Dirt Meets Data: How Early Innovators in Agribusiness Are Feeding the World

Bill Hamilton

The United Nations predicts that the world population will approach 10 billion by the middle of the century. To feed everyone, we must double the amount of food we currently produce. But the challenge of feeding everyone is not just a production issue. It’s also a distribution and need issue. Even a modest demand increase for protein, for example, can strain land resources, reports the United Nations News Centre, underscoring the need for increased efficiency to meet global needs. Digitization in the agribusiness sector increases the ability to feed the rapidly growing world. Companies including Land O’Lakes, Nestle, and Monsanto are leading the way by reimagining agribusiness models and proactively evolving to meet the world’s changing demands.

Land O’Lakes and GEOSYS: How satellite-gathered crop data is changing agriculture

The complexity of agricultural production is one of its greatest challenges. Every decision affects the next. As an added challenge, by the time an issue is actually visible in the field, it’s often too late to change course: the damage is done. Agriculture is the world’s greatest balancing act. While a traditional prescription may give growers a solid start, the ability to continuously monitor fields via technology solutions empowers growers to make decisions that optimize productivity. Growers can stay one step ahead by “seeing” what the human eye cannot detect.

To better address this challenge, Land O’Lakes acquired GEOSYS, an innovative company that uses satellite-based remote sensing to provide current, actionable data. GEOSYS also draws on historical records throughout the growing season and this data combines with real-time observations. Rather than a “one and done” evaluation of a field, GEOSYS empowers growers through continuous monitoring to optimize productivity along the entire agriculture value chain.

Cargill develops software to guide crop production from farm to fork

Severe weather patterns – from floods to heat waves – are wreaking havoc on crop production, costing farmers millions – and a simple Farmer’s Almanac is insufficient for predicting these changing patterns. What if technology could predict these changes and help farmers avoid crop catastrophe?

Like the Land O’Lakes/GEOSYS partnership, Cargill is also developing its own software service to help guide farmers on crop production and putting its own spin on “prescriptive planting.” The software service offers guidance to farmers on the best timing to plant crops, maximizing farm output. The tool, called NextField DataR, crunches a number of different data pieces, such as soil content, seed type, and temperature fluctuations, to help farmers determine the optimal time for crop planting. The result: farmers have more detailed data about optimal planting times, reducing the risk for crop loss in smallholder farming.

Monsanto, Precision Planting, and Climate Corporation: Empowering agriculture through Big Data

While Monsanto has a reputation for being a business built on chemicals, seeds, and genetic traits, the company is rapidly expanding its data science services, reports Reuters. Monsanto acquired Precision Planting, a manufacturer of precision equipment, and Climate Corporation, a provider of super-local weather information. Monsanto’s expansion shows it is serious about precision farming and has now transformed from a seed business to a data science organization, providing the “glue that holds the pieces together.”

Nestle builds lean upstream supply chains from farm to factory via Farmer Connect

Nearly half of all Nestle factories (46%) are located in emerging countries, and 74% of those factories are located in rural areas. Nestle faces a unique challenge: how to locally source raw materials (like milk, grains, and cocoa) while ensuring responsible farming, production, and consumption practices. Nestle’s solution: the Farmer Connect program.

Nestle is not only buying from rural farmers, but is also investing in farmer training to secure a sustainable and high-quality supply of commodities, such as specialty coffee, and improve food traceability. Nestle’s Farmer Connect program is designed to ensure long-term supply of safe, quality-assured, and regulatory-compliant agricultural materials to consumers that also comply with responsible farming practices. In Western Africa, for example, Nestle partnered with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture to train 10,000 farmers on good agriculture and storage practices. Farmers now meet Nestle quality production standards and achieve a price premium on their goods. The farmers benefit from expanded market access for locally produced grains in Western Africa, and Nestle benefits from replicable and consistent quality and food safety via sustainable production.

John Deere: Fleet telemetrics empower remote equipment management

Still think of John Deere as just a tractor company? Think again: John Deere has 2,600 employees that come to work every morning just to develop software solutions to optimize John Deere fleet performance. John Deere is providing fleet telematics solutions that make it easier for farmers to remotely manage their equipment and analyze sensor data in real-time.

JDLinks is John Deere’s telemetrics system that remotely connects all make/model machines in the field with mobile devices. Farmers can keep track of their fleet, monitor work progress, analyze performance, and perform remote operator support and automated data exchange. John Deere also offers a new FarmSite service package that increases machine uptime by utilizing remote dealer service capabilities including CAN-data tracking, diagnostics, software updates, and operator support. John Deere is also a leader in predictive maintenance, integrating sensor data, business data, and environmental data to proactively manage equipment-servicing needs and reduce downtime.

What’s next for digital farming

For farmers and food manufacturers alike, the road map to relevance requires reimagining agribusiness models and proactively evolving. Increased hyperconnectivity is allowing farmers from Western Africa to the United States to improve crop productivity, food safety, and sustainability practices. Improving vertical integration along the agricultural value chain means that industry boundaries are blurring. As agribusinesses reimagine their business models, business processes, and work, they must engage with new partners as technology continues to drive collaborative value.

Learn more about Digital Transformation for the Agribusiness.

Bill Hamilton

About Bill Hamilton

Bill Hamilton is a director in the Industry Cloud Solution group for agribusiness with a focus on commodities at SAP. His C-level experience surrounding the comprehensive transaction cycles bring deep and valuable expertise to SAP and its customers, which is essential to address the growing needs of the agribusiness industry.