Back in 2011, one of the first products offered by Climate Corp (www.climate.com) was “Total Weather Insurance (http://bit.ly/2ibpnPH).” This novel approach to crop insurance allowed producers, based on weather data in their area, to receive payouts (http://bit.ly/2iWxgt4) throughout the growing season.
At the time, the company promised to continue improving its technology for the benefit of producer clients. Now a subsidiary of Monsanto, the Climate Corporation is expanding into other countries and coming up with new ways to back precision agriculture.
On Jan. 5, company officials held a media call to explain new avenues that will open under research and development efforts.
“When you think about the digitization of the farm, for the first time we’ve really had a chance, by using advanced analytics, to go and address the variability growers see every year when they harvest their fields,” said Mike Stern, CEO of the Climate Corporation. “We like to frame this in very simply as an equation that says: yield is a function of genetics in the field, the environment those genetics are exposed to, and farmer practice.”
While a simple equation, “it really encompasses the 40 or 50 decisions the farmer makes for every yield, to optimize what’s happening in their fields. Opportunity can be seen very simply in the difference between optimal yields and average yields.”
Stern pointed to the annual yield contest run by the National Corn Growers Association. “In 2015, the winner of that contest generated about 530 bushels per acre on a 10-acre plot, a highly-managed field. But the national average was about 168 bushels on 90 million acres.
“That’s the opportunity for digital ag. How can we go ahead and use our digital tools to help farmers begin that variability and create and capture some of that value?”
In 2016, “Climate (Corp) had a breakout year with more than 100 million acres on our (Climate FieldView) platform. We had more than 14 million paid acres.”
Looking at 2017, “we’ll see expansion of our product offerings into Canada and Brazil. In outer years, (that expansion) will occur in Europe, Australia, South Africa and Argentina. For 2017, we’ve set a target of around 25 million paid acres and are well on our way to achieving that.”
Some six months ago, “we thought it was the right time to open up our infrastructure to allow others to develop technology and drive innovation to the grower.”
As a part of the company’s overseas expansion, last November it purchased VitalFields, a software company based in Tallinn, Estonia. “It’s a technology company which, (through digital tools), helps growers manage compliance requirements on a country by country basis. … We see that as a great way to enter the European market. They have a great product that fulfills a big need for growers. Our strategy in Europe is to go ahead and couple the VitalFields tool with, in the near future, our Climate FieldView Plus platform to Europe.”
Climate Corporation has more than 30 projects in its R&D pipeline, said Sam Eathington, chief scientist for the company.
- Seeds and Planting platform.
“This pipeline is designed to help farmers manage field variability and maximize potential. … We continue to improve on how to create a ‘field zone’, how to catalog variability, how to structure it in a way that lets a grower optimally make decisions. With our understanding of hybrids and varieties, we’re figuring out what germplasm likes what kind of environment, what seeding density it should be planted at, how we should manage it.”
- Fertility platform.
“Fertility is one of the most expensive inputs for a grower,” said Eathington. “It’s one where historically there haven’t been a lot of great tools to help them manage, at a field level. Today, we have a tool that allows them, at a field level, to monitor the N available to a crop and make different decisions based on their growing practices, their environment and what they’re trying to achieve.”
Coming soon: an expansion of the program to include recommendations on phosphorus and potash. “Those are the other major and central nutrients plants need,” said Eathington. “We’ll do that in a variable way across the field based on soil data, based on harvest — what they pulled off the field — and create sophisticate P and K prescriptions integrated with N information.”
- Field Health platform.
Last summer, “we announced our in-field sensor network.” Having opened up the platform, sensors provide “a great opportunity for third-party developers to plug them into our network, make that data available to a grower in their Climate Fieldview account.
“We’re also internally developing some of our own sensors. One we’re really excited about is a nitrate sensor, which for the first time would give the grower the knowledge about the available nitrate, real time, in their field.”
Moving on to disease, “it’s difficult for farmers to manage. A couple of things have to come together. The germplasm planted has to be susceptible to the pathogen, the pathogen must be present in the field and the environmental conditions must be favorable for the pathogen to develop…
“What we’re doing is building the disease triangle, modeling out the disease vulnerability field by field for a grower. Then, they’ll know what field to look at, where they may have an issue, where they may need to make a decision and to be proactive, instead of reactive, when they see the disease.
“We’ve coupled that with our machine learning capabilities to basically, based on any image, to quickly process the disease present in the image and give the grower the proper diagnosis of the pathogen. … This comes together in our ‘enhanced scouting tool’ where we can monitor how a field is changing day by day.”