Two Twin Cities Firms Help Farmers Harness Cloud Data

Two Twin Cities Firms Help Farmers Harness Cloud Data

Cargill becomes the latest agricultural firm to offer software to farmers, while technology player Conservis beefs up its cloud-based farm management offerings

Clouds are quickly becoming much more than harbingers of weather to farmers, thanks to technology advancements commercialized by Cargill Inc. and Conservis Corp.
 
Through separate efforts, the two are providing tech tools and services that can help farmers better manage their planting and harvesting.
 
Earlier this summer, Wayzata-based Cargill, Inc., introduced to Minnesota and South Dakota a software service it hopes will stack up against offerings other industry giants. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Minneapolis-based Conservis Corporation—which also offers cloud-based farm management tools—said it received $10 million in venture capital funding that will help it expand its software beyond the 26 states and three continents in which it has customers.
 
Cargill, the largest U.S. agriculture firm and its biggest private company, plans to broaden the distribution of its new NextField DataRx service to more states “over the next several years,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The software helps farmers choose seeds that best fit their land based on a database showing how various seed products fare based on soil and environmental conditions.

Among Cargill’s chief competitors in this area is Monsanto Co., whose former CEO, Robert Shapiro, founded the fund that led Conservis’ latest round of financing. Conservis also announced Tuesday that Shapiro will join its board of directors.
 
“Conservis is our first investment in this market because we believe it will be an important platform to help farmers address the challenges and opportunities they face as new data acquisition and data management technologies are applied to agriculture,” Shapiro said in a statement.
 
Bill Lazarus, an economist at the University of Minnesota’s extension office in St. Paul, said though he didn’t think cloud-based data had made many inroads in agriculture, the idea remains promising. 
 
“The (farmers) that are successful these days, the ones who survived over the years, are pretty progressive,” Lazarus said. “So I don’t think they’re any less likely to adopt from that standpoint than the rest of us.”
 
Pat Christie, Conservis’ founder and CEO, said though he thought the idea of the cloud was “riddled with issues,” being able to focus on one customer set helps his company secure the information its software stores.
 
“You can really build for high data security when you’re not having to be all things to all people,” Christie said.
 
Conservis, founded in 2009, said its service has helped farmers track and manage more than 6 billion pounds of grain in 26 states and across Canada, Australia and Russia. The Star Tribune reported that, before Tuesday, the company had raised $5.5 million over the last five years.