by Peter High, published on Forbes
Agriculture is perhaps the world’s oldest industry, and from an innovation perspective for a long time, it reflected that age. Recently a number of leading companies have recognized the tremendous value that data analytics can provide to help improve the analysis of weather, soil, equipment, among other things, all in the service of ensuring that agricultural yields are better.
Michael Macrie has been with Land O’ Lakes for six years, and nearly half of that time has been spent as the chief information officer of the company. He realized early on the power to harness data. Recently his team has worked on a product called the R7 Tool, which facilitates land analysis for farmers from an iPad.
Land O’ Lakes CEO Chris Policinski noted that these ideas “demonstrate Land O ’Lakes’ leadership in helping to build the farm of the future with cutting-edge concepts and technologies”. Additionally, Policinski went on to describe how the technology allows the company to “tell a farmer what is happening with their crop during the season.” This technology provides “a great way to optimize the crop, the yield, and the economics, because you are only putting on what is needed, when it is needed to produce the highest yields in the most sustainable way possible.”
Peter High: What opportunity or issue to be resolved led to this IT-led innovation?
Michael Macrie: Over the past 10 years, a third revolution in technology is occurring with the introduction of mobile, cloud, and AI based technologies. Generally speaking, American agriculture has been slow to adopt, if not absent from, participating in benefiting from IT innovations over the last 30 years. These new technologies allow IT to be applied in American agriculture, at the farm level, in new and innovative ways that were not possible just ten years ago. Land O’ Lakes seeks to be a leader in the modernization of American agriculture.
High: Please describe the innovative idea that you and your team in IT pursued.
Macrie: When we originally approached the problem, we looked at a farmer’s daily life and identified all of challenges he or she may face. We then analyzed all of the risk they take on related to weather, commodity, and costs. From there we broke down their annual and daily decision making processes and the risks associated with each decision to determine which were decision that could be enabled, improved, or managed better through the leverage of information technology and big data. We then laid out a ten-year plan to develop, partner, or buy the technologies necessary to ensure that each and every farmer can maximize their yields, while minimizing their risks in the most sustainable way possible.