AgCheck To Support Agricultural Practices With Drones And Blockchain
Jim Cupples, a Eugene-based tech entrepreneur, returned from a National Wildlife Federation Conference in Washington, D.C. He came prepared to solve a problem presented there as to is there a way blockchain technology can facilitate the use of sustainable agriculture practices. According to Cupples, there is a solution, and it requires drones.
He’s calling it “AgCheck,” and Cupples is relying on local university students to develop it.
“It’s the connection between two different technologies, one of them being drone images and the other one being blockchain technology,” said Cupples, a recent devotee of agriculture technology. “It helps up the credibility of what farmers say they’re doing regarding regenerative farming.”
Cupples said he considers a database of farm photos on a blockchain that will help suppliers and consumers verify that farmers are living up to practices they preach.
There’s recently only a confined ability to ensure sustainable farming practices are being followed as displayed.
National Wildlife Federation Policy Specialist,’David DeGennaro’ stated much of the sustainable agriculture market lives in “the Wild West of labeling,” leaving customers to make their best opinions about what they’re buying as there’s no government agency managing that kind of branding.
“For consumers to be confident that the products they’re purchasing have a certain sustainability footprint, there has to be some accountability there. One of the weaknesses for many of the sustainability initiatives that exist is that they’re self-reported by the producers,” DeGennaro said.
Lane County Community College drone lately flew patterns over Moondog’s Farm in Marcola.
Cupples selected LCC Chief Flight Instructor ‘Sean Parrish’ and his drone pilot class to engage in the initial step of building the AgCheck prototype. Earlier this month, the class registered their drones to map Moondog’s Farm with aerial photographs and document the farmer’s planting practices.
Cupples moreover brought in two Oregon State University engineering students to utilize those photos in building the AgCheck blockchain prototype.
“What I found instructive for the students was the fact that we’re combining the technology they know very well, drones, with the blockchain,” Parrish said. “These are developing technologies and will be something they’ll deal with in the future. It has a lot of forward-looking applications.”
The drone snapped away as it traveled over the farm, rendering topographical mapping for owners Dan Schuler and Shelley Bowerman, which would aid them better plan for their farm’s future.
Simply because Cupples has been documenting local agriculture methods for his other project, a database called ‘All The Farms,’ he knew Moondog’s Farm would grant an opportunity to present the first blocks in the blockchain he’s hoping AgCheck will contribute.
“There’s a lot of things you can do in regenerative agriculture, but there’s a few that are visual,” Cupples said. “They’re the big three in regenerative agriculture: No-till or reduce till farming; the second one would be using cover crops, and then the third one would be crop rotation.”
The Dec. 6 Moondog’s Farm flight was the prime, and so far only, the opportunity for the AgCheck team to assemble images of farming practices. But OSU engineering students ‘Aaron Galati’ and ‘Josh Fisher’ are working on a server and website for AgCheck and how to interact with the blockchain.
“We can verify the pictures are from where they say they were and at what time they were taken. We can take the data from the images and push that onto the blockchain system, which is a public ledger, and that data would be unchangeable,” Galati said. “It’s 100% verifiable.”
AgCheck will operate as the engineering program capstone project for ‘Galati and Fisher,’ which indicates the prototype must be completed by next spring. Galati says he anticipates a user-friendly website that supports people sort farms by their practices, allowing them to make better buying decisions.
But Cupples discusses other future applications: assisting organizations that give farm grants for sustainable practices, classifying farms that use proper vegetation for growing beehives, or presenting a resource for grocers who want to ensure they only buy from earth-friendly farms.
“The knowledge that we’ve gained in understanding how to move drone images directly to the blockchain is something that has wide applications,” Cupples said.
“You could have drones capturing images of boats and prove they were at this time and place and that they did sustainably capture these fish. I think there’s a ton of other ways that you can use drone-to-blockchain technology.”
“Especially with a lot of supply chain companies who are making these inspiring commitments toward sustainability, such as certain amounts of cover crops or soil health practices, there’s issues that need to be figured out how to verify through the supply chain what’s happening on the ground and whether those practices are being implemented,” said National Wildlife Federation Agriculture Policy Director Aviva Glaser.
AgCheck is the leading solution the wildlife federation’s DeGennaro said he’s learned of after the Washington, D.C., conference, but he stated he sees one significant stain.
“The idea of flying drones over people’s farms is not going to go over very well in farm country,” DeGennaro said. “Farmers are ferociously protective of their privacy and their data and what they do on their land. I don’t think that’s something that we would be advocating necessarily.”