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Flights over farms; crop aerial imaging firm partners with NR Airport

Alexey Rostapshov, chief operating officer for Mavrx, stands next to a Cessna 172 at the New Richmond Regional Airport. The small, metal pod attached to the wing houses the imaging sensors used to record data when flying over farm fields. The sensors help farmers monitor in-field plant health, fruit maturity mapping and land and resource analysis. (Photo by Sarah Young) 1 / 2
This image is an example of how Mavrx’s imaging technology can detect crop damage in farm fields. Airport manager Mike Demulling follows Mavrx’s flight plan to take images of clients’ fields throughout western Wisconsin and Minnesota. (Submitted image) 2 / 2

“We do what farmers do every day,” said Alexey Rostapshov. “They’re going out into their fields looking around and scouting. We’re scouting too.”

Mavrx, a San Francisco-based company specializing in crop imaging using proximal sensing and drone technology, may do what farmers do every day, but on a much larger, more technical scale.

Mavrx specializes in using data collected from infrared technology imaging to detect distressed crops, blights, insect infestations, flooding and more, Rostapshov said. The information collected is then used to implement an action plan for the farmer, agricultural cooperative or vineyard owner.

Rostapshov, the chief operating officer, is a founding team member of Mavrx. The company’s roots go back to London, where three years ago, Yuan Gao and Max Bruner, who met in a PhD program, had a big idea and ran with it. They work primarily with farmers, agronomists, biologists and winemakers and boast backgrounds in big data, natural resources, robotics, imaging, biomedical engineering and sensor networks.

“The imaging is used to reveal cost savings, improve quality and standardize the tracking and analysis of high value and commodity crop yields,” Rostapshov said.

The company gained its foothold by providing crop imaging data to vineyards in California.

What does this have to do with New Richmond? Quite a bit actually.

Mavrx has recently teamed up with Mike Demulling, New Richmond Regional Airport manager, to bring crop imaging technology to area farmers and cooperatives. The New Richmond Airport is the first non-Mavrx operated base out of 10-12 Mavrx operating bases in the US.

“The really cool thing is we were able to work with Mike and able to evolve it to where he’s able to operate our system on his own,” Rostapshov said. “He’s one of a kind. It’s a relatively complicated system. He embodies the ‘get it done attitude,’”

Mavrx is growing quickly, and is looking to expand its number of operating bases in the Midwest, South America and even Australia.

Partnership with NRRA

Rostapshov said Mavrx was looking for a partner in the area, as it had picked up some big agricultural producer clients recently. In fact, Mavrx had a matter of days to find a partner in order to provide service to a big area client. So they found the airport website and contacted Demulling.

“It's been a great experience working with the team from Mavrx this summer,” Demulling said. “They are a group of highly motivated and brilliant individuals delivering a very high tech product to the end users in the area. I was impressed at their ability to make changes and adapt their equipment to fit their customers’ needs. Their attention to detail certainly demands my respect. I have the feeling these guys are on to something big.”

Rostapshov said Mavrx clients own about 10,000 acres in Wisconsin and some acreage in Minnesota. Locally, their imaging technology has been used to monitor corn, soybeans, snap peas, potatoes and wheat.

“I averaged one flight every eight to 10 days,” Demulling said. “The flight plans would take me to multiple fields in western Wisconsin and much of central and eastern Minnesota covering hundreds and hundreds of acres.”

When Demulling returns from a Mavrx flight, he takes the memory card out of the sensor pod strapped onto the wing and uploads the data onto Mavrx’s computer on site. The data is sent immediately to Mavrx in San Francisco.

“The beauty of cloud computing,” Rostapshov laughed. “We have a fast uplink here.”

How it works

A Mavrx sensor can operate as a handheld tool, fly on a plane or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), or mount on a tractor or 4-wheeler for in-field plant health, fruit maturity mapping or land and resource analysis.

The sensors are outfitted with GPS orientation, lighting and weather sensors that work with WiFi. Here in New Richmond, the imaging sensor is placed in a metal pod secured to the aircraft’s wing.

Mavrx had its start building drones (quad copters), Rostapshov said. They needed to figure out what to do with the earth data they were collecting.

According to Rostapshov, Mavrx uses a nonvisible infrared spectrum, which was developed by the U.S. government in the 1970s.

“It was so expensive until recently,” Rostapshov said. “The cost of technology has dramatically decreased. Mom and pop farming operations haven’t been able to use it, until now. It was too expensive. Now we can just add them to existing imaging flight plans.”

Demulling follows a flight plan Mavrx sends him via the Internet. Since there are roughly 70,000 Cessna aircraft in use around the world, that’s another reason why this technology has become affordable, and partnering with locals like Demulling.

The nonvisible spectrums allow farmers to see if plants aren’t doing well, giving them an early warning before it’s too late.

Rostaphshov estimates corn and soybean fields average six to eight flyovers a year, while vineyards average 25.

“We tailor the service package to the crop,” Rostapshov said. “This season there was so much flooding. We helped measure out damage and exactly calculate damaged acreage.”

Another problem common this year has been aphids. Mavrx technology helps farms track the insect, see the damage caused and know when to spray.

The number of flights and times of the year depend on the crop or as needs arise.

“At the end of the day, we don’t care if someone is flying their own drone or if we’re flying with Mike,” Rostapshov said. “Mike’s made it easier to come out here less and less.”

 

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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