Rising interest in bringing more technology to agriculture is bringing diverse players to the table. IBM, with its Watson platform and an investment in The Weather Company, has most recently been looking more at opportunities in agriculture. And that’s ramping with news that IBM Services and Yara International are teaming up to build what the companies are calling “the world’s leading digital farming platform.”
The agreement, announced April 26, brings news that the two firms will work to innovate and commercialize digital agricultural solutions that will “help increase global food production by drawing on the two companies’ complementary capabilities,” according to the announcement.
Yara International has more than 800 agronomists and a century of experience in the global ag market. IBM’s digital platforms, services and expertise in artificial intelligence and data analytics offers the partnership advanced tech.
In the media announcement, Terje Knutsen, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Yara, noted that the collaboration centers around a common goal to “make a real difference in agriculture. To be able to responsibly feed a growing population, it is critical that farmers increase food production on existing farmland to avoid deforestation.”
He added that the partnership will work do develop digital solutions that help empower business and smallholder farmers to optimize farming practices in ways that increase yields and crop quality while working sustainably.
The new joint global digital farming platform will apply artificial intelligence, machine learning and in-field data to provide farmers new insights. And the companies are working to provide worldwide coverage for the platform with the goal of reaching more than 240 million acres of farmland. That’s about twice the size of Spain and close to 7% of all arable land worldwide according to the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
The announcement also included a comment from Luq Niazi, IBM global managing director, consumer industries, who noted that food demand is rising and the digital farming platform will “play a key role in increasing global farming yields in a sustainable way. The collaboration is a perfect symbiosis of IBM’s capabilities in AI, big data management and blockchain technology and Yara’s agronomic knowledge, farmer-centric digital innovation and proven track record in improving farming across the globe.”
The opening move for the collaboration will be creation of joint innovation teams collaborating at digital hubs in Europe, Singapore, the United States and Brazil. The teams will work with IBM researchers to develop new capabilities, including visual analytics, machine learning techniques for crop identification and validation as well as field boundary digitization. The first services from the new venture are planned for the end of 2019.
Digging into the deal
The joint announcement also noted that a specific area of collaboration will be weather data. By merging IBM’s Watson Studio, IBM PAIRS technology, The Weather Company and other services with Yara’s crop knowledge and modeling capabilities, the joint platform “will not only provide hyperlocal weather forecasts but will in addition give real-time actionable recommendations, tailored to the specific needs of individual fields/crops.”
The IBM PAIRS technology includes thousands of organized, queryable geospatial-temporal data layers that provides global analytics. This graphic information that’s tagged with highly specific data provides enhanced digital land management capabilities.
And as the joint digital platform expands, the teams will look at ways to innovate business sooutions to integrated the joint platform into the IBM Food Trust, which is IBM’s blockchain-enabled network of food chain players. With this tech there’s potential for greater traceability and supply chain efficiency that can help tack food fraud, food waste and enhance sustainability.