Consumer Physics, an Israeli start-up, has developed a portable solution enabling farmers, agronomists and seed producers with the capacity to analyze the moisture levels of larger sample sizes of corn, project the optimal harvest time, save lab and dry-down costs and increase yield potential. Providing results “in seconds,” the technology does not require cob shelling and is based on SCiO – Consumer Physics’ micro-near infra-red (NIR) flagship platform, which is coined as the “world’s first pocket-sized connected micro-spectrometer.”

“It took over two years to develop this product, which is based on our solid NIRS platform that took several years to perfect. The main challenges were to optimize the features and user interface to make sure that the solution addresses the needs of its users – the seed producers, agronomists, farmers. This required close cooperation with our seed production partners, such as Corteva Agriscience,” Guy Spira, Chief Revenue Officer at Consumer Physics tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

The solution includes a pocket-sized analyzer based on NIR Spectroscopy as well as a mobile app that sends data to the cloud, where Consumer Physics’ algorithms analyze the data and send back the results in seconds. “This solution is tailored for corn farmers, corn seed producers and agronomists,” Spira explains.

Consumer Physics’ user-friendly solution replaces lengthy, expensive and complicated processes that currently require the collection of several corn cobs from the field, which are sent back to the plants or labs. In the labs, kernels must then be shelled and ground, with results taking up to several hours.

“Conventional methods require sampling corn kernels, which are painstakingly extracted, carefully logged and then sent to labs that are typically hours away. These processes are lengthy, expensive, require constant training of personnel and maintenance of expensive equipment,” notes Spira.

“We are working on analysis solutions for other agriculture segments that we plan to launch in 2020,” he adds.

The start-up opened new sales offices in Minnesota, US, and began piloting the solution in 2019. Shortly after, SCiO was rolled out by major corn growers and seed producers in North America including Corteva Agriscience, Syngenta, Cargill, Beck’s and Precision Planting.

“Simple and non-destructive”
Corn is a highly valued commodity both for the food industry, as well as for a wide range of other industrial applications. The National Corn Growers Association in the US estimates that the value of corn grown in the US alone amounted to US$53 billion in 2019, planted on 90 million acres.

Analyzing moisture with SCiO is described by Consumer Physics as “simple and non-destructive.” The operation involves a quick process of scanning five different cobs, tapping the mobile app, and getting the moisture level reading within seconds. The solution’s accuracy and precision pegged as “on par with labs,” and moisture levels range from 8 to 80 percent. The higher range is particularly relevant for seed producers to monitor the growing process and collect data to support the development of future products.

With SCiO, users can conduct many measurements daily, from numerous locations in the field, to ascertain the precise moisture level in each plot and determine the optimal harvest time. Users can also track and monitor the data collected in the cloud across time to produce long-range insights into crop efficiency and areas where they should make improvements.

“We successfully transferred NIR technology from the lab into the field, allowing growers and operators to get more data and take better decisions,” says Terry Allen, Consumer Physics’s North America Head of Business Development.

According to Allen, “precise moisture measurement in real time has a direct impact on the corn business’ bottom line. SCiO was seen to improve forecasting by about 2 to 3 percent, which is likely to save tens of thousands of dollars on an average 1,000-acre field.” 

Smartphone-enabled agri-food science
User-friendly agri-food technology is increasingly leveraged by industry in streamlining the tedious processes “We are already seeing app-enabled products, such as SCiO, starting to proliferate the agri-food space, enabling new PORTABLE use cases, communication with cloud algorithms over cellular networks and simplifying workflows,” Spira details.

“Since smartphones are so proliferated in our daily lives, agri-food features can also be accessed anytime, anywhere. With time, as new features and more computing power are added to smartphones, we may even start seeing professional agri-food related features integrated within smartphones,” he envisions.

Smartphone tech is prevalently used in conjunction with other novel software tools, such as blockchain, to enhance the productivity of farmers, producers and consumers. For instance, IBM and Farmer Connect recently unveiled a blockchain-powered app to boost coffee traceability of its Zoégas range.

Meanwhile, across the board, digital solutions such as smartphone-enabled “smart trading” have been increasingly spotlighted throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, as companies adapt and pivot to navigate the pandemic.