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Rising to Transform Agricultural Production —— How Agrochemical Titans Unlock the Potential of Digital Agriculture?qrcode

Mar. 9, 2021

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Mar. 9, 2021
Yating Jiang

Yating Jiang

Editor of AgroPages

AgroPages

As the population continues to expand and the environment constrains productivity, working faster to create a sustainable agricultural system is becoming increasingly pressing for industry stakeholders. Against this backdrop, digital agriculture emerged, spawned by innovative agricultural technology and the concept of ecological development. In this age with fastchanging information technology, agrochemical players, ranging from small tech start-ups to large multinational giants, are racing to explore how digital tools can empower agricultural production that will result in less impact, faster speeds, higher efficiency and greater profitability.


The agrochemical industry, a cornerstone of safeguarding agricultural production and food security, has become inevitably involved in agricultural digitalization. Multinational titans, such as Bayer, Syngenta and BASF, have pioneered digital agriculture for many years. Agricultural production is not a simple process from seeding and growing to harvesting. Variations in factors, such as climate, soil, water, diseases and insect pests, and prices, mean that growers need to access different solutions to raise yields and income, which is precisely where digital agricultural tools can help. Digital tools offer a wide range of services, from seeding recommendations, disease early warning, agronomic analysis, well-informed decisions and financial management, therefore, converting the “digital gap” into “digital dividends” for growers. A digital agriculture platform is important to digitalizing agriculture. This report will examine the digital agriculture platforms of three multinational giants to explore their means of harnessing their digital technological assets, to unlock the potential expansion of agricultural output.


The digital agriculture platforms of Bayer, Syngenta, BASF 


1. Syngenta 


1.1 Overview of digital agriculture 


Syngenta is committed to agricultural sustainability. As early as 2000, Syngenta launched the whole-farm management platform, AgriEdge Excelsior. After its acquisition of the Cropio Group in 2019, Syngenta became the only agricultural company to have access to leading farm management platforms in the top four agricultural markets, which are AgriEdge® in the United States (US), Strider® in Brazil, the Modern Agricultural Platform (MAP) in China, and Cropio™ in Eastern Europe (Figure 1). 


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Figure 1: Four farm management platforms owned by Syngenta Group


1.2 Top four agricultural management platforms 


(1) The US: AgriEdge Excelsior 


Through its digital agricultural system, AgriEdge Excelsior, Syngenta offers growers recommendations and services throughout the entire process of agricultural production, from seeding to harvesting. AgriEdge Excelsior primarily has two tools, which are FarmShots, which is capable of analyzing and investigating images captured by satellites, aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); and Land.db, which is used for tracking, computing and analyzing profitability per acre, helping growers make the optimal crop planting plan and budget. Additionally, Land.db is integrated with digital agricultural tools offered by multiple companies to enhance its functionality. AgriEdge Excelsior offers the following tools and services: 


  • Agronomics: Integrated crop planning and prescription recommendations through software and partnerships as well as access to a complete portfolio of products. 

  • Services: Dedicated professional team of on-farm AgriEdge® specialists, web-and phonebased support from Ag Connections, and reseller service and support. 

  • Stewardship: Reporting and mapping for sustainability and regulatory compliance to allow greater supply chain transparency 

  • Economics: Ability to measure field-level profitability, mitigate risk in crop production and financing for Syngenta crop inputs 

  • Technology: Land.db® allows growers to digitally organize their data across devices to make informed decisions. Developed by growers for growers, the user-friendly software collects and analyzes data to maximize efficiency and profit at a field and farm level.


(2) Brazil: Cropwise (previously Strider) 


In 2017, Syngenta Digital Agriculture entered the Brazilian market. In April 2018, Syngenta acquired Strider, a leading innovator in the digital agriculture market of Latin America. Strider also operates in U.S., Australia, Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay and Colombia, and its lineup includes the pest monitoring product, Strider Protector; the satellite imagery product, Strider Space; the asset management software, Strider Base; and Strider Tracker which offers telemetry monitoring of machines. Just after the acquisition, Strider still operated as an independent business unit. 


In June 2020, Syngenta opened a new chapter in digital agriculture, by officially announcing the setup of a new business division, Syngenta Digital. After this process, all Strider professionals were incorporated into Syngenta Digital, which operates through a new digital platform, Cropwise, a new pillar for accelerating innovation by integrating global digital initiatives and transforming complex technologies into user-friendly solutions. Cropwise Protector and Cropwise Imagery are the first two offerings of Cropwise. Cropwise Protector is a complete digital agriculture tool that enables better flexibility, helps growers make assertive decisions, and offers them more rapid operations management and digital endto-end monitoring. Cropwise Imagery is the evolution of the Syngenta satellite remote sensing technology and is fully integrated into Cropwise Protector. 


(3) China: MAP 


MAP, a modern agricultural technology service platform introduced by Sinochem Agriculture in 2017 that focuses on making full use of modern agricultural technologies based on moderately-sized farmland, is arguably the most radical transformation model ever seen in the agricultural capital and agriculture sectors. Unlike the other three online platforms of Syngenta, MAP offers a collaborative model combining online and offline sectors. According to the plan, MAP is expected to offer farmers “7+3” services, such as seed selection, fertilizer configuration, crop protection, testing, farming machinery, technical training, intelligent agriculture, grain drying and warehousing, as well as sales, agricultural finance, and agricultural diesel oil. 


The offline service sectors of MAP include MAP technology service centers + MAP demonstration farms. MAP’s online services concentrate on precision planting and management sophistication, and the MAP intelligent agriculture platform built by Sinochem Agriculture includes two apps, MAP Zhinong for field crops and MAP Huinong for cash crops. This platform, which integrates the modern farm management system, the service system of technology service centers and the precision planting decision system, can piggyback on huge amounts of data provided by the service network of offline MAP technology service centers and demonstration farms, as well as data on technical services, agricultural production and products. This platform can use mobile internet and the “Internet of Things” (IoT) to completely track and address problems related to the operation of service centers and the farm management efficiency of large growers. We will take MAP Zhinong as an example, to introduce the major services it offers, which are explained in Figure 2. 


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Figure 2: Major funtions and services offered by MAP Zhinong


By working with downstream food processing enterprises and distributors, Syngenta aims to build a “farm to table” traceability system, allowing all produce to be completely traceable and credible and assuring quality. 


(4) East Europe: Cropio 


In September 2019, Syngenta acquired the Ukraine-based agricultural technology company, Cropio, whose operations cover more than 50 countries, mostly in East Europe. Cropio’s farm management software is capable of imaging, record keeping and device tracking. Currently, Cropio still operates as an independent firm. 


1.3 Recent cooperation updates 


AgriEdge Excelsior is currently the best developed digital agriculture platform of Syngenta. Over the past two years, Syngenta primarily partners itself with providers of agricultural tools and management tools, to integrate them with its Land. db. In this way, Syngenta can increase the kits of its digital agriculture solutions, facilitate the connection of data and information, and expand the markets for application (Table 1).


Table 1: Syngenta's collaborations in digital agriculture

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1.4 Promotion and application 


Internationally, Syngenta Group has achieved milestones of 125 million acres (50.59 million hectares) of digitally managed farmland. The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic that affected the entire world created opportunities for the promotion and application of digital technology, and the use of Syngenta’s digital offerings, such as satellite photos, to monitor field conditions increased by 400% in May 2020, said Greg Meyers (Chief Information and Digital Officer at the Company). 


In the US, AgriEdge was Syngenta’s fastest growing business in 2018, accounting for US$500 million of the total sales of US$12.1 billion. Currently, AgriEdge serves 19 million acres (7.68 million hectares) of land, exceeding 2% of total farmland in the US. Notably, AgriEdge has seen its market share increasing annually by more than 25%. 


In Brazil, as of mid-2020, the digital technologies and services offered by Syngenta covered 4.5 million hectares of soybean, corn, coffee, cotton and other crops from over 2,500 Brazilian producers. Cropwise Protector, developed and first launched in Brazil, will be tested in three major European markets, the UK, Germany and France, as well as other regions, hence, starting its effort to go global. At present, Cropwise Protector is used across over 4 million hectares of land in 3,000 farms in eight countries. Syngenta said that Cropwise aims to benefit farmers of different scales, including small and medium-sized producers. 


In China, over recent three years, MAP has built and operated 323 MAP technology service centers and over 400 farms across China’s 28 provincial regions, as well as provided modern integrated agricultural services for over 10 million mu(666,667 hectares) of farmland. MAP Zhinong has cumulatively registered 38,689 users and served a total of 95,129 plots, totaling 13.3 million mu (886,667 hectares) in terms of area. MAP Huinong has rolled out 73 MAP technology service centers servicing cash crops and 6,514 customer farmers, having served a total of 1.236 million mu (82,400 hectares) of plots. 


By 2025, MAP will be expected to have established 1,000+ MAP technology service centers and 10,000 cooperative service stations in China under its banner, to serve over 60 million mu (4 million hectares) of farmland, connect and help more than 500,000 households of farmers, and expand grain yield by 3.5 billion kilos.


2. Bayer 


2.1 Overview of digital agriculture 


Bayer is a productive player in digital agriculture. In North America, South America and Europe, Bayer uses Climate FieldView, a digital agriculture asset obtained by its acquisition of Monsanto, to offer major growers intelligent decisions throughout the planting process, including in terms of seeding, fertilization, pesticide application, irrigation and harvesting. In India, Bayer introduced Climate FarmRise™, a digital app that offers agricultural information and recommendations to small farmers, and can be used in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Kamataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh. In China, Bayer partnered with Beijing Capital Agribusiness & Food Group Co., Ltd. on a digital project to explore digital planting guidance and digital farm management for field crops in 2020. Meanwhile, Bayer is also exploring an UAV application that can be used for intelligent pesticide applications in the Asia-Pacific region. 


In addition, in reshaping agricultural value, Bayer aims to leverage digital technology to extend to upstream and downstream agricultural production. In Brazil, the US and China, Bayer utilizes blockchain technology to reshape the agricultural industry chain, providing markets with safe and traceable food. 


2.2 Climate FieldView platform 


Bayer’s FieldView platform, the hub of its digital agricultural innovation, is capable of data collection, storage and management, as well as data analysis and decision modeling. In terms of data collection, FieldView has forged partnerships with over 70 platforms in aviation imagery, finance and insurance and soil analysis, to ensure the connectivity of relevant data during the planting process, therefore, helping those responsible to make better-informed agricultural decisions. FieldView primarily offers the following functions and services, (see Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Functions and services offered by Climate FieldView


FieldView includes a free edition of FieldView™ Prime and its premium edition, FieldView™ Plus (US$99 per year). The latter is also free to the users of Bayer Plus Rewards. FieldView™ Prime offers basic services, including weather, scouting, simple data visualization, field summary data, data inbox, cloud storage and FieldView™ Apps. FieldView™ Plus offers more in-depth services, such as yield analysis, side-by-side visualization, field health imagery, manual seed scripts, manual fertility scripts and manual crop protection scripts remote view. 


2.3 Cooperation updates 


Bayer is committed to developing Climate FieldView into a large all-inclusive platform where farmers can find all the services they need. As such, Bayer is working extensively with various providers of agricultural solutions to integrate multiple digital tools and services. Over the last two years, Bayer has managed the following cooperative projects: 


  • In April 2019, Bayer partnered with Ceres Imaging, an aviation spectral imagery and analysis firm, to integrate their tools, improving decision-making by providing farmers with advanced high-resolution images. 

  • In November 2019, Bayer established a partnership with CLAAS, an agricultural equipment provider, providing farmers with seamless connection and storing machine-generated agricultural data directly into their FieldView accounts on an unlimited basis. 

  • In February 2020, Bayer’s FieldView was connected with ProfitLayers of Ag-Analytics, a precision agriculture management platform, enabling the connectivity of information in two accounts and allowing growers to create a customizable profit maps based on their own precision agriculture data to learn about sources of loss or profit, as well as the performance of seed and inputs. 

  • In July 2020, Bayer’s Climate FieldView was connected with Answer Tech Data Silo, the cloud-based data-management system of WinField United. This connection enables all FieldView users that do business with WinField United-affiliated retailers, allowing them to to connect their FieldView and Data Silo accounts, therefore, eliminating the need for duplicate data entry and providing farmers with the option of integrating data into multiple in-season crop management tools. 


2.4 Promotion and application 


Currently, the FieldView digital agriculture platform has been commercialized in the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina, as well as in more than 10 European countries that include major markets, such as Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Ukraine. From its commercialization in 2015 to 2018, Climate FieldView recorded over 60 million acres (24.28 million hectares) of pay-for-use area, which is expected to exceed 90 million acres (36.42 million hectares) in 2019.


3. BASF 


3.1 Overview of digital agriculture 


BASF is committed to introducing innovative digital agriculture services, to help farmers manage farmland and provide more sensible decisions throughout the crop planting process. In 2016, BASF launched Maglis™, a new agricultural network platform, through which it can analyze farmland data provided by farmers, formulate plans, and make them available to farmers. With these plans, farmers can detect and manage their farms on the platform and view and connect to information, including local weather change, soil condition, weed, diseases and insect pests. In 2018, BASF took advantage of a new opportunity by acquiring the complete digital farming platform, xarvio™, divested by Bayer. In the last two years, underpinned by three products under its xarvio™ platform, BASF is building extensive partnerships to expand its digital agriculture portfolio. 


3.2 xarvio™ platform 


BASF primarily offers three products, whihc are xarvio™ SCOUTING, xarvio™ FIELD MANAGER, and xarvio™ HEALTHY FIELDS, with their functions and services being as follows: 


xarvio™ SCOUTING—Take a picture to identify problems in the fields 


Major functions: 


  • Take pictures to automatically identify and analyse problems in the fields: Weed Identification, Disease Recognition, Nitrogen Status, Yellow Trap Analysis, Leaf Damage, Emergence Analysis 

  • Radar displays information from the community about diseases, pests, weeds, leaf damages and nitrogen. 

  • Receive immediate alerts when diseases or pests are spreading in your area. 

  • Connected to FIELD MANAGER: SCOUTING observations can easily be shared between agronomists and farm managers. 


xarvio™ FIELD MANAGER—Offer plot-specific or areaspecific agricultural recommendations 


Major functions: 


  • Field monitoring: Receive, upload and analyze all field zone specific information in one place. 

  • Field-zone specific seeding to save costs and achieve higher yields. 

  • Nutrition management: Learning when crops need certain nutrients and the requirements of each area. 

  • Receive alerts on potential risks early on and treat your crops optimally. Anytime and anywhere. 

  • Proven models to optimize crop production. 


xarvio™ HEALTHY FIELDS—Result-oriented services 


Product features: 


  • Providing crops with optimal field and seasonal protection strategies, such as optimal timing for pesticide application, product choice and dosage. 

  • Using fixed prices to guarantee success. If the computed strategy does noy deliver healthy fields, the company will financially reimburse any damages. 

  • Field specific crop protection strategies will be implemented by a qualified contractor. 

  • Automatically complying with all existing regulations around crop protection. 

  • The contractor ensures completely transparency in terms of the current health status, as well as in planned crop protection strategies and implementation of strategies. 

  • Reducing the timeframe required by farmers to spend on planning, implementing and documenting crop protection activities. 


3.3 Cooperation updates 


BASF is working with its partners primarily on data collection, raising field productivity and sales promotion. In terms of data collection, in November 2018, BASF partnered with Planet, an aerospace and data analytics company, and VanderSat, a Netherlands-based provider of satellite-observed data products and services, to offer farmers more precise timely satellite imagery and data. In October 2019, BASF worked with SenseFly, a professional drone solutions provider, to leverage the eBee X fixed-wing UAV of the latter to capture high-resolution field images. In December 2019, BASF reached an agreement with Arable Labs, under which all field measurement data stored by Arable will be fully integrated into the crop models and recommendations of xarvio. 


In terms of productivity management, BASF began a partnership with Bosch on a smart spraying project, a technology for precise herbicide application that significantly reduces the total amount of herbicides used. The market launch of this technology is planned for 2021. 


Regarding promotion and sales, in June 2016, BASF established a partnership with Nutrien Ag Solutions, a provider of agriculture products, services and solutions. Under the partnership, the xarvio SCOUTING app will become part of the digital agriculture products offered by Nutrien. 


In November 2019, BASF worked with WinField United, establishing a single sign-on (SSO) connection from WinField’s ATLAS® platform to its xarvio™ digital platform. In November 2020, BASF again partnered with Bosch to set up a joint venture that will engage in the promotion and sales of digital agriculture technology. The first product of the joint venture will be unveiled in Brazil, followed by Europe and North America. 


3.4 Promotion and application 


According to the latest data released by BASF in November 2020, xarvio currently serves customers in more than 100 countries around the world, including European countries, such as France and Germany, as well as North America, South America and India, with mostly small farmers. xarvio HEALTHY FIELDS was rolled out in Germany and France in 2020. During the growing season of 2020, BASF provided free xarvio™FIELD MANAGER to farmers in the US and Canada. 


In 2019, xarvio FIELD MANAGER registered 17,000 users and covered 2 million hectares of land. The numbers grew rapidly in 2020, and by November 2020, its users covered 37,000 farmers across 15 countries, with a total area in excess of 4 million hectares. The major market of xarvio FIELD MANAGER is Europe, where it has around 30,000 users. xarvio SCOUNTING boasts the greatest number of users, over 3.4 million farmers across 120 countries. 


Exploration of Pay-for-use Modes for Digital Agriculture Products 


Digital agriculture tools, which regulate the process of agricultural production and management, will effectively reduce the use of pesticide, fertilizer and other agricultural inputs. However, as the digital agriculture system becomes increasingly sophisticated and is promoted extensively, crop protection, the main business of agrochemical companies, will suffer more or less. So how can these agrochemical companies profit more from digital agriculture service products to offset the impact on the sales of their crop protection products and even deliver more gains? It appears that gains from traditional paid subscriptions to products are unable to meet such demand. BASF, Bayer, and Syngenta are all developing more pay-for-use business models, such as a result-oriented pricing service. The major logic of this mode is that if the yield target agreed in advance is undershot, farmers will be compensated. If the target is met, the company will share the upsides with farmers. 


BASF’s xarvio™ HEALTHY FIELDS offers an outcome-based pricing service. If farmers follow the field manager’s recommendations on dosing and timing, BASF will ensure that they achieve a certain yield or minimize field disease or weeds. In 2020, BASF launched a testing “Healthy Fields” project that could prevent the outbreak of diseases in Germany. According to the project, if leaf damage resulting from diseases exceeds the range as agreed on in advance, famers will be compensated. 


In 2019, Bayer Crop Science continued a pilot project on outcome-based pricing. Seed Advisor, a seed selection tool, was one of the critical plans of the project. The model bases prices for the company's products on a perceived value of how they performed during the growing season, such as specific crop yield or weed control level. During harvesting, the yield or weed control level fell short of expectation, farmers would get a refund. If the indicator beat expectation, Bayer would gain a maximum of 50% of farmers’ extra profit. As shown by the results of testing in 2017 and 2018, Seed Advisor helped farmers increase their yield by 6–9 bushels per acre. Through this service, Bayer associated its digital agriculture products with seed and agrochemicals. 


The exploration of this type of business model is still in its infancy. Additionally, there is a similar pricing mode, risk sharing. 


In risk sharing, Syngenta is exploring a product named AgriClime, believing that unpredictable weather, and the risks coming along with it, is the biggest troubles for farmers. In view of this, this product largely offers farmers weather-related risk sharing services. The applicable weather conditions include drought, excess rain, heat stress, frost and wind. Syngenta takes on the risk associated with weather conditions, like the rains of a particular month, and participants can receive up to 30 percent cash back on qualifying Syngenta products if certain weather thresholds are not met during the offer period. At present, AgriClime is available to growers in 14 countries, including Argentina, Australia and Brazil, and will cover 21 countries and regions in 2021, according to the plan. AgriClime has not yet been linked to their digital apps. 


Summary 


The digital agriculture platforms of the three companies share a similar objective, to provide the crop planting process with intelligent agricultural decisions based on digital technology, therefore, increasing yields. The difference is that BASF’s digital agriculture services focus more on how to maximize productivity, by monitoring and identifying diseases and pests, as well as offering well-targeted agricultural recommendations. In addition to productivity management, the offerings of Bayer and Syngenta offer profitability analysis, financial management and other farm management services. 


Syngenta and Bayer are also well ahead of BASF in terms of area of application. But BASF, as a latecomer, does not intend to lag behind, evidenced by the numerous partnerships it has forged over the past two years. 


In the area of digital agriculture, Syngenta has built a pattern underpinned by four platforms. Sinochem Agriculture's MAP strategy , which exemplifies the exploration and practice of digital agriculture in China, enables small farmers of China more likely to improve their growing capabilities and yields, while representing a remarkable outcome of Syngenta’s agricultural sustainability efforts. Syngenta’s acquisition and integration of Strider in Brazil, a major agricultural market, has cemented its market leadership in the country. 


Bayer, a leader in the digital agriculture market, is still working towards building an all-inclusive digital platform. At present, Bayer is attempting to use digital technology to reach upstream and downstream agricultural production, offering food traceability from farm to table. 


According to projections by some agencies, over the next six years, the digital agriculture market will annually grow by more than 9%. As 5G technology continues to develop and become more common, and as rural infrastructure continues to improve, the adoption of digital agriculture promises to see a remarkable rise in the new year. Going forward, the connection and cooperation between digital platforms and providers of agricultural solutions will be the norm for the industry. Building a highly integrated and multi-party collaboration platform is not merely what enterprises desire, but also what growers demand. And we will pay constant attention to how agrochemical companies plow deeper into digital agriculture.


This article was initially published in AgroPages ‘Annual Review 2020’ magazine. Download it to read more articles.杂志展示1EN.jpg


Source: AgroNews

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