Growing up in the farming region of Brittany, France, where his father ran an engineering center, Olivier Jerphagnon experienced the dual cultures of ag and technology, which influenced his interests and eventually led him to start an ag tech company in California.
Half of his classmates were from farming and fishing backgrounds while the rest were from technology backgrounds. The area was a thriving hub of innovation in farming and food processing. Although he went to school for degrees in physics and fiber optic networks, and began his career in start-ups involved in automation of data centers and machine learning, he shifted focus to ag after a few years.
“My interest in ag came from seeing an opportunity to make a difference in solving the water problems,” Jerphagnon said. “I was one of the first to realize in 2013 that there were some technologies in the IT sector that could be applied to water and energy in agriculture.”
Tapping his research network at the University of California-Santa Barbara where he went to graduate school, and meeting new collaborators at UC-Davis and Fresno State University, he began to piece together the idea for an ag software platform.
The crux of the idea behind his company, PowWow Energy, is to give growers and ranchers a snapshot of what is happening in their fields in terms of irrigation and energy use — but without any additional hardware to start with, mainly by using the smart meters installed by utility companies.
“Our platform can automatically synthesize and analyze information across the farm so they can gain additional profits to remain competitive,” Jerphagnon said. “For a $20 per acre fee they will gain $200 per acre extra in profits.”
PowWow’s monitoring dashboard pulls data from the smart meters for water and energy use, topology and crop variability information from cameras on planes and satellite data, and weather conditions from private and public weather stations.
Growers can start getting access to this data with simple text messages that send alerts about a pump malfunction, for example, and at the more advance level, use the custom dashboard for a detailed view.
The company has been doubling acreage every year in terms of the number of acres it monitors for growers, and recently passed 100,000 acres.
“We are growing rapidly because we provide a comprehensive picture of what’s happening in the field, reduce their energy bill by avoiding peak hours, and help them become more efficient with water and energy use,” Jerphagnon said. “California farmers have too many regulations, it’s overwhelming and they needed a decision support tool.”
He said the tools his company offers are a good fit for specialty crops, ranging from almonds, grapes, tomato, pistachio, citrus, to alfalfa. Aside from snap shots of what’s happening in the field, his platform also provides updates on new water regulations, carbon credits and energy efficiency rebates as they become available, so his clients can be sustainable stewards of their land.