Nov. 9, 2015
Using data science to precisely regulate and optimize the agricultural investment and management measures in accordance with specific condition of each unit of farmland so as to maximize output and economic benefit while reducing use of resources to protect agricultural ecology.
In 2013 German government put forward the concept of “industry 4.0”, which defines the important role of information technology in the industrialization process having attracted great attentions of the international society. Two years later, the “agriculture 4.0”concept was raised in 2015, which has become a hot subject of discussion. The “agriculture 4.0” is a modern agricultural form supported by internet of things, big data, mobile internet and cloud computing, having reached to a high and smart level following the 1.0 traditional agriculture, the 2.0 mechanized agriculture, the 3.0 information agriculture. With the continued technical progress, the “agriculture 4.0” may undergo several stages including primary stage, secondary stage, advanced stage and final stage. The idea of “agriculture 4.0” once again draws people’s attention to the precision agriculture which backing up the development of modern agriculture. Relevant information shows that the global precision agriculture market will grow at CAGR 12.2% from 2014 to 2020 to reach $4.55 billion.
Precision agriculture is an agricultural application and practicing system, which includes a positive cycle of data acquisition, data decoding, inputs optimization and field practices (Figure 1). Of the above, crop-related information is collected first, including crop external information, then a series of software application technology is used to analyze the information, which is presented to farming practitioners including growers and agro-technical service personnel via website or App of mobile phone. The information is used as a guidance for field work to enable precision planting, precision irrigation, precision spraying and application to maximize the output and economic benefit.
Investment in Precision Agriculture Booming Again
Over recent years, multinationals have started deployment in precision agriculture one after another to seize the opportunity of the future agriculture. Agrochemical enterprises being active in the sector include Monsanto, DuPont and BASF. Monsanto appears to be the most ambitious and innovative company, who has made large amount of investment in the data science and precision agriculture, including a spending of $ 250 million to acquire Precision Planting in 2012, a high price of $ 930 million to acquire the Climate Corporation in 2013, as well as the acquisition of the soil analysis business unit of Solum in 2014. In 2015, in the latest research report, Monsanto rated the Climate Corporation platform as one of its 3 major platforms for future development.
Besides the investment in existing business, each company has strengthened cooperation with precision agriculture industry players such as John Deere, Iteris, AGCO and etc. Monsanto’s Precision Planting® business unit recently entered into agreement with AGCO on the consolidation of precision planting-related data; Sumitomo Chemical subsidiary valent USA reached agreement with Iteris on analysis of agricultural data; DuPont signed agreement with John Deere for data sharing, also signed agreement with AGCO and Raven for cooperation in provision of wireless data transmission solution; BASF agreed with JohnDeere for cooperation in developing precision agriculture tooling, and agreed with Iteris on precision agriculture-oriented agrometeorology.
Not only multinationals and professional precision agriculture industry players are active in this sector, the sector has also attracted the venture capital and diversified investors with great market potentials. According to statistics of the US Venture Source, the venture capital in agriculture and food industry last year rose significantly up to $ 486 million by growth of 54%, which included precision agriculture industry players who are liked by venture capital.
The most active investor is Google Ventures, who is dedicated to investing in the latest computer technology – data analysis, cloud computing and mobile applications, which are targeting at service of farms.
So far as farm information management system is concerned, Google Ventures allied with other investors to make an investment of $ 15 million in Farmers Business Network this May, which enabled establishment of information data base for the farm, providing information of individual farm such as the seed used there, fertilizing amount, planting method, environmental aspect, and etc. Based on this information, farmers are provided with an overall and transparent perspective to enhance their planting efficiency.
As regards to smart irrigation, Google Ventures allied with Israel GreenSoil Investments, the agriculture and life science-focused investor Finistere Ventures to make an investment in the smart irrigation company CropX. The primary product of CropX is a piece of soil detection hardware, plus some software which provides relevant data to farmers to set up a “soil internet of things”.
Concerning agricultural management software, Google Ventures allied with 7 companies including Andreessen Horowitz and Khosla Ventures to make an investment of $18.70 million in the agricultural software initiator Granular. This is the second-time financing received by Granular, plus the first time financing, the total financing received amounts to $25.20 million. Granular provides farmers with kind of new agricultural management software, which integrates real-time accounting, operation and horticultural information allowing farmers to have a precision control of planting activities in the whole course of growth.
Google Ventures is currently evaluating possibility of investing in pioneering companies who work on climate analysis and crop production data. In actual fact, the Climate Corporation was established by formerly senior management of Google Ventures, and used to receive the investment of Google Ventures.
Precision Agriculture Rising in China
Globally speaking, precision agriculture is not developed in a good balance. In the US, the precision agriculture-covered market mainstay, industry standard and business mode have grown into a mature state after long years’ exploration and accumulative development. Taking an example of Monsanto, its investment in precision agriculture has become noticeably fruitful. At present Climate Basic has covered 30 million ha crop areas in the US, meaning that 45% corn and soybean of the US have used the platform. To encourage farmers to use Climate Pro, Monsanto changed the fixed price of $15 per acre to $ 3 per acre. So far the system has covered more than 2 million ha cultivated land in the US.
In South America, Asia Pacific and Europe, particularly in Brazil, Argentina, East Europe and China, it is still in an early stage but expected to reach a double-digit growth.
China began study of applications of precision agriculture in the 1990’s last century, having tried large-scale applications in 13 locations including Beijing, Shanghai, Xinjiang and Heilongjiang. In 2005, the “testing soil for formulated fertilization” was initiated. According to statistics of Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, after formulated fertilization, crop output has increased by 4%-7% in average while 30% application cost is saved.
At the end 2014, Chinese Ministry of Agriculture proposed a program of zero increase of the use of main crop fertilizer and pesticide by 2020, which once again arouses the awareness on the precision fertilization where “testing soil for formulated fertilization” is expected to be promoted further.
Moreover China’s land transfer policy is progressing steadily. The statistics of Chinese Ministry of Agriculture shows that up until end of 2014, nation-wide land transfer volume reached 26.7 million ha, 18.3% up year on year. Transferred land area accounted for 30.4% of the cultivated land contracted by farmer household. According to estimation, land transfer is expected to reach 33.3 million ha in 2015. The history of agricultural development of North America indicates that the demand for precision agriculture will continue to grow in the course of expansion and centralization of agriculture. The Chinese market, after over 10 years’ growth, is now found to be in the eve of the outbreak of demand.
China’s promotion of agricultural information and precision agriculture has been progressing steadily. Firstly, the whole industry chain information analysis and early warning pilot was initiated recently by the Ministry of Agriculture. A relatively complete agricultural information platform has been set up which forms a general media and electronic information release system; an analysis team for 18 products including grain, cotton, oil and sugar has been formulated; market early warning expert committee of the Ministry of Agriculture has been established to promote market analysis and evaluation for farm product.
Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has also released 16 application modes for agricultural internet of things, which is a basic measure to use internet of things to implement the action of “Internet+” modern agriculture. The purpose is to speed up applications, make full use of its functions to save water, save pesticide, save fertilizer, save labor as well as to increase land-use outcome, resource utilization and production rate. Effort will be made to promote the agricultural development toward smart, precise and networked production and marketing.