Monsanto invests in climate technology

12/05/2013 11:42:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Andy Nelson, Markets EditorAndy Nelson, Markets EditorYou may have heard of the driverless car being perfected at Google’s semi-secret lab in California.

Another innovation from the company — from two of its veteran employees, to be exact — could be a valuable tool for growers of fruits and vegetables and other field-grown crops.

No, it’s not a driverless tractor, although I’m sure someone is working on that somewhere.

The Google “spinoff,” Climate Corp., which has an office in Leawood, Kan., a few miles away from us here in Packerland, takes cutting-edge software and applies it to the task of what the company’s website calls “hyper-local weather monitoring, agronomic data modeling, and high-resolution weather simulations.”

In laymen’s terms, subscribers to Climate Corp. can use any handheld electronic device to figure out exactly what’s happening on any patch of land they grow on, and to use that information to decide what should happen there in the next day, week, month, year — whatever they need.

Climate Corp.’s Climate Technology Platform “pinpoints each field’s precipitation, humidity, wind speed, radar, field workability and growth stage in a single place to help you streamline and improve decision making,” according to a company release.

And it works in reverse, too. The company’s software can tell you, for instance, how much precipitation Field X had at any given time in the past 30 years.

The company claims that with a $15-per-acre investment in Climate Corp. technology, growers can increase their per-acre profit by $100, thanks to higher yields and saved costs and time.

Some growers might chafe at the idea of Silicon Valley slicks telling them how to farm, but seed giant Monsanto seems to be bullish on Climate Corp.

In October, Monsanto announced it was buying the company for close to $1 billion.

The Monsanto news release announcing the purchase included some telling phrasing. Climate Corp.’s mission, as Monsanto sees it, is to help growers “manage and adapt to volatile weather.”

When I hear “adapt” and “volatile weather” in close proximity I think of climate change.

Sure enough, that’s what numerous mainstream media accounts of the deal have focused on: namely, that Climate Corp. can help growers adapt to climate change, and Monsanto thinks that kind of know-how is worth a lot of money.

Just as many growers probably aren’t inclined to take orders from software eggheads, many more are skeptical when it comes to global warming.

Skeptical or not, whether you think human beings are primarily to blame or not, growers can’t deny a mountain of evidence that shows that the Earth is getting warmer.

And as long as fruits and vegetables are grown outdoors, a warming planet will affect how they’re grown.

The sooner growers can accept that fact and use technology to figure out how to adapt to a changing environment, the better.

Here’s guessing that billion was money well spent.

anelson@thepacker.com

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