The four engineering students — Maxime Dumont, Dominic Levesque, Zachary Andersen, and Xavier Herbert-Couturier — all come from different backgrounds. Dumont had grown up on a cattle farm, Levesque was a fifth-generation potato farmer, Andersen had previously been a wildland firefighter and Herbert-Couturier had worked as a software developer.
As the four pooled their ideas in the fall of 2021 for their final project, and they quickly realized they wanted to create a remote monitoring product to help farmers. Through Levesque’s experience growing up on a potato farm and a summer job working at NutriAg, he knew there was demand in the potato industry for a product that could combine remote monitoring with plant analysis.
Dominic Levesque analyzing samples that were taken during the 2021 growing season in the Picketa lab. (Courtesy : Picketa Systems)
It requires petioles to be manually collected from fields and sent to a laboratory for analysis — which in the case of New Brunswick growers the closest lab is in Ontario. Results are then received in about a week.
Maxime Dumont, engineering student:
"Growers liked petiole tests at first, they liked the data, but it took so long to get the data back that it didn’t really fit their workflow well."Picketa’s product requires for a petiole sample to be taken in the field. It’s then brought back to an office where the plant is scanned into Picketa’s computer program, which instantaneously reveals potato nutrient levels. Picketa is working on developing another tool which will allow for infield scanning and analysis, with field tests to start in 2023.
"We did the research. And the product we made combines an optical sensor and machine learning to estimate the nutrient concentration in potato plants.
A potato leaf being analyzed by Picketa’s equipment. (Courtesy: Picketa Systems)
"Agronomists take in that information and look at critical levels at that specific time in the season, and either recommend a fertilizer amendment, like a foliar fertilizer, or maybe just suggest leaving it alone and letting it do its thing."Picketa built their product during the 2021 growing season. The 2022 growing season is their soft launch in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, with Picketa results being compared to traditional petiole tests. Further expansion into other regions is planned for coming years.
Traditional petiole samples cost growers CAD 40 per sample while Picketa’s system costs around CAD 25 per sample. Growers are able to access Picketa’s tests through potato companies and agronomists, and while the cost can vary they’re cheaper overall with faster turnaround time allowing for more tests to be done during the growing season.
Nutrients Picketa is testing (Courtesy: Seed World Group)
Dave Bell, agronomist at Picketa Systems Inc.:
"It’s also going to be able to give us some good feedback on whether the intervention that we’ve made has actually made a difference."
"We will follow our results, we see that we’re trending downward on a nutrient level, we come in and add a nutrient, then hopefully we’re going to be able to see the effects of that treatment."