“The future is simply data analytics and tech,” hence for giant agriculture data becomes cash crop according to Riensche. He explained how it is by explaining the facts of his everyday life.
For six generations, Ben Riensche’s family has tended corn and soybeans outside Jesup, a town of 2,500 on the windswept plains of eastern Iowa. But today he’s harvesting a valuable new crop from his 12,000 acres: information.
Riensche, who still has his grandfather’s handwritten notebooks containing everything from the bushels of corn he brought in to the number of eggs the chickens laid.
Information collected by farmers, yields, fertilizer use, crop rotation, rainfall, and dozens of other data points. The companies feed it into software that predicts combinations of seeds, fertilizers, and sprays to maximize yields. That can boost sales of their products while also padding the bottom line from subscription fees farmers pay for recommendations on what to sow and when to spray.
The digital transformation of farming isn’t new. In the 1980s, soil data was recorded on six-inch floppy disks to help calculate fertilizer needs, and since the advent of the internet, companies have created ever-larger databases to improve recommendations.
Today, the trend is accelerating as growers get feeds directly to tablet computers in their tractors and tap technologies such as crop-spraying drones to maximize yield on every square foot.
By the mid 20’s, the digital agriculture market is expected to be worth billions of dollars a year. But as the companies assemble their databases, subscription fees $1 and up per acre don’t yet cover the cost of running the systems.
Riensche expects that by the time his children take over the farm, the data revolution will have transformed the business. With consumers demanding transparency in the food chain, information on how a crop was grown and its environmental impact will be enormously valuable.
And if millers or brewers want corn or barley that’s a bit more sun-kissed or has a higher starch content, they could order it from a farmer at the start of the season and monitor its progress as it grows. “I’ve got buyers for my crop if I can provide them with this information,” Riensche says. With the right technology, “I can provide the whole story of how that crop was raised.”