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Bosch, Flextronics back CropX to help farmers grow more food without wasting water

TechCrunch TechCrunch 12/04/2016 Lora Kolodny

A Tel Aviv startup that wants to help farmers produce more food with fewer resources, CropX, has attracted sensor manufacturers Robert Bosch and Flextronics International as strategic backers.

Specifically, Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH and accelerator Flex Lab IX added $1 million in venture funding to the Series A round for CropX, which now totals $10 million.

CropX makes soil sensors and irrigation controllers for use on commercial farms. It also makes an app to help farmers interpret all the data they gather, and make choices about how to treat their land.

CropX CEO and founder Isaac Bentwich, a medical doctor by training, and formerly the CEO of Rosetta Genomics, compared CropX’s technology to personalized medicine.

He said, “As we are not all supposed to take the same pills for a headache, land is not homogenous or even. If you water it evenly, you’re actually over-irrigating one part and under-watering another.”

CropX products work with the existing pivot irrigation systems– or big, slow-moving sprinklers– that are already used on a majority of commercial farms today, and that would be costly for farmers to replace.

The company’s mission is to help the agriculture industry feed the world without wasting water, or dumping unneeded fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides into the ground, says Bentwich.

That’s going to take both research and development and hardware manufacturing help. That’s why Bentwich sought the involvement of Bosch and Flextronics as investors, he said. “Our new strategic partners can help us source supply for our hardware, and could even influence the design of new sensors that could go into our products in the future.”

CropX tech is already being used at 20 row crop farms in four states in the U.S., encompassing some 5,000 acres. In the past growing season at those farms, yields increased up to 10 bushels per acre of corn, using 30% less water than in prior seasons, the company reports.

Founded in 2013, CropX is rolling out a new-generation “DIY” soil sensor this week, one that can be screwed into the ground, and properly installed in about four minutes.

Early investor in CropX, Arama Kukutai, a Partner with Finistere Ventures and a lifelong farmer himself, said the company is doing better than he expected it would at this early stage. He attributed part of that to the cost savings CropX promises.

Additionally, he said, “Farming is generally a conservative industry when it comes to adopting new technology. But it’s become harder to hire skilled labor in the industry, too. So it’s very useful when you can have one person sitting in an office on a farm, driving 100 different pivot irrigation systems from their iPad.”

While the company has focused on row crop farming to-date, Kukutai said its hardware and agricultural analytics platform could serve well in any water-stressed region, and for higher-value crops like nuts, berries or wine grapes.

“When every irrigation inch is precious, like it is in places like California, you don’t mind spending a little on analytics up front to get a gain and save money,” Kukutai said.

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