Published by Norway-Asia Business Review
With 9.8 billion people expected to populate the planet by 2050 feeding all of them is a daunting task. Especially when you know that until now the increase of farming output mainly stemmed from using additional farmland. That is not possible anymore since the best farmlands are already in use.
The only remaining option is to increase the productivity of farmlands. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides can only do so much and even destroy the soil in the long run. This is why digitization is left to save the day.
Monitoring growth across fields, preventing overlap when spraying to the inch and checking nitrogen levels of a plant are some of the ways technology assists farmers. Drones, digital modelling and handheld readers respectively provide answers where previously only questions lingered.
One of the companies very much aware of the need for and opportunities in Digital or Precision Farming is Yara International ASA (Yara). In our previous edition, we showed how Yara is building an autonomous ship, so they are no stranger to innovative products.
The company has been dedicated to a hunger-free world ever since its founding in 1905 to combat an impending famine in Europe. This mission now extends from fertilizers all the way to data analysis and autonomous shipping.
Regarding Digital Farming, Yara already has several digital solutions on the market to help farmers increase productivity. CheckIT is an app using images to identify nutrition problems, Yara Water Solution measures the water pressure in a leaf and in the Megalab™ the nutrients in the soil and leaves are tested providing online results and advice.
What is Yara’s definition of Digital Farming also called Precise Farming? “Digital Farming as we see it has the potential to revolutionize agriculture, and bring significant benefits for farmers and the society overall, as we need new ways to find ways to grow more food more sustainably. Concretely, it means applying new technologies such as data science, advanced sensors in the field and from space, digital communication channels, and automation on the field. This way more and more farmers have access to better insights to take more optimal decisions, drive up yield, reduce waste, and – particularly in emerging markets such as in Asia – drive up wealth in rural areas. In short – it means applying digital technology to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right place,” says Mr Stefan Fürnsinn, Senior Vice President Digital Farming at Yara.
Yara has been active in Digital Farming for the last decade says Mr Fürnsinn. “Yara was one of the early movers in precision farming more than 10 years ago, with an advanced offer of sensor-driven tools and solutions, like the N-sensor, picture technology that allows to diagnose a field’s health with your cell phone camera, or our water sensor technology, to optimize irrigation and thus save one of the planet’s most scarce resources.”
The activities of Yara in the area of Digital Farming span a broad range of activities, Mr Fürnsinn continues. “We pursue a broad agenda. Some initiatives aim for higher connectivity of our tools and services, some for adding new and more advanced sensors and ways to collect information, such as drones. Some are directed to optimizing the digital information and knowledge flows with farmers or food companies. In some areas, we invest into advanced modelling and big data, for instance, to simulate the optimal treatment of a farm depending on the weather.” Yara also builds partnerships with other players and optimizes digital commercial models at the Digital Farming department.
In November, Yara acquired a major US-based crop nutrition recommendation platform. The platform, Adapt-N by Agronomic Technology Corp (ATC), is big in the US corn sector. The acquisition of ATC strengthens Yara’s position in Digital Farming and as a crop nutrition provider. “ATC will help us implement our farmer-centric strategy and is an important building block in expanding our position in Digital Farming,” said Mr Terje Knutsen, Executive Vice President, Crop Nutrition at Yara on their website.
“We are impressed with the accuracy and quality of Adapt-N’s recommendations compared to other products in the market, and are excited about the opportunities that arise from combining the highly complementary digital solutions of the two companies,” said Mr Fürnsinn.
ATC is based in both the financial and technological centres of the U.S.; New York City and Silicon Valley. Its employees are agronomists, modellers, software developers and entrepreneurs and it boasts decades of research initiated by Cornell University. Recently, the Adapt-N team receive a USD 1 million grand prize in the Nitrogen Reduction Challenge by Tulane University.
The plan of Yara is to expand the Adapt-N platform beyond United States boundaries and include other crops as well. “Our team is excited about Yara’s digital solutions and the company’s genuine commitment to helping farmers improve their financial and environmental performance. Joining our advanced technology and data-driven capabilities with a leading crop nutrition company like Yara provides a tremendous opportunity to scale globally, innovate across a wider product portfolio and crop base, and maintain focus on the success and sustainability of all farmers and those who serve them,” said Mr Steve Sibulkin, CEO of ATC on Yara’s website.
The goals of Yara’s Digital Farming activities, in general, are helping farmers improve profitability, quality and yield while simplifying farming. The question that lingers is then if Digital Farming can solve the food problem for the earth’s bulging population. “We are convinced that Digital Farming can be a key contributor to exactly this objective! Certainly, in sync with other efforts and in collaboration with partners across the globe,” states Mr Fürnsinn.
Mr Fürnsinn explains the need to produce much more food, with less resources in a more responsible way. “The first major step-growth in agricultural production happed more than 100 years ago with the advent of nitrate based mineral fertilizer, in which – amongst others. Actually, already then Yara played a pivotal role. As our challenges grow – demand for higher quality food, climate change, water scarcity, pollution, reducing biodiversity, significant population growth, wealth driving higher value nutrition, …we need new weapons to even maintain, let alone improve the way we grow food. We believe Digital Farming is one key answer to these challenges.”
In that case, agriculture in the future will be more productive with a connected farm in a dynamic environment. “The future of agriculture will unlock yield reserves that we critically need to sustainably feed a growing population. This will mean smarter farming, and helping millions of farmers take optimized decisions. We clearly see the future of the farm more connected. Different devices will collect information and – in a quite automated way – lead to direct optimized application: the “internet of things” on the farm. [Finally,] we see a highly dynamic environment, with fast development of technologies, and quite substantial changes to the way farming is done. This is also driven by “agile development” – high paced technology development that is characteristic for Digital Farming applications,” according to Mr Fürnsinn.
“We can’t predict the future, but what we do know is that it will be an exciting future, with lots of opportunities for farmers to exploit need ways to increase productivity, while protecting the earth’s limited resources,” Mr Fürnsinn concludes.
- The world population is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to the United Nations in June 2017;
- Yara has been active in Digital Farming for over 10 years and is planning to accelerate its investments in the area;
- In November 2017, Yara acquired Adapt-N by Agronomic Technology Corp (ATC);
- Some Digital Farming solutions of Yara are CheckIT an app using images to identify nutrition problems, Yara Water Solution measuring the water pressure in a leaf and the Megalab™ where the nutrients in the soil and leaves are tested;
- Yara was founded in 1905 and its website is http://yara.com/