Startup company in Beijing’s tech hub makes farming easier with big data

A farmer picks honey pears in an orchard in Huaibei, east China's Anhui province. Photo by Li Xin/People's Daily Online

Beijing’s Zhongguancun is the first high-technology development zone and National Self-dependent Innovation Demonstration Area approved in China after the country implemented the reform and opening-up policy.

The technology hub is home to over 90 universities and nearly a million college students, more than 400 state-level scientific institutions, and over 20,000 high-tech firms. It is one of the most active regions in the world regarding entrepreneurship and investment.

Gu Zhu is an entrepreneur that runs the tech firm GAGO Inc. in Zhongguancun. Born in the 1980s, Gu was once an aerospace scientist studying satellite remote sensing. Now, he is digging into agricultural big data services in his office in a building less than 500 meters away from the southeast gate of Peking University, one of the most elite higher institutions in China.

Gu’s office houses a spring ploughing platform where the development of ploughing, germination and agricultural capital across the entire country is shown in real time. The data are generated automatically by satellite analysis. The platform was developed by Gu’s company in just 10 days responding to urgent demand during COVID-19 prevention and control.

“I studied space science for my PhD. It taught me how to analyze satellite data,” Gu told People’s Daily. “We can see where the crops are planted, their coverage, and the amount planted by each province based on satellite images,” he added.

Apart from area measurement, Gu’s company also collects, processes and analyzes satellite remote sensing, meteorological and Internet of Things (IoT) data based on artificial intelligence, so as to offer data support and management services for the agricultural sector and relevant clients. The company’s services cover the whole agricultural chain, from field planning to production cycle prediction, and from pest control to agricultural finance.

As urbanization advances its steps, rural regions are seeing a declining population and a rising number of professional farmers. Gu expects that he can digitalize, program and concretize the rich experiences gained by Chinese farmers, so that the green hands in the industry may have a quick understanding of the earth beneath them and better carry on these agricultural big data.

So far, GAGO Inc.’s big data services have been used on over 20 million hectares of land in multiple Chinese provinces, including major grain production zones in the north and economic crop plantations in the south.

Nowadays, the global climate change is bringing huge uncertainties to agricultural production. Though weather forecast is seen everywhere, farmers want their personalized demand to be satisfied. “Farmers from Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and northeast China definitely have different demands, so we must know what they want first and then offer proper data,” Gu said.

His company has launched a digital agricultural platform that features multiple functions such as the acquisition, storage, and analysis of agricultural big data, as well as visualization module. The platform enables users to easily access information from weather condition to crop growth, so that they can make timely adjustment to their farming activities, the deployment of agricultural machineries, and pesticide spraying.

Hails, strong winds, droughts and floods always cause huge losses for agriculture, so it is vital to buffer the risks of natural disasters. Analyzing 50 years of agricultural meteorological data in Southeast Asia, GAGO Inc.’s digital agricultural platform can forecast weathers in the next couple of weeks, with a precision of 1 kilometer.

To have a better understanding of agriculture and farmers, Gu and his teams always visit the crop fields across the county. “Casual talks with the farmers are treasures for us,” Gu said.

Gu was once interviewed in the documentary China Reinvents Itself, in which he says the real big data is in the heads of farmers. “You don’t need to tell them that there’s a rain tomorrow, and they know whether to water, apply fertilizer, or just sleep at home with just a simple look at the sunset glow,” he explained.

“It’s normal for models to make mistakes, so we must communicate with the farmers to improve the models for better prediction. We want them to bid a farewell to the days when they count on the sky for harvest, and embrace a new era in which they make proper and timely responses to the changes of the weather,” Gu told People’s Daily.

more recommended stories