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August 10, 2020 | Tom Ballard

SCAREcrow Farm Technology using AI to help farmers reduce mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another article in our series spotlighting some of the teams participating in the 2020 edition of the AgLaunch Bootcamp.” The program, which concludes tonight {click here to register}, was hosted by the Memphis-based AgLaunch organization in conjunction with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, The Biz Foundry in Cookeville, and Sync Space in Kingsport).

A focus on helping preserve family farms drove Michelle Fore-Siglin to launch SCAREcrow Farm Technology in conjunction with her husband, Tim.

The duo, based in Church Hill, are newlyweds, having married earlier this year just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They bring complementary skills to the new venture. Michelle is a high school algebra teacher, while Tim has a varied background that includes starting both for-profit and non-profit enterprises, helping start-ups in incubators, consulting, and marketing.

“Tim said we could use my background in math and his in business to help farmers,” Michelle told us in a recent interview. “That lit a spark in me.” It also helped that the couple now has purchased the old Hughes Farm property, which they plan to return to its agricultural roots and also use as an algorithm integration testing facility.

In Michelle’s case, SCAREcrow Farm Tech meets a deep personal need. Her late husband died about four years ago as his family was developing plans to ensure that their multi-generational farm in Glade Spring, VA, just across the state line from Bristol, remained in the family.

“I did not get to help then; I was trying to care for my two young daughters,” Michelle explained. Yet, she understands the struggles of those who are trying to eek out a living on agriculture such as her late husband’s brother who also holds a full-time job in addition to farming.

“With SCAREcrow Farm Tech, we think we can help,” Michelle says, explaining that their goal is to use state-of-the-art technology to automate seemingly non-technology farming practices and procedures. “We want to help farmers reduce mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks by offering them an extra set of eyes and ears through technology.”

Tim adds, “We also want the algorithms to work for farmers and not against them. No one is going to change how they are going to farm, but technology can help.”

Their initial project involves developing algorithms and the use of drones for something called “Sub-Canopy Anomaly Reconnaissance and Engagement” or SCARE, hence the start-up’s name. Using farms like Old Hughes Farm as a testbed for autonomous and sustainability-powered vehicles allows testing in a real-world farming environment that has rugged terrain and is sufficiently remote for secure, off-grid testing.

That is just one possibility. Michelle illustrates another idea as she talks about her brother-in-law who might be at work when a storm comes through. Was there damage to a fence that might allow cattle to escape? Instead of having to leave his job and return to the farm to walk the fence line, sensors along the fence would alert him via an app on his cellphone if there was a break.

“Pete (Nelson) has come-up with some good suggestions,” Tim says in reference to the President and Executive Director of AgLaunch. One of those focused on milking systems that are not calibrated to weight gain or loss in cows. Dairy farmers should be interested in increasing the milking efficiency of their herd through real-time data.

One of the drivers for participating in the “AgLaunch Bootcamp” was to assess just how comfortable farmers would be with a company that described itself as developing algorithms. “We’re getting wonderful information and soaking it all in,” Michelle says. “We want to solve problems to help people around here and elsewhere.”

One decision they’ve already made is to refrain from being a hardware manufacturer. Instead, they will be seeking strategic partnerships with those types of companies and provide the algorithms or other data tools required.

“We plan to stay small and lean,” says Tim, “but we’re very open to where the journey takes us.”

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