Different is better than better— This is advice I got from one of our investors (and one of the most inspiring people I have met), Jeff Swartz, the former CEO and owner of Timberland.
Ori Ben Ner is the CEO of SupPlant, an AgTech world leader in the field of autonomous irrigation systems and precision farming services. Prior he served as the CMO for SupPlant and has a demonstrated history in the AgTech industry. Mr. Ben Ner holds a Master’s Degree from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzilya in Public Administration and previously served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a first sergeant in the Recon’ unit of the Combat Engineering corps.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
SupPlant was founded in 2015. For the first 3 years, we worked on developing our technology, and in 2018 we commercialized it. The idea of SupPlant was created long before: Avner Ben Ner, my Grandfather, was born and raised to be a farmer in a small village in the Northern part of Israel. He is still a farmer today, at the age of 88. Zohar Ben Ner, my father, the founder of SupPlant and a well-known entrepreneur in AgTech founded SupPlant under the notion that plants can speak and that through translating them we can revolutionize irrigation. I — Ori, Zohar’s son, and Avner’s grandson have been working at SupPlant for many years in various roles. Today I am the CEO of SupPlant and all of the experiments and R&D are done on my grandfather’s original plot.
I come from a long legacy of farmers that want to create more with less, and that is my life mission.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Only 2% of the world’s farmers use computerized models to irrigate. On the one hand, we have developed a system that provides the world’s most accurate irrigation recommendations through sensing and translating plants — built for those 2% of farmers.
More exciting — our latest breakthrough allows us to utilize the vast amounts of data accumulated and provide the remaining 98% a sensor-less irrigation regime that is a quantum jump from any known common practice.
We are disrupting the way crops are being irrigated and grown — tackling 2 of the world’s biggest challenges in the 21st century: water supplies (71% of them go to irrigation) and food production (we increase yield by 20%+ starting from the first season solely through shifting to a plant-based irrigation regime).
For decades, the decision on how to irrigate crops was made based on the farmer’s intuition, experience, and at best on some scattered data. Traditional irrigation approaches limit growers to being reactive, not proactive in growing their crops. We are revolutionizing irrigation from the bottom up and creating a completely new method of indicating when and how much water should be applied — based on the plant’s exact needs.
Sensing plants is an important part of agriculture. SupPlant has found a way to scale the sensing: We put sensors on the plants and their surroundings which radiate to the cloud what the plant is sensing, and translates that data, through the use of artificial intelligence and big data to irrigation recommendations and actionable insights. We use all the data we have accumulated about 32 crops from 14 countries to create the best knowledge base. Some companies monitor only the soil or only the weather. SupPlant’s sensors are placed in 5 locations of the plant (deep soil, shallow soil, stem/trunk, leaf, and fruit) and monitor plant and fruit growth patterns, the actual water content in the soil, and plant health data. In addition to this data, SupPlant monitors real-time and forecasted climatic data and forecasted plant growth patterns. All this info is uploaded every 10 minutes to an algorithm in the cloud that provides farmers with precise irrigation recommendations based on the integration of all this data.
Combining Big-Data accumulated over the years with real-time data collected from a vast variety of hardware sensors, expert agronomists, and our unique algorithm; We provide high resolution, real-time and forecasted insights and irrigation commands for an accurate irrigation regime and practices, ensuring healthy and robust harvests with the optimum water usage that builds their resilience through time.
Bottom line — we increase yields starting at day one by 20%-30% while saving 30%-40% water use. These are two of the world’s largest challenges in the 21st Century.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
How do I define “when I first started”? I have been in this business since I was an infant. When my father and grandfather would discuss “sensing the plants” and “listening to the plants” — I took them literally, and I would spend my afternoons trying to hear the plants grow… With time, I learned that sensors were needed in order to listen to the plants — but I actually learned from this that it is important to be on the ground, out of the office, and in the plots and “feel” the plants. We can learn a lot from seeing them with our own eyes and ears, not only through sensors.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
My most prominent mentor is my Father. He founded SupPlant and he is a real man of vision. He is the best and most inspiring entrepreneur I have ever met. There is nothing that seems impossible to him — and no limits to his optimism. I feel that optimism is a fundamental asset for any executive trying to do something meaningful.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
From my standpoint, disruption is almost a good thing — as it describes a traditional industry adapting to technological advancements in the world. I don’t believe in “video killed the radio star” — meaning, I believe industries need to advance with time. In agriculture, farmers will always prefer to over-water than to under-water, as the damage to an under-watered fruit is far greater than the damage caused to an over-watered fruit. By changing the basic concept of irrigation methods, based on the plant’s current necessities, our unique technology has proven to SAVE WATER ON GLOBAL SCALES AND IMPROVE PRODUCTIVITY AND YIELDS. These are critical issues for the whole globe.
The problems we aim to solve:
A higher frequency of droughts and floods is expected to lead to reduced crop yields, estimated severity of up to 50% yield reduction, and causing 4 billion people to live under severe water stress and food scarcity.
593 million additional agricultural hectares (twice the size of India) will be needed to answer growing global demand. By 2050 an expected 25% water deficit-demand supply gap will require real-time adaptable irrigation to compensate for shortages.
INEFFICIENT USE OF WATER RESOURCES
70% of the world’s water is used to irrigate only 20% of the world’s land, and of that currently, only 5% utilizes micro (drip) irrigation.
Climate changes present the farmer with a complicated challenge: it doesn’t rain when it used to, heat waves can come unexpectedly and ruin a year’s crop, and the old practices are no longer valid in these conditions. The farmer is left with no tools to tell them what their plants need right now in order to prosper and grow. The technology we developed is constantly monitoring plant growth, reacting to it, and striving to maintain it even when conditions change rapidly. We react to the current status of the plant and to near future climatic events preventing plant stress right now and in the near future. In this way even if the conditions change the farmer can react correctly and on time, or in advance.
We are proud to share that in 2020 we grew by 850%. We have achieved remarkable results while helping farmers around the world use less water to grow more fruit. In Israel, farmers used 20% less water to grow 10% more avocados. Oranges used 37% less water to produce 28% more fruit. In South Africa, we helped farmers produce 41% more lemons without using more water resources. In Mexico, 20% more Mangos were grown using 15% less water. In Israel we were able to save 45% water in dates, achieving better quality.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Different is better than better— This is advice I got from one of our investors (and one of the most inspiring people I have met), Jeff Swartz, the former CEO and owner of Timberland. We were in the process of building our 5-year strategy and our marketing strategy. The advice encouraged me to change most of the hard work done and made me realize that doing everything better than your competition or better than your previous self is only as good as a waste of energy.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We aim to have SupPlant integrated into every irrigation command given in the world. Utilizing our ever-expanding database, by far the largest and most sophisticated plant behavior database in the world.
I think of it as a “SupPlant inside” approach: a wide range of products and platforms servicing all-size growers and an ever-expanding variety of crops.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I recently finished the book “The Talent Code” by Daniele Coyle. It analyses groups with outstanding culture and how this leads to high performance and results. I truly believe that culture is the most important factor in a successful group and I try to incorporate this in every daily aspect and decision I make.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I know much less than I think I do”. When you become an expert in a certain field, in my case it is agritech, your ego might lead you to think that you know better than anyone does. It is important to stay humble and to strive to learn more.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am fortunate enough to be doing that exactly now. SupPlant has the potential to impact every person on the planet (as long as they eat food and drink water).
How can our readers follow you online?
My personal Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ori-ben-ner-27842445/?originalSubdomain=il
My personal Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/obenner
SupPlant’s website: https://supplant.me/
SupPlant’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/supplant/mycompany/
SupPlant’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/supplant.me/
SupPlant’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSl0gygdcBc4Oaeth9L610Q
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!