It did not take long to realize the founder of Auroras (www.auroras.eu), Paolo Marenghi, was a kindred spirit. He may also be a distant cousin although, admittedly, my roots are distinctly and fiercely southern Italian. Auroras, a four-person start-up established in 2014, provides environmental monitoring systems to agriculture, among other industries, and is headquartered in the small northern Italian city of Codogno (population 15,462) where farming is ubiquitous. The fertile plain surrounding Codogno, known as the Basso Lodigiano or the Lodi Basin (think Central Valley of California) sits roughly 25 miles from Italy’s fashion and industrial hub – Milan. When one thinks agriculture in 2016, think greenhouses, open field farming and the new, nascent sector of indoor vertical farming, where plants are grown without the sun using “artificial” lighting.
After achieving a degree in history, Paolo spent the next 18 years writing software code, specifically for industrial automation purposes. With software, an industry where I too spent nearly 20 years, it only makes sense when one thinks of data points and how to integrate those specific points into usable and scalable applications that an expert in software should take the lead. As the American mega-entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen likes to say, “Software will eat the world.” I say we should use software for the world to eat!
When I asked Paolo how he arrived at where he is today, he stated the country of Italy uses far too many herbicides, pesticides and fungicides in the growing of food and in particular in vineyards (think wine!). His goal is to reduce the use of these ecologically harmful agricultural inputs. Not so fast – Monsanto and Bayer have their tentacles deep into all areas of agriculture, worldwide, and it’s no different in Italy. The European Commission, however, is focused on these challenges, and ultimately it comes down to the notion of changing the farmer’s mind-set and perspective on how to grow crops while maintaining the health of consumers and the ecology.
With Auroras’ technology, Paolo states not only can the over-use of pesticides be curtailed by up to 50% but smart technology can also focus on the critical aspect of irrigation – aqua! His trials and pilot programs have shown a full 30% savings in water usage and this is a good thing given the global demands on water. Like California, Italy pulls much of its agricultural water from aquifers deep within the ground. In the long term, this is a totally unsustainable practice.
According to Paolo, Auroras’ software applications provide the agronomist and grower decision-making technical support in that the apps are flexible, scalable and “non-static.” The integration of wireless sensor technology fully commands an IoT (internet of things) playbook when it comes to helping farmers, or “producers” as Paolo states, to control their crops and the required resources to profitably grow. Controlling water/irrigation, air temperature, soil temperature, C02, etc. create not only cost savings but resource savings.
When I ask Paolo where he sees himself in 5, 10, 20 years, he humbly admits he wants to address the demands of the Earth’s growing population and the ever-growing demand for food, especially in cities. He seeks to be a change-maker creating real innovation while providing solutions in the areas of organic food production. I say “Va Bene!” Go for it Paolo.