matt Rohlik (20:32):
We are third party agnostic data company. We leverage some advanced technologies, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, which some people get a little afraid of like, "Wow, AI," and so on and so forth. But then I looked on Twitter last week when the autonomous tractor came out and it was all abuzz, right? And that's all ran by AI and ML.
Matt Rohlik (20:58):
But the thing that I always like to tell people is as farmers grow, and whether you're a 500 acre farmer or you're a 5,000 acre farmer, you are the CEO of that company. And you got to make a lot of decisions. Farmers wear the most hats out of any business that there is out there, because you've got so many different supply chains coming in and looking for your business. So, if we can help with just one or two pieces of that and optimize that, I think it's a big deal. And it just happens to be, those are some of the more expensive things that they got to look at.
Matt Rohlik (21:32):
So, we, our farmers, ourselves, obviously we've got different crops and that's always at the forefront of it, and the environment is just a co-beneficiary of it. So, that's probably one of the big things I would say.
Morgan Seger (21:49):
Awesome. If someone is interested in learning more about you or the work you're doing, where do you suggest they go?
Matt Rohlik (21:56):
Well, we have our website at www.arvaintelligence.com. We also are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. I think we throw a few TikToks out there every once in a while too.
Morgan Seger (22:09):
Do you? I'll have to look it up.
Matt Rohlik (22:12):
At least I do. I don't know if anybody else does but I do. And then just talk to your local trusted advisor, whether that's your agronomist, or seed dealer, or retailer for more information. We don't want to go to the growers direct. It's just that there's no reason to try to build a relationship there and try to break up a relationship that's been a long time. That's just not the way we're going to do business. So, we want to just come alongside that relationship, and add what value we can for the couple pieces that we do.
Morgan Seger (22:47):
Awesome. Yeah. Agronomy is local. I mean, even within a small geography, there's so many nuances to what they're doing. So, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, one final question, a question I ask all of my guests, is what is one technology you are most excited about? And it can be in or out of agriculture.
Matt Rohlik (23:04):
Oh, wow. Well, I don't really care what happens out of agriculture for the most part, I guess. But one of my favorite technologies is combine automation.
Morgan Seger (23:20):
Matt Rohlik (23:20):
That is by far one of my favorite. We're fortunate enough to have a new enough combine, and I won't say what color, but we're new enough to have a combine that will automatically adjust going throughout the field. And I thought I was a good combine operator. Like I think I still am a fair combine operator. But that thing makes me an excellent combine operator. And that technology leverages AI and ML as well. It's just a little bit different form of AI and ML. And that by far is probably one of the highest payback in things we've had on our farm technology-wise next to swath control.
Morgan Seger (23:56):
Okay. That's really interesting. I actually just had someone else talk to me about this and I feel like there must be more moving pieces to figuring this out than what I originally thought, because it's taken a little bit to figure it out. So, what all adjustments is it making on the go that's making your life easier?
Matt Rohlik (24:15):
Yeah. Well, there's like two modes. I would call it gear one and gear two. It's not what they name it, but I would call it. There's like a phase one of phase two. The phase one is more just moving the combine adjustment. So, wind speed, rotor speed, sieve opening, chaffer opening, those type of things, just actual settings as you're going through the field. You get out and you're like, "Oh, I'm throwing a little corn over, soybeans over. I got to adjust it." Once you get a set point and it learns a set point, then you just leave it alone. You can adjust for splits or chaff or any of these other things. So, that's only the portion that we use.
Matt Rohlik (24:57):
There is a more advanced portion that you can use where it actually will control the speed of the combine. The problem is, as many of you probably know, if you aren't paying attention, or your grain cart operator's not paying attention, and I'm not throwing grain cart operators under the bus, but it is so easy to spill crop that I just don't feel comfortable turning that portion of it on. We don't have combine grain cart automation, so I guess that's the next thing somebody will probably try to sell me. But as long as the first part, I'm getting a good quality sample into the grain hopper and into the cart, I hopefully am doing my portion of the job.
Morgan Seger (25:35):
Right. You're not throwing it out the back and you're good.
Matt Rohlik (25:37):
Morgan Seger (25:37):
You're crossing all those T's. Well, interesting. But yes, I bet you that grain cart coming right along is definitely what's going to be showing up next.
Matt Rohlik (25:45):
Yeah, I'm sure. I'm sure.
Morgan Seger (25:49):
Well, thank you so much for spending time with me here today. I really appreciate it, and I appreciate your insights.
Matt Rohlik (25:55):
Thank you, Morgan. It has been a blast and I just want to have a shout out to everybody on the podcast here. And again, just remind if you are interested in learning more about Arva, please talk to your local trusted advisor and follow us on social media. Visit our website for more information.
Morgan Seger (26:13):
Awesome. Thank you.
Matt Rohlik (26:14):
Morgan Seger (26:16):
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Precision Points. And thank you, Matt, for joining me on the show to talk about Arva Intelligence and the work you guys are doing. I think it's really interesting to kind of watch how every piece of the puzzle is getting brought together when we think about precision ag, data analytics, machine learning and sustainability efforts with this carbon market opportunity.
Morgan Seger (26:38):
As always our full show notes from this episode will be available at precisionagreviews.com. We have a few new team members that are bringing some really exciting content to our website. We have grower profiles and more precision ag information than ever before. If you haven't been to precisionagreviews.com lately, I highly encourage you to go and check it out.
Morgan Seger (26:59):
You can contribute to this content by leaving a review of your own. If you had a good or bad experience with any precision ag product or service, we would love to hear it. It helps us all work together as we're trying to make these precision ag decisions on our own farm. Thanks for tuning in to Precision Points. Let's grow together.
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