Farmers Edge investing millions in sustainable crop production

Sustainable Development Technology Canada is one of the investors

Farmers Edge, the made-in-Manitoba global precision agriculture company, is investing millions of dollars in a bid to make crop production more sustainable.

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) announced a $6.1-million investment with Famers Edge Sept. 21. Farmers Edge and a consortium of partners will contribute another $12.2 million. The money will be used to develop the next generation of hardware, software and agronomic decision support systems focusing on developing the environmental sustainability aspects of the system.

“We are not building a widget,” Dan Heaney, Farmers Edge vice-president of Research & Development and Agronomy said in an interview Sept. 22. “We are building a platform. It is a multi-faceted approach.

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Farmer Types on tablet computer with combine in the background

“We are really working to make it easy for the farmer. We are collecting the right data from him.

“We can collect it automatically… trying to reduce or minimize the actual effort that they need to make in terms of managing the system.”

Farmers Edge uses data and variable-rate technology to make crop production more efficient. In so doing that production becomes more sustainable.

“By using tools like variable rate they (farmers) can improve their nitrogen management in ways that gets more of the nitrogen into the crop and if the nitrogen is in the crop then it doesn’t wander off and get into trouble and that has a significant impact on, for example, greenhouse gas emissions,” Heaney said. “There is kind of a win-win with the economics and environmental side.

“We can use our system, which collects data from thousands and thousands of fields across Western Canada, to start to enhance the process of making those decisions about variable-rate fertilizer applications, about other inputs like fungicides and herbicides and even things like crop selection or variety selection. We can assist farmers in fine-tuning their system so they get to the point where they are optimizing their economics while minimizing their environmental impact.”

Government foundation

SDTC is an arm’s-length foundation, created by the Canadian government to support innovative and entrepreneurial clean technology projects. The companies it invests in develop and demonstrate new technologies that address climate change, air quality, clean water and soil, a Farmers Edge news release says.

Farmers Edge and its partners will develop a comprehensive precision data management platform with the ability to capture, visualize and analyze zone-specific information that incorporates multiple variables that impact crop performance, including weather, soil processes, disease and pest impacts, as well as the constantly shifting interplay of crop prices with input and equipment costs.

“With this level of data specificity, Farmers Edge is aiming to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 10 per cent, improve water use by 20 per cent and significantly cut phosphorus and nitrogen levels in critical water resources,” the release says.

Being able to predict what’s going to happen is important to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and phosphorus nitrogen movement, Heaney said

“But the other aspect of it is the better understanding of the crop requirements on the nutrient side and fine-tuning crop requirements and nutrient applications,” he added.

Developing advanced analytics will help farmers understand the risk and reward around crop management in relationship to things like water availability, disease risk and how the environment interacts with them all.

“If we’ve got tens of thousands of fields of wheat across Western Canada we have very local, field-specific data on how they are performing,” Heaney said. “We have what fertilizer (was used), what variety (was grown), what yield was obtained, what the weather was like in the growing season. Then we can start to mine that data and use big-data techniques to start to tease out for your particular farm and/or even down to particular fields on your farm… the wheat varieties that are best suited there.”

SDTC invests in companies with potential to have a positive impact on the environment.

“What SDTC saw in us, I think, is a way to get very impactful technology on the ground in a lot of farm fields in Canada in a very cost-effective way,” he said. “What we are doing is providing a very high-end solution at a very competitive price. There is a lot of value in it for producers.”

Farmers Edge was created in 2005 in the Pilot Mound area by agronomists Wade Barnes and Curtis MacKinnon.

Farmers Edge now has 300 employees in Canada, the United States, Brazil, Russia and Australia.

The Winnipeg-headquartered, multinational partnered with The Weather Company, an IBM business and world’s largest weather firm, earlier this year — two months after four prestigious companies — Japanese commodities trading and investment firm Mitsui, Toronto commercial real estate company Osmington and the Green Growth Fund operated by investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — said they would jointly invest $58 million in Farmers Edge.

The company was recently named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum as well as Canada’s Disruptor Innovator of the Year by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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