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LATIN AMERICA | 28-04-2021 00:01

Argentine crop-monitoring app SIMA takes off with NASA's help

Team behind the SIMA Monitoreo de Cultivos crop-monitoring app eyes further growth across Latin America after partnering with NASA.

The Argentine creators of a thriving crop-monitoring app are looking to grow their business across Latin America.

The company behind the SIMA Monitoreo de Cultivos app, which helps producers manage their crops, reported a turnover of a million dollars in 2020 and has even partnered with US space agency NASA.  

“Before, producers wrote down field data in a notebook. Now they can upload it to their mobiles, take photos and feed an algorithm that returns precise information about the state of their crops,”  systems engineer Andrés Yerkovich told AFP, discussing the app developed by his company SIMA (Sistema Integrado de Monitoreo Agrícola) in Rosario.

At present, SIMA offers its services for three million hectares of crops operated by around 500 clients. The firm had a turnover of US$1 million in 2020 and hopes to close out this year with a much higher number. 

“We are ready to accelerate our expansion in Latin America and for this [reason] we have opened a round of investment this year from which we hope to gather US$2 million,” said the entrepeneur.

 

More accurate data 

For Yercovich, it was time is to digitalise information collected in the countryside by producers and associate it with data provided by satellites, in relation to both climate and vegetation coverage.

This includes knowing which crop was planted and under which conditions — if there are problems of weeds or insects, the chemicals that are applied and the sowing density or the distance between plants.

The app allows users to take and enter photos that are later processed in order to determine tahe plant's size, if it is diseased, or the portion of land that is covered in weeds. This is combined with satellite images in order to obtain up-to-date information about the state of the crops.

The app “enables us to predict things such as estimated crop yield very accurately,” explained Yerkovich.

 

Associated with NASA

In 2019, SIMA formed a working partnership with NASA. The two parties signed an agreement under the programme NASA Harvest, whose mission is to ensure food security. 

“NASA already developed algorithms, but they lacked hard data. From outer space they can see what level of maturity the plant is at, but they do not have the factual validation of that. That's where we come in with SIMA and its data from real users,” explained Yercovich.

This resulted in an improved algorithm that uses data from SIMA and NASA, with the focus on estimating crop yields.

“Associating ourselves with them [NASA] gave us lots of visibility and allowed us to improve the algorithm a lot. It's a circle that you close: the users deliver information that feeds a virtual platform that delivers even faster and more accurate solutions,” said the systems engineer.

SIMA's clients are spread across eight countries — Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia — and they range from medium-sized producers who manage between 500 and 1,000 hectares, to large producers with fields of 20,000 hectares and companies that cover up to 200,000.

To convince producers to try out and adopt their technology, the firm offers a one-year trial at no cost. 

“Ninety-three percent of users decide to stay with the system,” asserted Yercovich. The average price of the service is one dollar per hectare of land each year. 

Mauricio Kunicic, agronomic engineer and advisor to small and medium agricultural producers in Santa Fe, has been using for around 5,500 hectares “for five or six seasons.”

“I must have been one of the first users,” he told AFP, highlighting "the huge savings in time and personnel" that he has benefitted from.

"Before I monitored with a field notebook and now everything is digital, easier and faster," he said.

Most of the app's business is for soybean, corn and wheat crops. In Argentina it is also used on grapevine crops and in countries like Colombia, for rice and potato crops.

by Jorgelina Hiba, AFP

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