Catapult Supports Precision Farming Experts on Use of Satellite Data

Hummingbird Technologies uses machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to provide farmers and agronomists with detailed, near-real time insight into crop health to enable precision agriculture and accurate yield forecasting. The platform incorporates satellite data alongside imagery from drones and planes, allowing farmers to more accurately manage their crops, reducing pesticide use and saving money.

“Our business only works if the data we provide to farmers is both actionable and affordable in the long-term.”

Will Wells, CEO, Hummingbird Technologies

In just under three years, the company has grown to be one of the biggest player in the UK, employing 35 staff. It has expanded into Brazil, Russia and Ukraine with Australia in its sights for next year.

The Satellite Applications Catapult team has enhanced knowledge of the satellite market. This has helped to develop the services Hummingbird Technologies can offer, contributing to its growth.

“We’ve known for a long time that satellites have a role to play, so it was exciting to work with a company that had cost in mind from the start and was keen to learn how satellites could be part of its overall solution.”

Mark Jarman, Business Development Lead, Satellite Applications Catapult

Hummingbird Technologies has raised more than £3 million of seed funding, plus grants from Innovate UK and the European Space Agency alongside match funding from investors, including Horizon Ventures and James Dyson.

Precision farming relies on imagery gathered from above fields to allow farmers to understand how their crops are growing, so that appropriate amounts of water, pesticides and fertilisers can be applied across each field to maximise yields. The more detailed and up to date the information, the more precisely farmers can treat individual plants. Hummingbird Technologies helps farmers to achieve this by capturing high resolution imagery at appropriate stages throughout a crop’s growth and then applying artificial intelligence to produce useful data, returning results within 24 hours so that the information is still current and can reliably be acted on.

Initially, Hummingbird’s imagery was captured using drones and planes. However, soon after the company’s launch in 2015, the team started talking to the Satellite Applications Catapult’s Earth Observation (EO) team about adding satellite data into the mix and how this could enhance the services it provided. Later, from December 2017, the Catapult undertook a consultancy project assessing the opportunities that could be gained from using free Sentinel-1 synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data for crop monitoring.

The Catapult team also helped Hummingbird understand more about the overall market as it approached one of its fundraising rounds.

“Adding satellite data to the data we gather with drones was clearly attractive, but it was important for us to get specialist knowledge from the Satellite Applications Catapult’s EO team in order to do this well.”

Will Wells, CEO, Hummingbird Technologies

There is increased pressure globally to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture, with regulatory changes in some markets making this a necessity. Hummingbird’s crop management tools help farmers achieve this, allowing them to monitor their fields and limit the use of chemical spraying. At the same time, precision farming can improve yields and reduce use of both water and fertilisers, saving money and resources.

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