Creating opportunity

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    A worker at Kauai Coffee carries out his duties.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Kauai Coffee’s Fred Crowell surveys the company’s fields.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Kauai Coffee Manager Fred Crowell, standing right, visits with a worker.

While coffee farmers throughout the state are getting their feet wet with new technology, Kauai Coffee Company is working on creating it.

“You’ve heard of the Internet of Things, various devices that can tell you how they’re doing and if there’s a problem; we’re putting together the Internet of Farm,” said Kauai Coffee manager Fred Cowell.

The idea is monitoring the farm as one organism, using drone technology, optical sorting, and their award-winning Harvest Vision technology, which tells farmers the efficiency of harvesters.

The technology could increase yields and add about a quarter of a million dollars annually to Kauai Coffee Company’s revenue and the use of drone technology is streamlining operations even more.

“We’re basically inventing the technology coming from an AI chip that can learn how to recognize colors of beans, developing user interface that will allow us to manage the picking team efficiently,” Cowell said.

“What we’re doing this harvest season is taking hundreds of thousands of photographs of trays of beans and the machine will learn by studying photographs.”

The goal is the machine will learn through trial and error, using feedback from operators to fine-tune itself.

“It’s hundreds of learning steps and refining the system from there,” Cowell said.

Kauai Coffee Company is making strides in drone technology, too, with a National Aeronautics and Space Administration and University of Hawaii sponsored intern, who is flying drones this summer to come up with machine learning code.

That eye in the sky helps determine coffee canopy health.

That intern is one of four interns currently on the farm, all of whom are diving into different areas of coffee production including electrical engineering, technology and human resources work.

“They’re all doing different things,” Cowell said. “Farming isn’t just about hands in the dirt. One (intern) is working on moisture sensor technology.”

The Internet of Farm will connect all the pieces and will allow Kauai Coffee to know things like which fields need water and which ditch contains it, where the machines are, and other farm management details. All of it will hook together with Global Information Systems mapping technology.

“It’s all the steps for precision agriculture,” Cowell said. “It’s sensors to make better decisions faster and you’ll have increased yields and decreased labor costs.”

Optical sorters are one of the many technologies being picked up by coffee farmers on other islands, and are more in the spotlight because of their potential to help with the coffee beetle borer.

The machine identifies beans with small holes in them — indicating lesser quality and the potential presence of the beetle.

The beetle hasn’t made it to Kauai, but Kauai Coffee uses the optical sorter for grading standards.

“We’re about ready to get a second one,” Cowell said. “By running two machines in sequence, we can send all the good beans one way and then run the other ones through again with finer settings.”

It’s been three years of technological and operational upgrades at Kauai Coffee Company, and the benefits are showing.

“We’re excited. The farm is getting healthier and the team is coming up with smarter ways of doing things,” Cowell said. “The magic is happening on a day-to-day basis.”

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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