Helping Farmers Improve Sustainability and Production

The Lempert Report
April 09, 2015

The Climate Corporation and its innovative technology.

Around the world, entrepreneurs are developing ideas to help farmers and improve farming capabilities. One company in particular is focused on increasing the sustainability and productivity of farming operations, using innovative technologies, data science capabilities and tools - The Climate Corporation. And this morning I'm joined by, President and Chief Operating Officer, Michael Stern.  Michael, How was the Climate Corporation initiated and what is its mission?

MICHAEL STERN:The climate corporation started, when founder David Friedberg, about 6 or 7 years ago.  He recognized that there were many businesses that were effected by weather.. whether that be bike rentals or golf courses, or ski resorts, he and some others got together and began to work on algorithms that may help better predict weather and how that would effect their business. What David and the team found quickly was, yes, that their technologies could work but the businesses were too small. There weren't enough bike shops, or golf courses in the US to make the business viable. And so they quickly turned their attention to agriculture recognizing that weather is one of the largest variables a grower has to deal with every year.  What we're focused on is using data science and software engineering in order to develop algorithms that help growers make informed decisions. Decisions about their farm that are not generated on intuition, but in fact on data to help drive productivity and profitability. 

PHIL: And Mike you've told me in the past that the value isn't in the data itself but in the insights from that data. Talk to me a little bit about that. 

MICHAEL:  I believe we're on the verge of a third great wave of agricultural transition and I call that digital agriculture. And what's driving that is the digitization of the farm. For example, today a through satellite imagery etc, a grower can generate around 7 GB of data per acre on their farm. 10 years ago it cost the grower about $300,000 to just store that data. Today that's about 28 cents and that's quickly going to zero. So my point is that farming and information infrastructure driven by sensors, telephones, iPads, free storage all the things that are going on around consumer electronics are driving the digitization of the farm. 

PHIL:   We’re really seeing a lot of differences taking place in water temperature with the oceans, with hurricanes, with all of the so things.  And we know that you’re now acquiring other tech startups who are working on solutions such as 640 Labs.  Why do you think it’s important to support innovative ideas and to support these innovative startups with the cash they need? 

MICHAEL:Our philosophy is, there are some great companies out there with great ideas starting up, And we don't have the NIH syndrome which is "not invented here". We're looking to find what are the great innovative technologies that we can bring in to Climate that will help us drive productivity for farmers and help farmers make better decisions in a proactive way on their farm. 640 Labs is a great example of that. Software engineers that were really looking at "how can we move data around"? So what 640 Labs has developed is a very small device that can plug into any agricultural implement like a tractor or a combine or a sprayer and through GPS and bluetooth technology can instantly transmit the data that's been generated on that field into a cloud. In this case a climate cloud,  with the growers consent of course, and now all that information in real time can be visualized. As well as reside in the growers climate account, which then feeds into our models.

I’ve been in agriculture now for 25 years.  And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where growers are more interested and even demanding these technology’s come to the farm.  So it’s an incredible exciting time to be in agriculture.  It’s incredible exciting time to be at the Climate Corporation where we feel we’re at the epicenter of this digital Ag revolution.  And it’s all about helping growers become more productive and farm in a more sustainable way.  And of course we need that as we see a growing population, decreasing in arable land, in a world that is increasingly hungrier and thirstier.

PHIL: Mike, thanks for joining us.  And thanks for the Innovation that the Climate Corporation is bringing us.

Mike:  Phil, a pleasure to be here.