Big data in agriculture

Posted on October 4, 2013  /  0 Comments

Several years ago, I was in Chennai learning about what Ashok Jhunjhunwala’s teams were working on. One idea Ashok had was that of basing agricultural extension advice tailored to micro-climatic and soil data. So when a farmer calls/texts, the advice he would get would be specifically for his land and the climatic conditions relevant to that land at that time. I’ve talked about this with many people since, but only as a theoretical construct. I was skeptical the enormous data base that it required could ever be constructed (and maintained, since the soil and climate conditions changed all the time).

It looks like big agro has been thinking on the same lines.

Last year Monsanto paid $250 million for Precision Planting , a company that enables farmers to plant seeds in various depths and spaces, almost by the square meter, so different parts of a farm can get different treatment. Mr. Preete said Monsanto saw this as a first step in developing two-way farm machinery systems that took up and receive data, giving farmers better sense of what to plant and how much water and fertilizer to use.

The company also plans to sell Climate Corporation’s crop insurance products to farmers internationally. Climate Corporation writes these policies in the United States based on a wealth of public data on rainfall, temperature and soil types around the country. It is not clear how well or how quickly this can be deployed internationally.

In effect, Monsanto hopes to do for about one billion acres of worldwide farmland what General Electric hopes to do for the electrical grid and the aviation industry: Gain unprecedented insights into the interaction of products as they work in the world, make them work more efficiently and possibly sell new services based on the insights.


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