Trending:Top Stories of 2020: How the events of this year upended the worlds of tech, science and more
The Loftus Labs data analytics startup includes Patrick Smith, CEO of Loftus Ranches, a century-old hop farming operation pictured here. (Loftus Ranches Photo)

As a fourth-generation Yakima hop farmer running a century-old family business,Patrick Smith华盛顿州农业部门有深处。他还拥有业务分析硕士学位。

In nearby Prosser, Wash.,Dan Maycockgrew up in the farming town of 6,000 where his dad was a pastor and his mother was a teacher. Maycock now has his own 10 acres there — after earning a software management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and working some 14 years for Boeing, Amazon and tech startups.

Smith and Maycock are merging their farming and tech skills to launchLoftus Labs, a data analytics consulting company with an agriculture focus.

The Loftus Labs team plans to bring digital know-how to farmers in every aspect of the business, including yield forecasts, monitoring crop health, tracking irrigation and pesticide use, and managing supply chains and labor costs. For those packing and shipping fruit, they can help with keeping tabs on fruit quality, prices, and supply and demand. They can aid farmers in evaluating the costs and benefits of adopting some of the groundbreaking new ag tech, including drones for surveying crops and IoT devices for monitoring field conditions.

“Farming has always been a data-driven sector,” Maycock said. “Think of the Farmer’s Almanac.”

The Loftus Labs team, top left moving clockwise: Patrick Smith, Dan Maycock, Tim Raiswell and Jeff Bevan. (Loftus Labs Photos)

But smaller, private farms have limited budgets for tapping advanced data analytics resources or employing their own experts. Loftus Labs aims to provide affordable, strategic advice to keep people in business as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic creates additional challenges.

“There is a unique need for all-hands-on-deck in the ag industry to help out,” Maycock said. “If we do right and help farmers out here, we keep private farms private.”

Loftus Labs has received financial support from Smith’s hops business, Loftus Ranches, and has not sought outside funding. The startup includes two data scientists that Smith met in college: Jeff Bevan and Tim Raiswell, who serve as principals of advanced analytics. Smith is managing director and Maycock is principal of engineering and analysis; the two originally met through mutual friends. The startup signed up its first client this fall and currently has “a handful” of other customers.

There are multiplePacific Northwest effortsunderway to help farmers adopt digital solutions. There’sInnov8 Ag Solutions,基于Walla Walla的科技农场管理企业,洗涤。例如。西雅图启动iunu.raised $7 million本月早些时候为其温室电脑视觉系统,虽然西雅图的基于Seattle的公司花粉系统pitched its drone tech for farming在去年的Geekwire峰会上。华盛顿州立大学举办了它Digital Agriculture Summitin October. Also this fall, Innov8 Ag, Microsoft and WSU organized a“Digital AgAthon”为未来农民开发基于数据的工具。

There have been tremendous tech advances in some aspects of agriculture, experts say. Technology has improved soil moisture monitoring, led to the precise use of pesticides, and the development of vision-based technologies to manage blossoms and fruit density for tree crops. There have been game-changing innovations in fruit packing facilities where each apple, for example, is electronically screened to determine its ideal storage conditions.

A view near Maycock’s farm in Prosser, Wash. (Photo courtesy of Maycock)

While some of the tech is straightforward in its adoption, in other cases it can be confusing and tricky to determine which investments will pencil out. And even when farmers do incorporate new tools for their fields, there can be a disconnect between turning colorful maps showing soil moisture or detailed weather data into meaningful management actions, said Lav Khot, a WSU associate professor in precision agriculture.

“Growers need to have data products that they can use,” Khot said. “That transition has not happened.”

Karen Lewis, director of WSU’s Agricultural and Natural Resources program unit, said that those advising farmers need to have a solid understanding of the unique hurdles that farmers face and the decisions they’re making on a day-to-day basis.

“如果你是电子表格和分析的主人,但不理解[农业],不会有思想会议,”她说。

Given the founders’ experience, Loftus Labs could be able to build that connection.

In addition to growing up in ag country, Maycock has been working at the intersection of farming and tech for many years, primarily for fruit packing companies. He is also the Ag Tech Programs Lead at the5G Open Innovation Lab, and organizedYakima AgTech, a monthly meetup group that before the pandemic would draw 50-to-70 participants each month to chat about tech issues and applications. Loftus Labs is eager to include training and education as part of its role for customers.

“Community is at the heart of what we’re trying to do,” Maycock said. “It’s not us coming in and trying to solve problems.”

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs onGeekwork.. Employers,post a job here.