Laconik sows seeds of data revolution

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Laconik co-founders Wayne Pluske and Darren Hughes.
Camera IconLaconik co-founders Wayne Pluske and Darren Hughes. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper

WA farmers spend $300 million on nitrogen fertiliser each year, but a pair of data enthusiasts believe that number could be slashed through artificial intelligence.

The founders of ag-tech start-up Laconik believe grain growers need to flip the premise of nitrogen application on its head and focus on return on investment, instead of boosting production.

Laconik was founded two years ago by Darren Hughes and Wayne Pluske, who together boast more than 25 years experience in soil and nutrition, with a keen interest in fertiliser.

Their business, planned to launch commercially next year, combines data science and artificial intelligence to work out how much nitrogen farmers need to put on their crops.

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“In-season nitrogen is the only lever a farmer has got to increase grain yield, once the crop has been sown,” Mr Hughes said.

“It tends to represent their biggest operating cost, up to 20 per cent of the cost of growing a crop of wheat, barley or canola.

“Get the decision wrong, and you leave a lot of money in the paddock... get the decision right and you see some serious financial gains.”

Laconik’s main aim is to provide grain growers with the technology to calculate nitrogen rates in small areas in crops, using data.

Farmers provide a set of figures — including weed control and seed varieties — to Laconik, before receiving a nitrogen application recommendation.

Using a “secret sauce” of artificial intelligence, the pair calculate nitrogen rates, down to one 10th of a hectare, across the thousands of hectares of a typical broadacre farm.

The pair plan to trial the technology across 15,000ha of WA cereal paddocks this year, with a vision of launching commercially next year.

After launching two years ago, the business recently received more than $500,000 from a Singapore-based seed equity investor.

In March, Laconik was the only WA business to receive a financial boost through the Federal Government’s $5.3 million Accelerating Commercialisation program.

With more than $500,000 from the investor, and $383,000 from the Federal Government under their belt, the pair have set their sights on commercialisation next year, and are this year partnering with Australian grain growers interested in improving nitrogen use.

From their Perth base at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Research and Innovation in Nedlands, the pair have set their sights globalisation.

Bolstered by more than $500,000 investment from a Singaporean ..., they plan to “prove” their service this year before releasing it in Australia next year.

From there, they plan to “go global”, believing their data analysis technique could be used worldwide.

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