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Startup bets the farm on Microsoft ag tech platform

Innov8 Ag Solutions team
Innov8 Ag’s team installs solar-powered microclimate weather stations in an apple orchard early in the growing season. From left are Innov8 founder Steve Mantle; Tate Gabriel, a 4th-year ag student at Walla Walla Community College; and Innov8’s Todd Tucker. (Innov8 Ag Solutions Photo)

Microsoft’s cloud-based platform for data-driven farming, Azure FarmBeats, had its official coming-out party this week at the company’s annual Ignite conference for developers, but Steve Mantle has already been using FarmBeats’ tools to grow his business — and help farmers grow their crops.

Mantle, the founder of Innov8 Ag Solutions in Walla Walla, Wash., is leading the development of a data analysis service that provides agricultural insights to dozens of apple growers, as well as farmers who grow other crops ranging from wheat and barley to grapes. He’s even signed up a few wineries for Innov8 Ag’s services, which leverage Azure-based cloud components.

Azure FarmBeats brings together all those ag-related components, making it possible to combine data from soil moisture sensors, satellites, drones, weather stations and other sources. Developers can add artificial-intelligence applications to the FarmBeats foundation, like adding muscles and organs to a skeleton.

FarmBeats has been under development since 2015, and this week it became available for public preview through the Azure Marketplace. “Now we’re actually able to use that skeleton, as it were,” Mantle told GeekWire.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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