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Ag-tech firm makes a move

Michael Gilbert, chief executive officer of Semios, says $100 million in recent funding through a Boston-based private equity and venture capital firm will be used to accelerate the research and development of the company’s products. | Semios photo

Vancouver-based Semios expanded its footing in Canadian agriculture with its acquisition of Agworld, a farm management platform.

Michael Gilbert, chief executive officer of Semios, said the acquisition makes the company one of the largest independent agricultural technology solutions providers in the world.

Semios works with farmers in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and South Africa, while Agworld is used by farmers to manage more than 100 million acres of row crops around the world.

“Agworld has a big footprint in Canada. When it comes to farm management planning and documentation, it’s probably the most established company in that space in the world,” Gilbert said.

“What we’re now looking to offer to those row-crop growers will be more on the agronomy side. So, what are your risks and how do you address them, which we’re working on right now as we go through that acquisition.”

Semios is a precision-farming platform that supports the production of permanent crops, including tree fruit and nuts. The company uses proprietary technology to monitor in-season growing conditions, as well as computer learning systems that calculate risks to crops.

On Sept. 9 Semios announced it raised $100 million in funding led by Morningside Group, a Boston-based private equity and venture capital firm.

Gilbert said the new money will be used to accelerate the research and development of the company’s products.

The company has raised more than $225 million in external capital over the past few years, which enabled it to acquire Altrac, Centricity and Agworld in 2021.

Semios’s crop-monitoring system uses multiple sensors including weather stations, soil moisture probes and high-resolution images to monitor insect and disease pressure.

“Essentially, we pull all the data in the field into one hub and that communicates directly to the cellphone network,” Gilbert said.

“As the cellular networks upgrade, we replace that one module, whether it’s 4G or 5G we don’t care. Or if it’s direct to satellite it also doesn’t matter. What we do is we manage that in-field communication and then bring it up to one hub.”

He said permanent crops like orchards can be difficult environments to capture real-time data because the canopy from trees and other permanent crops can interfere with signals.

Therefore, he doesn’t foresee the need for a significant technology leap as the company moves into annual broad-acre crop production, including irrigated acres.

“A lot of what we’re going to do is to try to understand what are the risks out there? How will climate change impact what crops you should produce? What’s that going to look like moving forward? Which genetics will do better in which conditions, and what’s the water availability going to look like? These are big important questions and typically the more data-driven you are, the more prepared you’re going to be,” Gilbert said.

Semios uses historical models, real-time field data, weather patterns and grower inputs to help predict the best time for agronomic interventions.

“We have ways of anonymizing data, so we don’t really care who it was or where it came from. It’s simply an aspect of a complex bio system where there’s so many variables and the more data collected across different places, the easier it is to see trends,” Gilbert said.

He said most growers know their fields well, but there are also insights and trends that can be derived from aggregating data from many fields.

Semios customers can set alerts to notify them when risk levels of specific diseases have increased.

“Typically, what we find is with larger farms it’s almost always about logistics. If you tell me this morning I have a problem, well, I have 5,000 acres. I can’t address that by lunch,” Gilbert said.

“So, we need to make sure that our alerts are coming with enough heads-up that they can actually deploy on time, and to help them understand which field is the highest priority.”

With the acquisition of Agworld, Semios can offer growers a solution for their crop management data that is accessible through one dashboard.

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