T-bird Grad Finds Success with His ‘Fitbit for Farming’
Victor Kimura leads an Agtech team that’s turning data into an essential agricultural tool
So, say you’re a farmer, and overnight it starts getting extremely cold. The season’s first frost is expected before dawn, and the crops you hope to harvest and sell next week are at risk of being ruined.
There’s an app for that.
During a late-season frost in 2017, western Colorado fruit grower Edward Tuft used information from a mobile app and a network of remote thermometers to outrun the cold and warm his orchards, saving his crop of Honeycrisp apples.
Tuft, founder of Leroux Creek Foods, was able to preserve the crop by activating his heating and fan systems much more quickly than he would have done without the Smart Yields app, which was developed by Thunderbird graduate Vincent Kimura.
Kimura calls his app the Fitbit for Farmers.
“A spring frost can kill the blossoms and make it hard to compete with orchards in mellower climates,” Tuft says. “Smart Yields tripled the time I had to save my Honeycrisp crop, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Read more about the Smart Yields Colorado case study: Mitigating Weather Damage and Saving Crops.
Smart Yields solves a growing problem
Fruit growers and other farmers have been known to sleep in their trucks or stay up all night watching wind machines to keep tabs on changes in the weather. Smart Yields uses IoT, the Internet of Things, to help keep an eye on those fields.
Smart Yields is the agtech brainchild of Kimura and a team of investors and entrepreneurs based in Hawaii. Kimura, who graduated in 2010 from Thunderbird’s MBA (Masters in Global Management) program, founded Smart Yields in 2015.
“ ‘Smart Yields tripled the time I had to save my Honeycrisp crop, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.’ ~ Edward Tuft, Colorado fruit grower” Click to tweet
The cloud-based software system uses a combination of analytics and in-field monitoring devices to help small- and mid-size farmers increase output and reduce risks. By using sensors to measure, predict, and alert farmers to current and trending environmental conditions, Smart Yields provides them with insights and analysis to help protect crops and increase yields.
Kimura, lead founder and CEO of Smart Yields, was born in Honolulu and raised across Hawaii and Asia. He received a degree in environmental science from Oregon State University before heading to Thunderbird School of Global Management. Most recently, he was CEO of Inovi Green, a Hawaii-based company that helps implement clean energy and sustainable technology solutions.
A relatively young company, Smart Yields, has already received international attention. The company was part of the sixth cohort of the Blue Startups accelerator program; was selected for the 2017 cohort of the Elemental Excelerator, and was one of nine companies from around the world to present in the inaugural Laudato Si’ Challenge tech accelerator in Rome.
Kimura’s family and business roots
Kimura traces his farming roots to his grandfather, who moved from Japan to Kauai to work in the sugarcane fields on the northernmost island of the Hawaii chain.
Truly a lifelong learner, Kimura’s almost 20 years of education and entrepreneurial and industry experience has been built on his interest in technology and sustainability. “We need data to understand where we are in terms of farms, production, safety, and crop conditions,” Kimura told the Pacific Business News.
“Kimura, who traces his farming roots to his grandfather who moved from Japan to Kauai to work in the sugarcane fields, has created what he calls the ‘Fitbit for Farmers.’ ” Click to tweet
Before heading to Thunderbird, Kimura worked as an Asia-Pacific accounts manager at KPMG, where he became interested in learning more about knowledge management and transfer. “That’s what Smart Yields is all about,” he says, “helping small- and mid-size farmers collect and use shared data for the benefit of the region. With this data, they can more confidently predict and tackle challenges and strengthen relationships with other farmers.”
Coming to the aid of the farmers
U.S. farmers are nowhere near the depths of the 1980s farm crisis and, overall, farm income is actually up, thanks to federal payments. Yet farmers are enduring a six-year slump in crop and livestock prices that is causing stress in other areas: investment in equipment is down, farmer debt is up, and so is borrowing against farmland.
Trade disputes and tariffs, soil conditions, drought, natural and man-made disasters, and a changing workforce. All of these contribute to the dramatic circumstances impacting farmers in the U.S. and beyond.
Any help is welcomed. You may think of farmers as early-rising, old-school, do-it-yourself traditionalists. That’s true to an extent, but they can also be early adopters. And as you look across the agriculture landscape, a number of agtech start-ups are hoping to come to their rescue. One of them, a successful one, is brought to you by T-bird’s Vincent Kimura.