Despite the continued downturn in the farm economy, Climate Corp., doesn’t appear to be losing their focus on research and development of new products and services in the “Digital Ag Space.” Spend a few minutes talking with Brian Lutz, Yield Analytics Lead for Climate Corp’s Science Division, and you’ll understand why. He contends that technology will ultimately help producers maximize returns.
“Anything that we push out to the market place has to be able to demonstrate its value in return on investment - that’s what we really prioritize in all of the things that we’re developing for growers,” Lutz said. “We know there's a lot of variability out there and we know we can better deploy our resources to maximize production on the best acres as well as help avoid wasting any resources on those acres that just aren’t performing that well.”
During a January R&D Pipeline Report to Investors, Lutz noted considerable progress on 17 of 35 different projects since Climate launched their industry-leading innovation pipeline of more than 35 projects 12 months earlier.
Working through Climate Corp’s FieldView platform, research and development is focused on three primary areas says Lutz, Seed Scripting and Selection, Disease Management, and Nitrogen and Fertility Management. Many of those futuristic tools will be enhancements to existing offerings.
Seed Scripting and Selection
“There are several buckets that we’ve got projects in that we’re making really strong progress on,” Lutz explained. “Our advanced seed scripting which has been available here in the US for a couple of years now on our Pro-level offering, is focused developing seed portfolio optimization models for corn and soybeans to help growers choose that portfolio of seeds that’s going to perform best on their specific acres.”
Lutz says Climate Corp continues to analyze field variability and bring this information together with data from numerous sources - like seed genetics, traits, imagery, disease pressure, soil composition, water movement, weather, and decades of historical performance data - to advance machine learning and predictive models to help farmers understand how to select the right seed in the best place for maximum performance.
Although the advanced Seed Scripting and Selection models are currently limited to Monsanto-only branded seed products, Lutz hinted that could change in the future. “We want to be able to help growers with their seeding decision regardless of what brand it is,” he said.
“For us, it's really just a matter of making sure that we have the right data behind our model so that we’re bringing value to the grower. We have a lot more access to that information for Monsanto-branded seed products.”
Lutz says, based on 2017 harvest data that growers using FieldView to create an advanced seed script saw about a 5 bushel per acre advantage last year.
Disease Management is another “bucket” that Climate Corp is currently developing. Although it may be a “couple of years” before the features are released out on the market, Lutz says the technology could be a real game-changer in helping growers to identify and diagnose disease pressure in corn.
“We’re currently building models that use the same facial recognition technology that’s used in things like Facebook,” Lutz explained. “Growers can use their cell phone to take a picture of a corn leaf and the phone will then help to identify what type of lesions they have, whether it's a fungal disease versus a bacterial disease or abiotic stress so that they can positively identify what's impacting their crop and then go out and make an appropriate management decision.”
According to Lutz, Climate Corp is also researching how to integrate real-time weather data to develop predictive disease management tools. “Disease really propagates, oftentimes, under a pretty narrow range of weather conditions. So as we get more and more information and data about where disease is occurring, we can marry that up with our weather data.”
“It's all about trying to help growers, even beyond just identifying disease but really knowing whether or not the conditions are prime for disease spread because a lot of times that helps them be more proactive with their decision-making,” he said.
Would the technology eventually work in a drone environment? “In theory, it could, as long as you can get a good picture of whatever surface you're looking at,” said Lutz. “A lot of the drones these days are able to get pretty close and intimate with crop - so certainly not out of the question.”
Nitrogen and Fertility Management:
Look for future expansion of services in fertility management tools as, patterned after the current nitrogen-management tool currently available on the Pro-level package. Calling it a flagship product for Climate Corp, Lutz says they’ve been getting questions from growers asking when they expect similar offerings to help with phosphorus, potash and lime management as well. “We’re working on P&K as well as lime scripting tools for corn,” Lutz said. “In this most recent announcement in January, we’re also expanding those capabilities to other crops including soy, wheat and cotton.”