Podcast: 02. Josh Krenz - Sensor-Based Scouting
How do you measure what’s important on your farm? Every farm and crop has different demands; EarthScout brings a way to quantify what mother nature brings to each field, both above and below soil.
In my conversation with Josh Krenz, COO at EarthScout, we talked through the EarthScout field level sensors. The standard device measures humidity and temperature. The field units have several ports that can collect and communicate with other probes. This allows you to customize the data you receive, depending on what is most important to your operation.
One example of additional data is a soil sensor for temperature, moisture, and electrical conductivity. They are currently developing a sensor that monitors leaf wetness. For a full list of available sensors, you can go to earthscout.com.
Outdoors, the field unit is powered by a solar panel. While indoors, it runs on electricity,
making it versatile for row crops, specialty crops, and even hydroponics. Josh talked through everything from implications for row crops under irrigation all the way to monitoring almond groves. Weather has a huge impact on our ability to spray, and this realtime dashboard could be a handy tool for deciding if it is the right environment for your application.
Coming in 2021, EarthScout will be networking their sensors, where one field unit can have sensors in 10 areas that all communicate through the initial unit. This may be a way to more intensely manage across different management zones in your fields.
“It's more than just sensors and probes,” Josh said. “It's about putting data back in the hands of farmers.”
If you’re trying to decide if this tool is right for your operation, the question you should ask yourself is: How would this information change the way you manage?
Have you used EarthScout? Write a review here.
Morgan: Morgan Seger
Guest: Josh Krenz, COO of EarthScout
Morgan: I’m your host, Morgan Seger, and today on the show I am spending a little time chatting with Josh Krenz, the COO of EarthScout. Now EarthScout is a device that you put in your field that you can connect different sensor probes to and Josh really walks us through what types of data and information those probes are collecting and how growers can use them to make decisions on their own farm. I hope you enjoy this interview with Josh.
Morgan: Hi, Josh. Welcome to Precision Points.
Josh: Hey, Morgan. It’s good to be here.
Morgan: When I got started in my Ag tech career back in 2009, Josh, you weren't my official first boss but with the weekly check-ins and stuff like that, I would consider you my first official mentor, and I was always so grateful for the the guidance and the little bit of direction you provided us that summer. As our careers and journeys have taken different paths, I'm so excited to be here today and kind of reconnect and visit on what you’ve been up to...
Josh: You didn’t have to start the conversation by dating us, Morgan…!
Morgan: I shouldn’t have included the year, I guess…!
Josh: ... but that’s okay...that was a fun summer and a great experience... and you're right, it’s been pretty cool to watch your path and watch you grow in your career.
Morgan: Thanks. I appreciate that. So what have you been working on? What have you been up to lately?
Josh: I’ve got a couple things going on, but... one of my newest ventures that I’m really excited about is... in March, I became an owner in a company called EarthScout, which is a Minneapolis-based company in the Precision Ag space.
Morgan: I was checking out the website and... it looks like they are field monitors. Can you give us a little bit of history about the company and your product?
Josh: Year. Sure. Absolutely. So EarthScout has actually been around for a little over three years and the original folks that started EarthScout actually owned another company called Zion Ready Controls that makes sensors and monitoring equipment in the HVAC industry as well as other industries that deal in, what I would call, harsh conditions, so we're talking about humidity... we’re talking about freezing... extreme temperatures. So they know how to make circuitry...circuit boards... so that's what we’re talking about... things that generate data that can share information through a cellular Wi-Fi network and these folks figured out how to do that at this company called Zion Ready Controls. They also happen to be farm kids and as good farm-kid engineers, they wanted to find something that would also work in agriculture, and in a way, give back to the agricultural community. So they started EarthScout three years ago and then I joined the company in March to help with the commercialization to now bring this to farmers. But it‘s really more than just sensors and probes; it’s about putting data back in the hands of farmers.
Morgan: Interesting. So what kind of data are the sensors collecting?
Josh: There are a variety of sensors and probes that are available today. They all start with a base we call the EarthScout unit... so the EarthScout unit you would literally put in your field…. soybean field, corn field, lettuce field, strawberry field, apple orchard...you pick your crop …. and then it has a series of ports that can then be plugged into the EarthScout which is your… your EarthScout is really your communicator... so it works off of a cellular network. So as long as your phone works, you should be able to use the EarthScout unit there. And then we have a series of different sensors or probes that then plug into the EarthScout, allowing you, from a farmer’s stand point, to then gather different real-time data from that field. So every unit comes standard with a sensor that does humidity and temperature. So if you think about those things, you know you can use weather stations and other tools to gather some data but having that real in-field humidity may help you make some of your spraying decisions or help your dealer, retailer, co-op make those decisions with you, when it comes to using things like Dicamba and other products that are really humidity sensitive.
And then, examples of other add-on sensors and probes that you can add on to the EarthScout would include a soil sensor… so the soil probe can actually give you soil EC... it’ll give you a soil temperature as well. It’ll also give you soil moisture. So there's a couple different ways you can think that... so if you are farming irrigation ground, whether you're on pivots or you've got some other form of irrigation... and you're always asking yourself that burning question - maybe, I'm doing variable rate irrigation - I've got my prescription, but is the water really getting to where it needs to go, right? Where is it in the root zone? Am I fertigating through it? Is my fertigation getting to where it is... or even if you're not on irrigation... if you have a rain event, you know, and you’re side dressing or if you’re putting other forms of fertilizer out there, and you're wondering if you got washed out of the root zone, right...? So we’ve got soil probes that you can then put in and you can add 2 soil probes to an EarthScout so it can give you different ranges. So you want to be in that top layer depending on the crop, you know... somewhere between 2 and 6 inches... and then you want to be in that sublayer based off the crop where your earth zone is going to be as well. So just taking those two data points will then allow you to make some growing parameters, as a grower, to decide, hey, did my water move? Did my nutrients move? So those are a few examples. We've got others that we can do indoor growths, as well as outdoor growths. So our outdoor panels... we have solar panels that we put on. An indoor... they all run off electricity. So we can do hydroponics and other indoor greenhouse plants as well.
Morgan: So do you have, like, an ideal grower or crop that you would think is the best.... or are you really seeing it across the board?
Josh: Yeh, it kind of depends actually by the crop... but really, it’s about a grower’s management style, right? More than it is about the specific crop as well because we've got tools that'll go everywhere, from a standard row crop... to this morning... I was talking to an almond grower in California… so we’ve got everything in between and from veggies to leafy's to berries... we can serve all those purposes. The question is what type of grower or what type of farmer are you? And how are you going to farm? What are you going to do with the data? Our belief is that farmers own the data. They own it, right; it’s their data. And it's all about what you're going to do with that and how that data adds value to your farm... So you have to ask yourself - if I knew what my soil temperature was... what would I do with that data? And that type of grower, with that mindset, will determine if they're the right grower to use an EarthScout or any precision ag technology for that matter.
Morgan: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.... I mean... I think we get in this mode of data collection sometimes where we don't really know what we want to do with it but we try to collect as much as we can just in case we get there. So those practical applications about, you know, ...spraying... clearly that's a big one... whether or not to make nitrogen applications and, I mean, I could see, even just like tracking, like you were saying, humidity and stuff but I think that would have a correlation into potential disease pressure and things like that. So having that archive, you know, I could see how it could influence those decisions.
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. And the one thing about our EarthScout system, we're providing the raw database... raw data back in a chart, easy to read chart form... to the grower...to the grower’s consultant, advisor, retailer... whoever they choose to share the data with...and it’s their data... and then at that point in time, the grower can look at trends across the entire season, you know. Even if you're not looking at it until the end of the year… but it gives you the opportunity to do things about it in season for those things you can still manage... and the management goes back to your original question, you know, what type of grower is it and then what type of system are they in?
And so there are some growers, when they look at this, and we explain that you can use the soil probe to get temperature and moisture and, you see, they want to leave their EarthScout in all winter long so that they can see what their temps are for their soil to know when to actually plant in the spring, right, instead of looking... going out and sticking a temperature into the ground in a couple of different places or guessing with your fingers or something like us good agronomists do at times. What if you had actual data to make decisions on, right, Morgan? And so there are so many things that we can do with data. What we're not doing with EarthScout is taking that data and telling you what you have to do with it. We’re suggesting, based off your operations that you as a farmer or as the person….the consultant, the ag advisor, the retailer... that is helping the farmer...you know best what to do with that data based off that individual operation. That’s one of the things that we believe at EarthScout is that farming is still all about a personal touch and there's a lot of art, along with science, that goes along with it.
Morgan: Yep, I would totally agree with that. So does EarthScout, or the probes, or the data, I guess really, does it integrate with any other systems right now or is it more of a stand alone data set?
Josh: Yeah, so today it's really a stand alone data set ...to add other data points that that grower can do. So, down the road and, you know maybe, it's 12 months or maybe it's 36 months, there are ways that, and systems that exist, technology today, that we can integrate it with...whether it's a field monitor or whether it is with their system that they use to turn their irrigation on and off, so there are ways that we can do that. Today, we have purposely kept it separate as we're trying to help growers first understand what they can do with these parameters alone and then still let them make the best decisions that they need to and then,... the other reason, is that growers are going to tell us what systems they want it to hook into...and so we’ve got an open API system so that that way we can talk to other systems as we need to… and so forth. The same with sensors and probes…. we're not going to be the ones to sit and tell you that our sensors and probes are the best in the world. If other people make better sensors and probes, we've actually made the EarthScout system be able to easily integrate because of that open API so that way you can actually bring in other sensors and probes over time, with EarthScout and help bring those to the marketplace for growers as well.
Morgan: Interesting, and I was just thinking, you know, some growers may already have some pieces they are trying to collect already and how those would work together… and so you’re saying, as long as they have, like a smartphone, or do they see their dashboard online ... how would they see their information?
Josh: That's a great question. They can see their dashboard on their phone or they can also go to our web portal. So with either one of those they can see the information. The web portal is going to give them more ability to customize the graphs and so forth. And also the web portal allows them to set up alerts so if they want to set up a parameter and, so again, its parameter shows them by the grower or whoever is advising them. So, you know, the example I talked about last Friday with a grower... was an apple orchard. I want to know if I've got a certain freeze point that hits, right? Or with my bean field, I want to know a certain freeze point that hits my beans, for dry-down. So you can put in different parameters in the EarthScout that will actually send you an alarm message through the app on your phone or on your web portal that will allow you to then not have to sit and watch it all the time but send me an alert when something's happening that I asked it to watch for.
Morgan: Gotcha... interesting. I mean it seems like and maybe it's always been like this and I just was out of touch, but it does seem like the weather is getting more and more spotty. So even if you have a field just a couple miles away, it might be totally different than what’s at your house. So... how many of these extensors do you recommend for them to get, like, a good footprint on what's going on in their operation?
Josh: I think it depends on how granular a farmer wants to farm, right? So you know, literally, when you put an EarthScout in the field, the sensors can go as far as 10 feet... so you're measuring around 10 feet around where that EarthScout is today, whether you're putting a soil probe into the ground, that air of humidity is still only good right there for that spot. We have other sensors that measure CO2 and oxygen as well; so if you think about growers that are starting to look at crops, where they’re looking for carbon credits, or things of that nature, we can start to help do that...so depending on what you were trying to measure for, you may say, in the case of the carbon credit, that you really only need one sensor for 100 acres... for you know, the crop is the same, right...and so it’s not really going to vary.
Now, if your topography changes and your humidity could change, based off of your elevation and the lowlands versus the highlands, you might want to know where you can spare or not. You might need 2 EarthScouts, in that case. So it depends on what you're doing... the same when you're thinking about irrigation by zones, you know. I would probably have one EarthScout in each zone, especially if you're trying to do anything from a variable rate irrigation or if you have different crops on that same irrigation system.
Now in the future, we’ve addressed this just like how a grower does tissue sampling; they might go down to a 40-acre plot... they might do a 10 acre plot, depending on what they are managing. The same thing is going to be with EarthScouts. We want farmers to be able to manage time in smaller zones…. They also understand that farmers may not need ALL the data from the entire EarthScout. Let’s say we have them hooked up with 5 sensors, but what's really important to that farmer is that they get the soil moisture in 10 zones in that field. Well, coming in 2021, we have a new innovation that comes along with the EarthScout that will allow you to put up to 10 of these other probes in a field that all communicate back to the mother EarthScout. So you’ll only need one EarthScout unit to be able to do the cellular communication to get the data to move back and forth, but then you can put multiple of these other probes into the field. Now, it can only have one sensor on it... so you can have a soil sensor, for example, which would still give you those three readings… the EC, the soil temperature, and the soil moisture, but you could put it into 10 different zones in a field. So, it's a great question, right, Morgan, and the answer is it varies, depending on how the grower wants to grow and manage. That's also why we're continuing to innovate at EarthScout and we're moving from one zone in a field to eventually you can have ten and maybe, we'll move beyond that at some point as well.
Morgan: Now if you have those ten and, I know this is in the future, but will it aggregate that data together or will it keep those readings all separate and just communicate it through the one?
Josh: Yeh, so the original design is to keep it all separate because you have to still be able to manage those zones. So option one would be to keep it all separate. Option two is we could create an average as well. So you as a grower…. could have an average… it's kind of like in soil samples, right?... if you have variable rate ability, you want to know those individual samples and you want to variable rate it, right? But certain nutrients that you may be putting out, maybe you don't care about the BRT or maybe you don't have that capability so that even though you could sample that field, you may decide to take a composite average. So you could do it both ways... in that case, the EarthScout. The data is in the power of the hands of a farmer to decide.
Morgan: Gotcha. So I am just curious with the almond grower you were talking to... What types of things were they most interested in?
Josh: You’re interested in that... from Ohio…uh??
Morgan: I’m just extremely unfamiliar with it, being from Ohio!
Josh: Well, I’m from Wisconsin and I live in Minnesota now, but one of the cool things about EarthScout is that I get to talk to farmers from across the U.S. and I guess, I always start off this way... I'm just a dumb dairy farmer kid from Wisconsin that didn't know any better so I went to school and I still don't milk cows so when I talked to mister almond farmer, I’m like, hey...just so you know I know we don’t milk them. I know that...and after that, you know, I know about thiiiiis much. I got educated this morning; it was 20 minutes of just pure listening before I even asked my first question.
And really, I mean, California, you know... in the news… everybody knows that they have water issues. This grower, in this case, his number one concern was really about water and they use a different form of irrigation than what we would see as standard here in the Midwest. They use a lot of small little emitters, and stuff like that, around the trees and so they wanted to really get granular on what their water usage was. The other thing that this grower thought was really interesting... so we have on the docket for 2021 release... we actually have a sensor that monitors leaf wetness and so that'll be coming in 2021, so there's a lot of reasons we would want to know leaf wetness, right, when you're out going to spray a foliar, from that aspect, right? And so he was really interested, this particular grower, on when that sensor was going to be available as well. So those are the two things that the almond person was thinking about this morning...
Morgan: That’s interesting. I could definitely see the advantage when you’re going to walk your fields, being able to prioritize them by which one is the driest... also, if you could look at leaf wetness. I’m sure a lot of interns would appreciate that, too.
Awesome. Well, I appreciate you kind of giving me an overview there and it sounds like you have a lot of exciting things coming up in the next year or two. I anticipate updates and I'm excited to watch that. So where would you like to send people if they wanted to see some of this, you know, firsthand, or learn more about it?
Josh: Sure. So they can go to our website which is earthscout.com. They can go check it out and it's got all the information and actually lists out all of the current sensors that we currently have and so you can actually go in there and see what metrics and which data that growers can actually see and be able to start measuring on their fields today.
Morgan: Ok. Great! I’ll put that in the show notes, too, so if anyone wants to go there, they can get it from the show notes. Last question for you... kind of off-the-wall one... but what is one technology, outside of your own technology, that you think is the most exciting or compelling for growers to be looking right now?
Josh: Yeah, you know, so I look at it as the agricultural chain, in general, and one of my passions, as well, is around reducing food waste. So it's a personal passion of mine. I’ve helped create a lot of fertilizer products in my past life with another business that I have, Vivid Life Sciences, on helping reduce waste by creating those products into fertilizer and other useful things like amino acids... and there's a company... I don't actually know anybody at the company... but I’ve been watching them for a little while….it’s called Nano Things. So Nano Things… and they actually have a nano tag. And the nano tag, from what I can tell watching them over the last year, looks like a UPC symbol that you'd see on a packaged food and it helps track more than just, like, what UPS would... where’s your package, right?... it tracks temperature, humidity... so when we’re talking about food in the food channel...and while this is agriculture and we’re all in the food channel... while we might harvest our soybeans and we don't know what they're going into next... maybe they're going into feed... we still have to think about all forms of agriculture and technology through that... and so that's one of the things that I'm watching is these nano things and to see if they can really bring this to fruition and help us basically measure our food production better….and by measuring, we can manage. And we can make sure the food is in the right place, make sure it's being stored at the right temperatures, and making sure we're addressing all the other variables... no different than we would in a farm field.
Morgan: That’s really interesting, actually. I'm going to have to look it up because I haven't heard of that but that's really cool. My husband and I were talking about this the other day. We don't farm very much, but we farm, and you know we grew, like, one and a half million pounds of food last year and there are still people, like, you know, in our own town and in the nearby area, that are hungry and it's, like, yes, we're growing field corn so it's different, but figuring out ways to kind of bridge those gaps could be really powerful.
Josh: So, absolutely. I also have a grass fed beef business that I run and operate off of our farm. We’re small. We’re a hundred acres, right? But we process about 65 head of cattle a year and covid-19, with everything that's going on right now, we sell direct to restaurants, grocery stores, and consumers in that business and, you know, while I'm earth scouting some other things, I'm watching what's going on in row crops. We're not feeling it, right? I mean, we’re distance. And just like you said, you know you're cruising all this food but you don't see the face of the end consumer. In the grass fed beef business that I have, I see the face of the end consumer... and food security and visibility of the food through the channel... which is why these nano things... this is my plug for those guys... I don't even know them...but there are other people trying to do what they are doing, too …. so I’ve been watching all these different segments. But I'll tell you the last six weeks with covid-19, my eyes have really been opened up to consumers, and consumer fears, whether they’re media based or other…. we could argue all day... but they want to know where their food is coming from and they will, at some point, be asking for trackability and traceability through the entire system.
Morgan: Yep, I can definitely see that. It’s crazy how much covid has changed things. It's the first time in a long time we've seen a little bit more insecurity about your food because you don't necessarily know if it's going to show up at the grocery store like it always does, so... it’s interesting.
Josh: Yeh, and for a nation founded by farmers, it's okay for us to have a second of pause and say, hey, we need to make sure that consumers understand we need to be advocates and we need to make sure that, on the other hand, consumers are also asking the right questions back, right? And so the other thing that I've seen come out of this is a lot of people are asking questions and, maybe, we're going to have a generation of change where they don't think that food comes from the grocery store.
Morgan: Yeh, when you said that you know you don't milk almonds, I'm like, that's not an all totally common sense thing these days...
Josh: It’s not, right?
Morgan: No, it’s not!
Josh: We can joke about other people that are going to listen to this and think I’m for real!!
Morgan: Well, I appreciate you taking the time to be on the show today. If you have any big updates or anything coming, be sure to reach out; we’d love to have you back on.
Josh: Sounds great. Really appreciate being on this morning.
Morgan: Thanks, Josh.
Host: Morgan Seger
Morgan Seger spent ten years working with ag retail, specifically in ag tech. She lives and farms in western Ohio, where she has four children with her husband Ben. Morgan, has her own blog called Heart and Soil where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.
Guest: Josh Krenz, COO of EarthScout
Josh Krenz’s agriculture business and marketing knowledge extends to both domestic and international markets in the areas of precision agriculture, nutrients, agricultural inputs, plant growth regulators, and seed and animal health. Previously, Josh has worked for Bader Rutter & Associates and Land O’ Lakes/WinField Solutions in agriculture business leadership roles. In addition to his COO responsibilities at EarthScout, he is also the Founder/CEO of Vivid Life Sciences, a sustainable plant physiology company, as well as the Co-founder/President of Windland Flats, a grass-fed beef brand and farm. Krenz was raised on a diversified Wisconsin farm and holds an MBA from Colorado State University and a BS in agricultural marketing from UW-River Falls.