Chronic issues, rare events and harvest

Diversity of crops makes for different forecasting capabilities

In April of this year, Arable revealed itself to the world. “We’ve had a completely fascinating year,” says Arable’s Adam Wolf. Arable is the maker of a device that enables accurate forecasting of produce yields, quality and harvest times. Interest for the device is huge, also outside the US. “I would say that 75 percent of all interest and sales of the past three months has been international,” commented Wolf. Arable has been approached by a Colombian passion fruit grower, a Kenyan flower producer, other tropical fruit growers as well as coffee and tea plantations. “It is so exciting to see the diversity of different crops that people are growing and to understand how nuanced their issues are. This really shaped our product development. The focus is on crop-specific interfaces. Because forecasting in a lemon orchard versus a strawberry field is wildly different,” Wolf said. 

Arable device in strawberry field

Fundamental issues such as micro-climate variation 
Arable’s device offers different forecasting elements. The company just rolled out 50 devices with Driscoll’s who is putting them into their growing partners’ fields. “We clearly see three motifs for assessing risk, with the first one including the fundamental key performance indicators like degree days and irrigation demand,” mentioned Wolf. “Our device helps understand what is going on.” These are the routine KPI’s that represent chronic risk. The deployment with Driscoll’s shows temperature differences just within the Santa Maria Valley of 10 degrees or even 20 degrees Fahrenheit between a windy spot and an inland spot. “Microclimate variation is gigantic, and nobody has a handle on it. It’s very variable. Instead of having a naïve view that every strawberry takes 32 days to harvest, the device will show which ones are average and which ones take five more days because it is a bit cooler.”

During the time of the wildfires in the Napa/Sonoma region, an Oregon hop grower registered lower day time temperatures because there was less sun reaching due to the smoke. Night time temperatures on the other hand were higher because it was insulated from radiating out to space. As a result, the degree day accumulation lowered, water stress was reduced, growth rates went down and the grower’s season was extended. All the information was captured from Arable’s devices, and the thermal radiation is something that had never been measured in the field before. 

Arable device in lettuce field

Rare events and harvest
“Then, there are the rare events,” continued Wolf. It is interesting to learn about these rare events that people are on the lookout for. Arable just put it a USDA proposal with J.V. Smith and Shenandoah Growers along with the USDA-ARS and Rutgers University to look at downy mildew in spinach and basil. “These are high-consequence issues, but also high cost to treat – especially in organics, where there are fewer tools and early warning has more value.” The third event is harvest time. “People are obsessed with the finish line. They are always looking at the end and want to know if they are early or late. We are helping people navigate the challenges at the moment of harvest,” Wolf added. What can happen, how much production do I have, how large should be contracts be? Arable is developed forecasting capabilities in all three categories for a variety of crops to help producers and processors anticipate and manage risks. 

Labor is the top issue
“What everyone describes as their top three issues are labor, labor and labor, in the US as well as other parts of the world. There is nobody that is not concerned about it,” said Wolf. Some places have a more permanent pool such as Oxnard and Ventura in California. People live there year-round, and their kids go to college. These places support a more permanent year-round labor force. It’s part of the community. Around table grape harvest in California’s Central Valley, grape growers need hundreds of pickers for a couple of days and labor needs to be secured way ahead of time. “Think of it as an auction process where you can get a better place if you get in your bid early.” Arable’s harvest time forecasts can help sequence out harvest times to secure labor early. 
“Our direction with the software is that once it gets that last bit of refinement for the key actionable insights for each crop, we can make people’s lives easier. People are grateful for it.”

Adam Wolf

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