Optimizing crop yield, vigor and uniformity


Starting Pollen Systems --- Keith McCall, Founder and CEO

Keith McCall

The last two companies I founded were focused on delivering value and cost savings by using data analytics (now known as Big Data) to optimize business processes. I spent 12 years developing solutions to help companies run email 7x24 by outsourcing remote management of their servers to Azaleos and then built Enroute Systems to help retailers ship packages more efficiently: picking the right carrier and the right service to deliver packages to homes around the world.

In June 2018, while on a year sabbatical after building and selling my latest startup, I visited Singapore with my family. One of my passions and hobbies has always been gardening: determining how to make plants grow. In Singapore, I discovered the Gardens by the Bay and the Supertree Grove. On a series of man-made 80-160 foot vertical frames, city planners have applied environmental technologies that mimic the function of regular trees, and planted the trees with tropical flowers, ferns, and other plants.

This spurred me to think about the application of advanced data analytics as applied to the agricultural industry, and to explore the possibilities. Pollen Systems was named after the restaurant at the Gardens by the Bay, but symbolizes much more.

To us, Pollen represents data, visible and invisible, that pervades farmlands worldwide. Pollen Systems harvests that data and turns it into actionable insight before it blows away. Check out our site to learn more, or contact us at info@pollensystems.com.

A day in the life of an Agricultural Technologist - Drew Falabella

Drew Falabella

As an Agricultural Technologist on the team, I mainly do two things that keep Pollen Systems flying: researching crops and drawing maps! I am often studying ways to improve our analysis and best serve our customers. However, the bulk of my work during the Pacific Northwest growing season is analyzing imagery collected by our pilots and packaging it into periodic updates for our customers.

Importing Images for Processing

My process begins with importing thousands of aerial images into Pix4D Mapper, our software of choice for composing a single mosaic that we can work with. I also use it to translate the raw data captured by our sensors into NDVI and NDRE health indices that help us analyze our customers’ crops. After color-coding and displaying that health data on a map, I get a high-resolution picture that I use to identify patterns in growth or plant stress.

Balancing Farm and Function

Once the analysis is complete, I write a scouting report delivered to the Precisionview Manager portal and directly to your email inbox. This summarizes everything we have learned in our most recent flyover, including a breakdown of our flights field by field. I also include a map that shows the areas of greatest and lowest plant health, allowing me to pinpoint areas that could use extra attention. Ultimately, this information allows us to offer management suggestions to maintain a healthy crop. It is my pleasure to help Pollen Systems stay in the air and keep your fields bountiful year after year!

What it's like to fly drones for Pollen Systems - Nathan Albright

Nathan Albright

Pollen Systems is on the cutting edge of agricultural technology, and this summer marks my third year as Pollen Systems’ primary drone pilot in Washington and Oregon. If you are one of our clients, then you may have seen me on site previously with a Phantom 4 Pro, but our latest tool is a DJI Inspire 2 with a MicaSense Altum sensor, which has the multispectral and RGB imaging that clients have traditionally received, plus we have sharper imaging and now have the availability of thermal readings.

Flying Drones over crops

I live in Moses Lake but travel throughout Washington and Oregon, most frequently to Benton City’s Red Mountain AVA, Walla Walla’s AVA’s vineyards stretching across the state border into Oregon, Royal City, George, Yakima, and several other sites along the Columbia River.

With well over 500 hours of drone flight time, my drone flying experience and expertise helps me contribute to the team by ensuring that any flights over your farm are not only safe, but produce the highest-quality images to offer farmers the best information available to stay on top of their crops, whether they’re grapes, apples, pears, cherries, or even cannabis, used in making marijuana.

Flying Drones over wine grapes

We aren’t the only company offering spectral imaging to farmers. Some imaging is done by satellites with much lower resolution (generally one pixel of the image represents 32 feet) and manned aircraft offer images that are a little sharper (approximately 50 inches per pixel), but drones are able to provide images of 2 inches per pixel. Not only do drones help farmers see what’s going on in their field with much more accuracy, but when the West Coast endured fires over the last couple of summers, satellite images and manned aircraft were unable to provide images to farmers. The smoke didn’t slow us down at all. Of course, we fly at 400 feet rather than 8,000 feet or 488 miles above earth.

Pollen Systems isn’t just a guy who stops by to take pictures of your farm, but includes a large team, each with our own specialties that we bring to the table, whether it’s drone flying, image processing, or coding a portal with a great format for all of the information to be easily digested by the farmer. Contact us if you’re ready to increase your farm’s crop yields and quality.

Canola Farms in the Snake River Area - Trina Nelson

Trina Nelson

This past Memorial Day weekend the promise of great trout fishing in the Snake River led us across Washington state into Idaho and entertained us all with beautiful sites along the way. As the buildings and cars faded from view, the land opened up. The air got a bit fresher. The atmosphere a little quieter and colors more pronounced. But nothing stood out more than the glowing, yellow canola fields.

When I hear “canola” I immediately think of the oil we cook with but come to find out there are many more reasons for growing this beautiful crop besides impressing us travelers. So, I did some research!

Canola Fields in Idaho

Did you know, canola oil can also be processed to be used as biodiesel fuel? And, because of its high protein content, it can also be used in feed rations for beef cattle, poultry and fish.

Also very interesting, canola can be grown with or without irrigation. This is huge in dryland farming regions where water is scarce or regulated.

Because of the pest resistant properties of canola, it is a good candidate for crop rotation to prevent pest infestation in other crops. There is Winter canola and Spring canola so based on the growing season of the other crops, Winter or Spring canola can be used. Talk about a team player

Canola Flowers

Research into the canola crop broadens my knowledge of the co-existing and symbiotic relationship between crops and when I pass through again for some July 4th fishing I won’t only be taking in the beautiful fields but understand how they touch many different aspects of our lives.

My role as Director of Integration and Customer Experience at Pollen Systems includes presenting the data we collect from fields all over the world. As I travel across state lines marveling at the enormity of agriculture, I think about the amazing opportunities there are to provide data to our farmers to keep these helpful and sustaining canola fields flourishing as well as astounding us travelers with their beauty.

Canola Skyline in Idaho

The Elevator Pitch - Keith McCall

Keith McCall

At a young company, cash is king. You need to constantly be monitoring your expenses, while at the same time either bootstrapping or raising money from angel investors or venture capitalists to help grow the business.

One of the things that every Founder has to learn to do is a one minute "Elevator Pitch". Imagine seeing a famous investor as you ride the elevator to our floor. How fast could you pitch them your idea before you get to the top of the building?

Last year I had the opportunity to do this --- for real --- at Geekwire's Elevator Pitch Contest. You can view the episode here.

Keith McCall Geekwire Elevator Pitch

Our current one minute pitch (when properly executed) goes something like this:

Pollen represents data, visible and invisible, that pervades farms throughout the world. Pollen Systems harvests that data, turning it into actionable input that helps farmers grow better crops.

We fly drones and fixed wing aircraft, use IoT sensors and mobile devices to collect and process information, serving customers in Washington, Oregon, California and Chile.

Our patented process tells farmers how to better address issues such as water usage and pests and diseases

We started with wine grapes, but have since expanded into apples, cherries, kiwis, avocados, and many more crops.

Last year we raised $1 million in a seed round to build the business in North America and Chile and perform pilots in Peru and South Africa.

We are raising an additional $2 million Series A round to continue to expand into other crops and geographies. Please join us!

Data with Drew: Vegetation Indices

Drew Falabella

The cameras we use on fixed wing and drone aircraft capture visual picture images (RGB), near infrared images (NIR), and thermal images. A formula is used to analyse the NIR data returned and provides Pollen Systems with two main metrics to measure plant vigor: NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) and NDRE (Normalized Difference Red Edge). These vegetation indices are each unique ways to assess the health of your fields, and offer helpful insights for farm management.


NDVI is one of the first indices designed to estimate the presence of vegetation in satellite images. It represents a ratio between light reflected by plants in the visible red light spectrum and the Near Infrared spectrum, and is related to the chlorophyll in those plants. the more chlorophyll present, the higher the index becomes. Therefore, we know it to be a solid estimate of photosynthesis in a plant, and by extension, plant health and vigor. It runs from -1 to 1, where -1 is represents water, 0 represents bare soil, and 1 represents extremely vigorous vegetation.

More recently, NDRE has emerged as another index that fills a role NDVI does not. While both estimate chlorophyll content, NDRE replaces visible red light with a wavelength that borders the infrared and visible red wavelengths: Red Edge. Since it does not rely on visible red light, NDRE can collect readings below dense canopy cover where NDVI is blocked. This is especially useful late-season to determine which plants need support.


When looking at both maps together, we often see where canopy health is high compared to lower branches, or how to distinguish ground cover from crops of interest. Our partner Micasense produces cameras specifically designed to capture the wavelengths of light needed for NDVI and NDRE, and we are excited to continue using their technology in service of your farms and vineyards. Hopefully this has been a helpful reminder to keep learning and keep growing!

Calling California with Forrest Faszer

Forrest Faszer

I may be considered new to the team at Pollen Systems, but what I am not new to is California’s Capital, Sacramento.


Coming from a farming family myself, I was born and raised here on the Sacramento River Delta, on one of my family’s very own pear and cherry orchards. Since there are so many farmers in Sacramento it seems fitting that it also holds the title of being the Farm-To-Fork Capital of the United States. Meaning Sacramento’s local restaurants, supermarkets, and (of course) farmers markets, offer some of the freshest produce, all made possible by our local farmers.

Sacramento Water Tower

One of our largest and most iconic crops here in California are our almonds. According to the Almond Board of California, the golden state grows 80% of the world’s almonds on an estimated 1.4 million acres of orchards. Isn’t that nuts?! Also, 91% of those acres are operated and owned by multigenerational family farms.

California’s family farms, large or small, remain family farms by making well-informed, day-to-day decisions on when to plant, irrigate, prune, pollinate, applicate, harvest, etc… It’s all about timing and achieving the best crop vigor/health/yield possible. Pollen System’s goal is to help perceive the best day-to-day decisions possible by harvesting data and turning it into actionable insight for farmers, and I’m looking forward to helping make that goal a reality here in the golden state of California.

Sacramento Farm