Digital farming could spell shake-up for crop chemicals sector

Thu May 5, 2016 4:23am EDT
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(Corrects May 4 story to show AgFunder is an online investment platform, not a market research firm, paragraph 19.)

By Ludwig Burger

IRLBACH, Germany (Reuters) - Global pesticides, seeds and fertilizer companies may be forced to re-engineer their business models as farmers adopt specialist technology that helps maximize harvests while reducing the use of crop chemicals.

New businesses are springing up that promise to tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilize or pick crops based on algorithms using data from their own fields.

Their emphasis on reducing the use of chemicals and minerals known as farming inputs is a further challenge for an industry already struggling with weak agricultural markets worldwide.

"If our only goal is to sell as much inputs as possible by the liters of chemicals, I think we would have a real problem going forward," said Liam Condon, head of Crop Science at Bayer, the world's second-largest pesticides supplier.

Bayer bought proPlant, a developer of software for plant health diagnostics, earlier this year. Rivals are also investing in digital farming with the aim of generating service revenues that could offset any future drop in chemicals volumes.

"If you only spray half of the field that's much less inputs," Condon added. "The knowledge to get to the fact that you only spray that part of the field -- that, you can sell."

After an aborted takeover move for Syngenta, U.S. seeds giant Monsanto says data science and services are the "glue that holds the pieces together" of its strategy for future growth.   Continued...

An employee navigates a tractor which is equipped with a screen showing the output of liquid applied on a field in Irlbach near Deggendorf, Germany, April 21, 2016.  REUTERS/Michaela Rehle