Smart Yields and partners receive USDA innovation grant to use AI to identify crop problems

Hawaii-based agtech company Smart Yields and its partners at the Pacific Rim Agricultural Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo were selected as one of five teams across the country to receive a USDA innovation grant focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). ).

The proposal, which features a “CoffeeMD” computer vision platform that can quickly identify the source of damage in coffee as pests, diseases or nutrient deficiencies, raised $100,000 from the AI ​​Innovation Fund, under the Agricultural Research Service (ARS ) from the USDA. The judging panel included national program leaders from all ARS national program areas.

“Coffee is the second most valuable agricultural commodity in Hawaii, but with over 1,000 coffee farms across the state and only one assigned extension agent, our ability to assist farmers on the ground is limited.“said ARS research biologist Melissa Johnson, who will serve as principal investigator for the AI/ML project. She works with the ARS Daniel K. Inouye U.S. Pacific Rim Agricultural Research Center (PBARC). ) in Thread. “There is an urgent need for growers to be able to quickly identify problems in their fields without having to go through an agent or search for lengthy documents online.”Johnson added.

“Machine learning and computer vision approaches will enable automatic identification of damage caused by coffee pests and diseases, as well as nutrient deficiencies and toxicities,Johnson continues. “We will work with a variety of partners and leverage ARS SCINet to build an expert-curated library comprising thousands of images that will be used to train a neural network to help farmers in the field.”

The SCINet initiative is an ARS effort to increase USDA’s research capacity by providing scientists with access to high-performance computer clusters, high-speed networks for data transfer, and training in scientific computing. SCINet should provide critical computational power for the development of CoffeeMD’s AI model. Although the proposal only requires a proof-of-concept demo, the goal is to integrate the AI ​​tool into Smart Yields’ Best Beans app, launched in 2021 and funded by a separate USDA innovation award.

Other partners include the Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council (SHAC), a non-profit organization founded by three state agricultural associations: the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association (HPIA), the Hawaii Nursery and Floriculture Association (HFNA) and the Hawaii Coffee Association (HCA). SHAC represents 519 businesses, from growers to processors to shippers, accounting for 90 percent of each industry’s production.

“We have been working with Smart Yields and PBARC for years to bolster the resources available to Hawaiian farmers, strengthening their businesses and fueling their passion to grow.” said SHAC administrator Suzanne Shriner. “It is hoped that this partnership will lead to further opportunities and advancements for Hawaii’s critical agricultural industry.”

SHAC will serve as the fiscal and logistics coordinator for the “CoffeeMD” AI/ML project and will help Smart Yields and PBARC leverage the pilot to drive broader adoption of agtech in Hawaii.

“Artificial intelligence has recently captured the public imagination as new big language generative models are poised to transform all sectors of business,said Smart Yields CEO Ryan Ozawa.But the machine learning models we will deploy are tried and tested tools that could one day diagnose plant problems faster and more accurately than humans – the most limited resource in a global drive to reinvigorate agriculture as an economic engine and a critical part of community sustainability”.

With the successful launch of the “CoffeeMD” project, which further expands the capabilities of the Best Beans app, Ozawa will step down as CEO of Smart Yields and core founder Vincent Kimura will once again lead the next chapter of the company.

“Vincent conceived of Smart Yields nearly a decade ago and is the leader you need for your next evolution.” Ozawa said. “While I will continue to support the company, I will focus more on the broader innovation ecosystem in Hawaii, including launching the nonprofit Kilinahe Foundation to build Hawaii’s tech community and create more local opportunities for Hawaiian youth. “.

Ozawa was promoted to CEO in January 2021, as Kimura served as director of programs and partnerships at the University of Hawaii’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, which relaunched its incubator last year. Ozawa, Kimura and Isar Mostafanezhad, CEO of high-performance computer chip designer Nalu Scientific, founded Smart Yields in 2015. The company, launched from technology accelerator Blue Startups, was selected for the Go-to-market Track cohort of Elemental Excelerator in 2017, and traveled to Rome in 2019 as part of the first cohort of the Laudato Si sustainability accelerator, blessed by the Vatican.