California start-up ClimateMinder, which is selling technology that its founder first put to the test in Turkish greenhouses, is piloting an environmental monitoring system that helps agribusiness concerns be smarter about how much water they use.
GrowFlex is a machine-to-machine network solution that includes battery- or solar-powered sensors that are distributed in a greenhouse or field. These sensors connect to backend servers that process the data collected, and the information is displayed as requested by the customer.
So, for example, a farmer could monitor conditions for his or her field using a mobile phone, personal digital assistant or PC. Information that is collected includes temperature, humidity, and soil nutrients. The solution was developed by Bulut Ersavas, a former electronics engineer with IBM and Sun who got the idea for a water-monitoring system while he was earning his MBA.
Val Babajov, president of ClimateMinder, says his company's goal is to "help agricultural concerns produce the same yield with less water." The alternatives to GrowFlex are pretty manual today and usually require someone to monitor the soil on an ad hoc basis. GrowFlex can help farmers watering patterns based on other ambient factors, such as the nature of the soil, the nature of the crop involved or weather.
The system is currently being tested at Norcal Harvesting, which manages 80 acres of strawberry fields in southern California. But it also has been used commercially since about 2005 in hundred of installations in Turkey focused on growing greenhouse tomatoes. Those systems were sold by ClimateMinder's predecessor corporation, which was called Kodalfa. That company returned to the United States earlier this year as part of an investment round from Partners 1993, changed its name to ClimateMinder and established a headquarters operations in Los Angeles.
Lew Roth, vice president of business development for ClimateMinder, said the company will target its technology at farms in prime California agribusiness districts such as Oxnard, Salinas and Watsonville. Farms can get the solution up and running pretty quickly, since it is offered as a service and is priced on a monthly subscription basis. For example, an open field of 20 to 40 acres might use five nodes, which would be priced starting at $250 per month.