With steep population growth expected by 2050, the need to provide high-quality food and water for our planet is increasing by the minute. To address this challenge, companies such as agrochemicals are using the power of advanced agriculture technology to develop better seeds and sustainable crop protection, enabling them to provide new, digitally-enabled agro services to farmers that increase yield through precision farming.
To be successful, it is critical to harness intelligent insights from data. Today, more and more agro organizations accumulate massive amounts of data in their own on-premises data silos and struggle with analyzing different data formats as well as data gaps—all of which can prevent accurate predictions. Microsoft helps these companies aggregate, share, and monitor data, and then run analytics on a set of combined data sources.
Accelerating innovation with data
Delivering a robust, data-driven precision agriculture strategy requires investment in digital technologies and collaborations. Microsoft, along with our partners, are working to help companies transform into thriving digital businesses using agriculture technology that sustainably improves health, feeds the world, provides safe energy and water, and fuels economic prosperity—all through the power of data.
We bring together a globally scalable and secure cloud infrastructure, strong data analytics capabilities, productivity tools, and a rich partner ecosystem into an agile platform that gives seed and input providers, farmers, and co-ops unprecedented visibility into the critical steps of the food value chain. Companies are empowered to collect, store, and analyze data in a way that is secure and globally scalable, and ensures data is always under their control.
From enabling precision agriculture; to innovating farm management, productivity and sustainability; to giving new paths to water conservation and pesticide reduction; to generating new insights around weather prediction and optimal planting cycles, Microsoft and our partners are using data to transform one of the oldest industries on our planet.
CNX: On the front lines of improving crop production
Our partnerships begin at the early stages of the food value chain, as we partner with agro providers to make sure we are improving the application of seeds, herbicides and fertilizers to reduce sustainable impact. We apply advanced agriculture technology—cloud-based mobile solutions based on machine learning, IoT and artificial intelligence—to find ways to increase crop size by measuring factors like soil type and weather conditions, and the impact of these on products.
One exciting example of this is the work we are doing with partner CNX at the Bayer CropScience agriculture division in Colombia. On the cutting edge of digital exploration in agriculture, Bayer was looking for ways to improve crop production and yield in the region. The CNX solution leverages Microsoft Azure IoT Suite to connect to sensors on Manglar drones, which automatically capture data from the field, including photogrammetry (the science of making measurements from photographs) and high-capacity platforms for data processing. Azure Machine Learning then analyzes these images and data using various algorithms to identify low production crop areas, which are logged on a color-coded map. This allows Bayer to intelligently process the data to target poor performing areas and significantly improve productivity and reduce costs through changes like reducing pesticides and labor.
The Yield: Making the unpredictable, predictable
Our partnership with The Yield in Australia is another great example of the powerful impact that data can have on farmers to help them remove complexity and risk to increase productivity, output and ROI.
Sudden changes in weather can have a significant impact on the success and outcomes of the agriculture industry, potentially costing growers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. To take the guesswork out of growing, The Yield just launched a new solution: Sensing+ for Agriculture. This is an ecosystem of hardware, in the form of sensors and a communications gateway, software (via a secure Microsoft cloud platform), and apps–both mobile and web-based. The sensors collect data on growing conditions, then that data is communicated to the gateway via sensor nodes. The gateway sends that data to the software, where it’s transformed into valuable insights and predictions. The Sensing+ app delivers the insights to the grower. What’s great about this tool is that in addition to seeing real-time conditions, growers can use the tools to get prepared well in advance of an imminent weather event.
Customer Liam Houston from Houston’s Farm says that by using The Yield’s solutions, the company believes it can reduce its current crop loss—a loss of 200 tons of lettuce to water-related issues annually—by 30 percent, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
Priva: Creating a climate for growth
We also partner closely with agro co-ops and exporters to show them how to minimize costs, empower farmers with data and insights, and differentiate through sustainable products. One such partnership is with Priva, a company that is leading the way in optimizing environmental conditions and process management through advanced agriculture technology.
When you look at the world of high-tech greenhouses, many growers want to change the way they cultivate today. Priva offers customized, data-driven, cloud-based managed solutions to provide exactly what a co-op needs in terms of water, nutrients, climate information in order to achieve a higher yield. Results have been outstanding—an increase in production of 30 percent while reducing water consumption by 30 percent and labor costs by 10 percent. This means that growing crops with high yields will be possible for more farmers and growers—and the world will have more food. Microsoft Azure is also a key capability for Priva in driving building automation to reduce energy costs and impact to the environment.
Sparking an environmental revolution with economic incentives for farmers
As we work to make food accessible, affordable, more nutritional and sustainable, our partnerships also extend to academia, regulators, and government. One collaboration we are most proud of is the work we are doing with the California Air Resources Board and the Environmental Defense Fund. These organizations are helping to develop protocols to allow farmers to offset carbon emissions and get compensated for their efforts. Recently, we celebrated a critical milestone as the first-ever voluntary carbon credits generated from U.S. rice farmers were sold to Microsoft.
With this radical idea of implementing conservation methods on their crops, farmers are able to reduce methane emissions by generating these carbon credits that can be later be sold on the carbon market. And, the best part of all is that these farmers have been able to reduce water usage by as much as 30 percent, lower fertilizer rates, increase waterfowl habitat and lower GHG emissions, according to the Environmental Defense fund.
Together with our partners, Microsoft is uniquely positioned to enable agro firms to become thriving digital businesses that provide sustainable food and nutrition to the world. We are committed to continuing to explore new opportunities, partnerships and strategies that transform agriculture for future generations.
We are confident that together, we can work to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in our lifetime.