IoT Podcast Logo

In S2 episode 3, we get into the world of Vertical Farming🌱🌿, connecting with Sumanta Talukdar -CEO and Richard Osterloh – Lead Embedded Systems Engineer at Gardin Agritech🌱 who explore the global need for Vertical Farming and why IoT will play a significant role now and onto the future.

Sit back, relax and be the first to discover…

  • Why IoT has become such an integral part of agritech?🌱
  • Why is there such a need for vertical farming for climate change, waste and food shortage?🌱
  • What technology is being used at Gardin?🌱
  • What role will agritech and vertical farms play in our daily lives?🌱
  • How much more can IoT be used in agritech?🌱
  • Why is agritech such an important sector for the future of our planet?🌱

ABOUT THE GUESTS

Sumanta Talukdar is the founder & CEO at Gardin AgTech and Richard Osterloh is the Lead Embedded System Engineer at Gardin AgTech. Gardin AgTech is developing the tools and technologies needed to enable food producers to grow the highest nutritional value foods optimally, sustainably and affordably. For your health, our planet and their bottom line.
 
Follow Sumanta LinkedIn 
Follow Richard LinkedIn
 
To find out more about Gardin Click Here
 

Episode Transcript

Jack Calow
Welcome to Season Two of The IoT Podcast and this week is our second agritech special.

Jack Calow
This week is so exciting for me, as I’m delighted to welcome two guests onto the show from Garden ag tech. Now, if you don’t know garden ag tech are developing tools and technologies, which are helping enable farmers and growers to maximise their yields, increase the growth, optimization, and the main thing to increase their bottom line welcoming today with me the CEO of Gardin AgrItech, Sumanta, Talukdar and also Richard Osterloh, the Lead Systems Test Engineer

Jack Calow
Welcome to the show, so can you explain what Gardin does and how do you kind of differ from your other competitors out there on the market?

Sumanta Talukdar
So I gonna take this so so Gardin is a UK based startup with venture capital funded and Gardin’s in the agritech space. And fundamentally, we’re a full stack company. So we’re doing hardware and software. But fundamentally, the best way to describe it is that we’re a high throughput remote phenotyping company. Now, phenotyping is a word that some people might not be familiar with. But in the agritech space, it’s the intersection of plant biology, data science and remote sensing. So the combination of the three is the best description of phenotyping. And specifically, what we are doing is we are coming up with the tools, hardware and software tools to be able to measure plant physiology. So that’s very, very specific to us, just to be just to just to clarify, what we are measuring is the physiology of the plants and the health of the plant. So just like when Jackie was Do you know his GP, you know, she or he is measuring, measuring your physiology. So what we are not focused on doing is, but we do use as part of a solution is what other people have already done, which is measuring the the geometrical attributes or colour, shape, size, etc. So we actually measuring the health of the plants that grow food.

Jack Calow
Right, yeah. Richard, do you have anything to add to that? Thanks so much for the this sort of overview, Samantha, but yeah, Richard, do you have anything to add?

Richard Osterloh
To be honest, I think it’s pretty much covered it. That’s, that’s what we do.

Jack Calow
That’s what it says on the tin. Yeah, I love it. Okay, so I know that what you’re doing is quite heavily involved in the indoor growing space. And obviously, the vertical farming and controlled environment, agriculture. And so touching a bit more on that. Why is there such a need for vertical farming? Do you think I mean, in terms of things like climate change, or nutrient levels or costs, for example?

Sumanta Talukdar
Yeah, so I think industries and technologies like vertical farming, you know, that’s one of them. One of the solutions to a fundamental problem, right. And the problem is that the world has got to a point where or very soon, you know, within our lifetimes, we’re going to get to a point where the world can feed itself. Now, this has been reported recorded on, you know, many scientific journals and publications. But in a, in a very, very top level, the combination of the growing population and the strain on the natural resources. And the way that we produce food for generations past, you know, has stressed the ability of the planet to be able to provide, and at the same time absorb waste, you know, pretty much the breaking point. So I think that’s why we’re finally being one of them. But there’s, you know, a number of different technologies and solutions that are needed to address this.

Jack Calow
Of course, of course, and I mean, one of the key driving factors I’ve come across working in this space is that reducing the food miles is a huge, huge thing there. And obviously, global food hunger is a is a massive factor in driving this forward. I mean, Richard, what what do you see in terms of vertical farming and its necessity in modern culture?

Richard Osterloh
Well, I mean, See everything Sumanta says through his growing population and a growing need for increased production. And, you know, when you grow things vertically, obviously, you can grow a lot more densely. And you can grow, you know, the required amount without having huge amounts of space taken up. So it’s seems like an obvious obvious step.

Jack Calow
Yeah, certainly. And I mean, I think for me, a key thing here is getting government backing behind this, because it’s, it’s already there, and the technology is already there. It’s been something that’s maybe been a little bit too costly for people to adopt. But I think the more that governments get behind it, the more that farmers and growers see it as being commercially viable, the more it’s going to take off and be the future for everyone, I think.

Richard Osterloh
And obviously, on a you know, just general technology, excitement level, vertical farming is that nice intersection between technology and traditional farming. So you do get to play with all of the benefits that come from new technology in an old space. And you can make headway in, you know, very, very easy techniques that are used every day in sensing that currently don’t exist environment.

Jack Calow
Absolutely, yeah. And I think that leads us nicely onto my next question. And actually, can you speak a bit more about the sort of technologies that you guys are using at Gardin?

Sumanta Talukdar
So we’re playing cards a little bit close to it? Yes. Yeah. All we can say is, I think the best way of looking at and I think this is the same for quite a lot of startups and companies, right, is if you look at the team, right? So if you look at the people within garden, and that gives you a very good idea of, you know, these people are there for a reason, right of, of the technologies and the products that we’re developing. So, in a way are a motley crew of people bringing together expertise in sort of physics, plant science, embedded systems, computer vision, machine learning, product design, operations, you know. And if you look in detail at all of these, you know, skills, those people are bringing in all of that, you know, that gives you an idea of the kind of products we were developing. And like I said, it’s, it’s no secret that what we’re doing is a type of sensing technology, right? So sensors in both physics and biology, because we need to understand what you’re measuring, and what’s embedded systems. And what’s better vision. You know, those?

Jack Calow
Yeah. And I mean, that thing that comes back to what we were saying before, as well, because it is such a traditional industry. And I don’t know how you have found it. I know you’re, as you said, still playing your cards quite close to your chest, and it’s still quite early days for garden. But how have you found it sort of starting the business up? Because it has been such a traditional industry and implementing these sort of industry? 4.0 technologies to this industry has proved difficult for a lot of my friends in the industry as well. So yeah, I mean, how have you found it?

Sumanta Talukdar
I think timing has been pretty good. You know, we’re in a very, very interesting point in time now, where there’s a number of different factors and agents in the world have kind of aligned, right. So in no particular order, you mentioned one of them, right? So local food production is becoming a topic of strategic national interest in a bunch of different geographies, right. So they look at it from the lens of geography and country. So look at the Middle East and look at places like Singapore, Taiwan, and increasingly in the UK. And of course, all of this has been has been brought in accelerated by the tangible effects of climate change wildfires raging across the world. And, of course, most been happening with a pandemic in the last couple of years. So. So that’s one agent, right. And it’s a really strong agent, right? The other is that, you know, you’ve got the cast, you’ve got this perfect, perfect scenario of pull and push. So you got pulled from the consumers, consumers increasingly care a lot want and demand, you know, to know where the food is coming from, how is this sourced, you know, and what the effect on the environment is.

Sumanta Talukdar
And then you got the push from the food producers, which is ultimately important, because in a food producers, for generations have had enjoyed a monopoly because, you know, even though their existing methods of poor food production are inefficient and lossy. The fact is that every year the world needs more food. So food producers make more food. Yeah. But that’s not to a point now where they realise that they can’t keep doing that. So they are also now motivated to start plugging those gaps, reducing those base and implementing technologies to help them so you know, it’s like a lot of industries, just rely on one without the other is difficult. But when you have the perfect timing, a push and pull, things become a lot easier. So that’s what you know, that’s what, that’s definitely what we’re saying.

Jack Calow
Yeah, and certainly, I think you touched on it there there. The nutritional aspects of this is key because a lot of people’s habits are shifting now. And then the pandemic especially has brought that in. And I mean, even before that health and well being was just becoming increasingly important. In today’s society, what people eating and drinking is very important.

Sumanta Talukdar
Exactly the understanding of of the role that diet plays in health. You know, this is not a new topic anymore, there’s been a lot of research. And actually, the real evidence of that is, you know, only in the last sort of, sort of decade, there’s now EU regulations on the, the the minimum amounts of certain compounds or chemicals that can be found in certain foods, right? This could be like, you know, fresh produce, it could be tomatoes, and apples of processed foods. And these regulations didn’t exist, but 10 years ago, they’re there now because that link between diet and health is, you know, is is very well understood that,

Richard Osterloh
and just the availability of information as well, people are really interested in finding out, you know, where their food comes from, and not only where it comes from, but how what steps it’s taken to get to you, you know, in throughout the growing process, and if you can track all of that people are pretty interested in, in figuring out where their food actually comes from.

Jack Calow
Yeah, absolutely. And it was something that not too long ago, people weren’t very conscious of where they you’d go to the supermarket, you’d buy your your onions come halfway across the world to get there. And didn’t think anything of it globalisation a shrinking world. I mean, we all know about this, don’t we say, we’ve just come to accept it. But it is fantastic to see now I think people are really taking note of it. Yeah.

Sumanta Talukdar
Then one of the interesting, you know, just like leading on from this, one of the interesting sort of topics to chat about is that, you know, when you when you are to technology and food production in the same breath, they the obvious and understandably, natural reaction is that food is gonna, you know, using technology means food is gonna become more expensive, you know, and it’s understandable, right, but people think that, but that should not absolutely be the case. Right? So and that’s actually one of the key parts of what we’re doing. Because by, no, it’s a very easy, simple thing to explain by measuring the health of the plant, you can give the plant exactly what it needs when it needs it. And the natural result of that is that a, you get a better quality plant, and B, you’re not wasting resources, because the only using what’s needed when it’s needed. So the two are actually self fulfilling, you know, a better quality produce at lower cost, you know, the know that,

Jack Calow
I think that’s one of the key key things in making this commercially viable is the bottom line and the yield for growers, they want to see that going up, they want to see efficiency, reducing the waste, as well as increasing the yield. I mean, once they can really see that I can’t see how this sort of technology won’t just go from leaps and bounds further and take take agriculture into a whole new world. You touched on this earlier. And it’s so I mean, I know makes garden very unique. And that’s one of your key USP. So I wanted to ask you a bit more. What do you both sort of see is the benefits for using chlorophyll fluorescence, for the phenotyping, as opposed to you know, your more traditional visual spectrum?

Sumanta Talukdar
Yeah, so, you know, the best way of explaining that is, you know, and again, just to sort of recap, again, is we’re measuring closer persons is one of the techniques we use to measure the health the physiology of the plant right. Now, the best I’m gonna use an analogy to, to dancer your question, right? So when Jack goes to his GP, right, your GP she or he, the first thing they’re gonna do is she’s gonna take your pulse. Right? Right. Absolutely. And she’s gonna ask you about your lifestyle. And then she’s gonna say, okay, Jack, for the next two weeks, I’d like you to, you know, sleep an extra hour cut back on the proteins, you know, run an extra mile, some changes in your lifestyle, and I should say, come back in two weeks and should take a pulse again, because what’s really interesting and useful is how your physiology which is measured by a pulse is changing in response to your lifestyle, or your environment, right.

Sumanta Talukdar
And that tells you that that, you know, being able to measure that and correlate that with the environment is very real. So, you know, knowledge lies, well, the same thing with plants, right? Except instead of measuring the policy measure the photosynthetic activity, right. So, it’s the fundamental mechanism in plants turning energy into food, basically, right. And if you can a measure that really well which of our senses come in and be you can Drive strong correlations between that and the environment. Now, you can start doing the same kind of things with enact and food production that it happens in humans, you know, and when you add up now, to touch on the topic of you know, current techniques or current techniques for measuring the quality of food or based on geometrics, colour, shape, size, etc. Right, so, we’ve all seen lots of videos and articles about cameras using machine vision or computer vision to look at pick up apples and all that kind of stuff. Right? So you’re looking at stuff you can see by your naked eye, right. Now if I revert back to the analogy again, and you know Jack books into his GPS, as she takes one look at you

Jack Calow
has happened to me before?

Sumanta Talukdar
And I’m like, Yeah, well, you don’t want that right. And therein lies one of the benefits clear benefits is that by using techniques like chlorophyll fluorescence, you can detect changes the physiology good and bad, a lot quicker than you’d otherwise pick them up with conventional RGB technologies and, you know, conventional visual technologies by the time they picked up a problem. And the problem could be anything, it could be drought stress, it could be nutrient stress, it could be biotics, pathogens, the fact that you can see it means it’s too late. That’s the only thing you can do at that point is effectively throw it away. Whereas of course, if you can detect it a lot earlier, just like in Jack’s case, there’s a lot more other interventions that can be applied.

Jack Calow
Yeah. And, Richard, I’d love you to sort of play on this more, because Absolutely, there’s so many factors there isn’t, you’re not just looking at one thing like nutrient levels, or whatever, you’re looking at certainly different factors that come into the growing conditions of the plant, and you want that optimum ground condition, don’t you? And so, all of these different factors combined, especially with a lot of indoor farms having multiple rows of different plants that have different needs. Yeah, this sort of technology is so so important for pre empting any problems you may have. So yeah, I mean, Richard, would you like to expand on that?

Richard Osterloh
Yeah, I mean, you know, fundamentally, the techniques, not exactly, you know, new or novel. But the current technology that you can get, you know, off the shelf at the moment is either like, very big or expensive, requires contact physical contact with a plant, or, you know, just generally inflexible. And also, when, when you take these measurements, normally, you’d have to have a pretty deep understanding of the A, the biology, that’s happening within the plant and be, you know, the technology that’s used to measure that biology, which is, you know, cutting down, you can’t just have anybody come off either your shop floor and, you know, take this measurement.

Richard Osterloh
So, you know, the difference without technology really, is that we provide the insights from having a team of all of those experts, and combine the collective knowledge of all of them to give, you know, concrete recommendations of actions that should be taken by a particular user, or somebody who employs or adopts the sensor. You know, because farming operations in general are like very big, they cover huge areas of land, or they’re quite dirty or harsh environments. And if you have like a big expensive sensor that requires either you to bring the plant to the sensor, or this or you to go to the plant to take a measurement, it really only works well in a sort of research lab facility. So with a distributed system, and a network of sensors, you can, you know, enable bringing intelligence to the plant in order to take a good measurement and understand well, what you need to do in order to take a measurement there at the plant, and then distribute that data outwards such that you can have your big expensive machines that do the processing and greater trending away from those harsh environments.

Jack Calow
Yeah, of course. Yeah, absolutely. I think you’ve kind of just answered my next question, slightly there. But I mean, this is the IoT podcast, of course, I have to ask you about IoT. And I think a good sort of question would be, I mean, how much more do you think IoT can do within agritech?

Richard Osterloh
Yeah, yeah. So I mean, for me, IoT is about having a large number of sensors distributed through an area of interest. So with a distributed network, you can gain like specific insights or variations within the particular area that you’re measuring. And inactive, that’s very key. Because you you can you can make decisions that are plant led, you can, instead of just having sort of time based recipe decisions that that people use at the moment where you can, you can enable closed loop control of biological systems, that don’t make the assumption that all plants are the same always.

Richard Osterloh
So in more general terms, you can you can let the plant tell you when it needs water, or nutrients or generally feels unwell, rather than assuming that this plant that you’re looking at now is the same as the one that you grew last week. So I think that’s where it really comes in. You don’t have to assume Yeah, I mean, you can take the the analogy of, you know, cooking with a recipe, you have the series of steps that you need to take in order to, you know, complete the recipe, but at the same time, your eggs might not be the same or your milk might be a different temperature or whatever. So you kind of have to have the knowledge to look at the situation and have some sort of judgement call that says, Oh, actually, something’s a bit different. Yeah, I need to tweak this or I need to taste I need to like add a bit of salt. And, and that’s kind of what we enable is the ability to, to know what you’re looking at while you’re looking at it and not make assumptions that already And what steps must be followed exactly the same way? Forever? And tweak as you go?

Jack Calow
Yeah, and we’ve touched on that already, haven’t we, I mean, the, when it initially came into play sort of indoor growing and urban farming, whatever you want to call it, I think it was more just a sort of exciting new opportunity that people were really yeah, as I say, excited to get involved in. But they hadn’t even really considered how IoT and industry 4.0 solutions could be implemented into that. And, again, I think robotics and automation as well, is something now that’s also pushing its way in a lot more. Originally, I think it was just a case of, hey, let’s let’s grow indoors and make it grow vertically. And now, I mean, it’s just exploding, isn’t it? And there’s so many more different opportunities in this space. And Samantha, did you have did you have anything to add on sort of where you think IoT is going to implement itself into ag tech,

Sumanta Talukdar
which is covered the brunt of it? And, and IoT actually, is a big part of the problem and solution, right, Richard touched upon this absolutely, which is, you know, farms B and vertical B, greenhouses, B field farms, they’re huge, right. And you can’t do lugging a sensor around to the plants, or you know, you need and, and previously, it’s not been possible for phenotyping. So for sensors, such as soil sensors, temperature sensors, humidity sensors, it’s already accepted and known that all of these are deployed as distributed systems, because that’s what’s needed. None, that has not been possible by phenotyping. In the past before, because the instruments have been unwieldy. They’ve been expensive. They don’t work remotely, they don’t work in harsh environments. And, you know, they, they require too much data. And sometimes people forget that data costs money, or crunching data costs money. So we’re plugging that gap. So we’re basically aiming to bring phenotyping into real operations in food production by bringing distributed systems.

Jack Calow
Thanks so much for that. Yeah, absolutely. Um, so I guess, sort of a stat that, I mean, it’s not really a statistic, but something I’ve read a lot, and it’s been flying around a lot at the moment is that sort of by 2050. I mean, this is all very rough, estimations, isn’t it. But the shortages of water and land combined, as well as obviously ever increasing demand from population growth and economic growth in in lower economic countries at the moment, all of this combined is going to create a major global food shortage. And I think Samantha, you did touch on this briefly at the start of our conversation. So I guess my question from that is, how far do you think kind of ag tech can be deployed? And what does the future look like, within ag tech to solving these kind of global issues that are going to arise?

Sumanta Talukdar
So, you know, again, sort of auto answer that but you know, harkening back to what we were discussing earlier on that, you know, we are seeing the old the agents coming into play, on a consumer level on a producer level on a government level, you know, John geographical level, which is good, because it’s a, it’s, it’s, it’s a huge problem. One person and one agent can’t solve it on their own. Yeah. So, But therein lies again, you know, the good news, which is a lot of clever people are now starting to focus their attentions on this, right. So we’re doing what we’re doing. People in indoor farming are developing their technologies, there’s people looking into the relationship between microbiomes and soil health. And this is all good news. Because you need all of these people, very smart people looking into all of these. Right? And, and therein lies the good news. Because I do believe that it’s going to take concerted effort by lots of people working on various parts of the overall problem to solve it. And I’m optimistic because we’re seeing great things happen already.

Jack Calow
I’m glad to hear you’re optimistic. So

Richard Osterloh
yeah. And your family, as you would probably need to fuse the, you know, the knowledge of many different people. The fusion of many different types of data really, is something that can help us in this regard is that you don’t just look at the temperature and see how the temperature varies over time, you fuse many different techniques. And the combination of those really gives you the insight as to what’s going on what you might need to do, but also things that you may not have thought of it.

Sumanta Talukdar
Hmm, absolutely, absolutely.

Jack Calow
So I mean, to try and get some kind of prediction or specific from one or both of you. I mean, to go back to that question. Yeah. I mean, have you got any sort of visions of where you see ag tech going? Have you got any? I know in terms of garden, the tech you’re using is still quite close to the chest. But yeah, have you got any ideas in your mind of different areas that AG tech could start to? I mean, I guess I’m rephrasing the question. Slightly of what I’ve just asked, but I just thought if you had any specifics in mind that you thought ag tech could really help, whether it be I don’t know, drone technologies or soil monitoring technologies or, or whatever it may be. But yeah, if you have any, any sort of specific ideas you think you could share?

Sumanta Talukdar
I think that the kind of work that we’re doing and other people are doing, you know, the, the inefficiencies exists throughout the supply chain, right, and not just pre harvest. Right. So, to bring it back to, you know, to our world, right, what we’re doing is measuring how food is grown differently, right, actually measuring the health of the blood and nutritional density of the food, right. Like I said, Can current current metrics of quality or size, colour shape? Right? And, you know, what I’m about to say next is based on an assumption, right? You’ve got yada yada, believe it or you don’t believe it? And that’s either is fine, right? It’s the assumption is that the current metrics of measuring food quality are wrong. Right? So we’re not by then, if that’s if the answer to that is yes, I believe the current metrics are wrong. But those metrics are used to judge the quality of food throughout the supply chain, picking, sorting, processing, you know, which batch of apples should be go to 50 miles away, which you’d prefer, these are all based on metrics. And if you’re saying those metrics are wrong, it means that those metrics are used to be used throughout the supply chain. And therefore, inefficiency exists literally from seed through to Jeff. I think, just on that one particular topic, ACTEC, you know, as an immense role to play. And, you know, we’re only just getting started.

Jack Calow
Yeah, that’s one of the key things you’ve said, Now, I think we are just getting started. A lot of my friends in this space, they’re taking baby steps to something much, much more exciting, and hopefully gonna save this planet, in many ways, more ways than one. But look, thank you so much, both of you for joining us here today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And yeah, we will we will see you both very soon. I’m sure. It’s been an absolute pleasure again. Thank you. Thank you very much. So thank you so much, Richard, and Samanta, what a great episode that was.

Jack Calow
If you’d like to find out more information about Gardin agritech then just go to their website garden.co.uk. Alternatively, as well, if you’d like to follow us more, please feel free to like, subscribe, and find out more information at the IoT podcast.com Thank you very much.

The IoT Podcast Team

The IoT Podcast is powered by Paratus People, a leading organisation in IoT Talent Solutions.

Innovation is at the heart of IoT, it is our passion to explore and learn more about this fast paced and transforming sector.

Connect & Get Involved

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.
Subscribe to our newsletter to be amongst the first to find out exclusive information about The IoT Podcast.

We use Sendinblue as our marketing platform. By Clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provided will be transferred to Sendinblue for processing in accordance with their href="https://www.sendinblue.com/legal/termsofuse/">terms of use