The Climate Corporation: Making it rain, game recognize game
Does big data put food on the table? Yes, yes it does. $1B later, The Climate Corp is helping farmers get smarter. Humanities ancient industry gets a IOT revamp in the face of climate uncertainty.
Around 8500 B.C., the agricultural revolution changed the game. Human beings discovered methods to grow and store food at will, allowing for population expansion, resource management and the first opportunity to reliably plan societal development. Since day one, we have exponentially improved the tools we use and the crops we grow. Examples include domesticated animals, dry seed, irrigation, the modern till, and the internal combustion engine, all producing incredible gains in efficiency . More recently, technology has deeply permeated the processes we implement to maximize crop yield, land efficiency and nutrition content. Now, we produce enough food worldwide to feed 9 billion people and manage to waste 20% of our production along the way. Clearly we have much more ground to gain in terms of minimizing average waste and maximizing yield; however, the technological age has only accelerated our innovation discovery and distribution channels worldwide.
The Climate Corporation offers farmers visualization and processing software products. Data on soil moisture, nitrogen content, and real-time crop health mix together to give farmers continuous updates on overall yield . As a result, business models for farms have become predictive, instead of responsive. With shorter lead times, farms can react to growing hazards such as nitrogen deficiency and low moisture content that would otherwise ruin an entire harvest. Value is created as the delta between the cost of The Climate Corporation’s FieldView product and the increased revenues due to better yield and crop planning. Reduction in waste costs only augment value capture from wasted labor and mismanaged land. All these gains are made possible by distributed processing power (smartphones, internet, laptop on every farm) and increased planting and harvesting control given to farmers through automated machinery and digital planning.
The net result of closing the feedback loop between these devices in the field and the farmer’s database results in smarter seeding, harvesting, watering and fertilizing decisions. Sam Eathington, Climate Corporation’s Chief Science Officer, claims that they have created “the world’s first in-field sensor network for agriculture” . I expect that these innovations and a smart field are just the tip of the iceberg in humanity’s quest to produce enough food to fuel our growing population. As the boundary layer of technological improvement pushes outward, I think The Climate Corporation should begin researching how we will make the next wave of products that will allow farmers to push predicting climate impacts into directing climate impacts. In the face of climate change and so many signs pointing toward an irreversible global warming, The Climate Change’s technologies may be an aggressive hedge against diverging climate circumstances and increasingly adverse conditions for our world’s food supply.
The Climate Corporation was acquired in 2013 by Monsanto, a multinational giant in the agribusiness space, largely due to its sales of technologically improved seeds. In a press release from Monsanto, they claimed the acquisition “represents Monsanto investment in supporting farmers by offering them novel options in the way they manage risk on farm – including weather, which is the single biggest risk farmers face on an annual basis” . Other ways that The Climate Corporation’s unique big data approach to farm predictive analytics shakes up agribusiness lies in secondary markets for selling data-driven harvest insurance and supply chain management solutions. The scale of this market is reflected in Monsanto’s bid of $1.1B for The Climate Corporation’s team and intellectual property . As part of Monsanto, the Climate Corporation’s research and development efforts are largely shrouded; however, we can hope that with Monsanto’s deep war chest will only enable further innovation. Combined with Monsanto’s willingness to suffer through public scrutiny in a never-ending quest for a profitable and sustainable future, the Climate Corporation could very well be our foodie-salvation.
Before the agricultural revolution, human was at the mercy of the land for food. Before the technological revolution, human had mastered the land; however, remained at the mercy of weather. Now, in the heat of the technological revolution, we have better predictors on the weather and have shortened our response time to climate to the point where we can operate one step ahead of famine. How long will it be before we master our weather as well? Perhaps one day we will drive the climate, instead of responding to it. When that time comes, what choices will we make to be good stewards of our environment? Or will we extract every cent of value from our short term horizons? Our generation of agribusiness leaders will have to feed our future mouths and make these hard choices. The Climate Corporation seems to be leading the charge in the right direction.
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- A History of Farming. http://www.localhistories.org/farming.html
- The Climate Corporation. https://www.climate.com/
- Monsanto Acquires The Climate Corporation. http://www.monsanto.com/features/pages/monsanto-acquires-the-climate-corporation.aspx
- Monsanto: The parable of the sower. http://www.economist.com/node/14904184
- Cornell Agriculture Library. http://chla.library.cornell.edu/c/chla/about.html
- Silicon Valley Agriculture Start-ups. http://modernfarmer.com/2014/02/10-silicon-valley-agriculture-start-ups/
- Sensors and Connecting the Field. http://www.climateinsights.com/?randomId=xxsU1oUVt2kGR&_ga=1.58251049.2053084627.1479414189
Student comments on The Climate Corporation: Making it rain, game recognize game
Thanks for this article, which is extremely relevant for humanity considering the world’s current demographic trends. The United Nations estimate that population will increase from 7.3 billion today, to 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Moreover, about half of that growth will come from Africa. 
With that in mind, I wonder how far are we from applying digital technology, such as Monsanto’s The Climate Corporation, in African rural areas? What kind of private and/or public initiatives are needed to ensure that these sectors, laptops, mobile phones, and training reach to the most needed segments of global population?
The data that Climate Corporation is collecting and interpreting seems tremendously valuable to farmers who, as you point out, can respond much more adroitly to changing variables. But who owns the data? Is Climate Corporation building the network, owning the data, and licensing it back to farmers? Or do farmers own whatever data is gathered on their property? It seems like the answer to that question could have massive implications for the use of Climate Corporation’s network. An integrated, nation-wide network of IoT farming data could be deployed in any numbers of ways to improve yields. But a network in which each farmer would be limited to using his own data might have more limited scaling ability.
Interesting article! I wonder if the future of farming is something we can predict. You mention that being able to predict, or even set, the weather in the future will provide an opportunity for growth. What if the future of agriculture has nothing to do with weather? What if our practices begin to transcend the whims of nature and thrive in a precisely controlled and fine tuned man made environment?
An indoor vertically integrated farm would provide many advantages in a dense urban setting. Perhaps it never goes past a specialty use, but in areas with limited land, such as Japan, the VIF is an interesting concept.