Monsanto Broadening its Bet on Computerized Farming Services

Jacob Bunge reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Monsanto Co. is broadening its bet on computerized farming services, hoping to attract farmers looking for an edge in boosting crops and managing their land amid a slumping agricultural economy.

“The biotech seed giant said it plans to expand its Climate Corp. subsidiary, which delivers weather and planting advice based on computer models, to develop an online network similar to Inc. Monsanto aims to build an online bazaar allowing farmers to shop for services and share data with Monsanto and other companies.

“The decision comes despite Monsanto’s limited returns from its digital farming services so far. Monsanto built the division through more than $1 billion in acquisitions over the past four years, saying it could transform agriculture by using Silicon Valley-style data-crunching techniques to formulate advice that can boost farmers’ productivity and shave unnecessary costs.”

Mr. Bunge pointed out that, “DuPont Co., Cargill Inc. and Deere & Co., are also investing in the business, along with a host of startups;” and added that, “Monsanto so far has focused on recruiting as many farmers as possible to the Climate platform. Farmers representing about 92 million acres of U.S. farmland—nearly as many acres as were planted with corn this year in the U.S.—have signed on. About 14 million of those acres are enrolled in paid services, according to Mike Stern, who earlier this year took over as chief executive of the Climate division. Mr. Stern said 25 million paid acres are estimated in 2017.

Monsanto aims to parlay its base of users into a broader platform for computer-powered farming, a move Mr. Stern said resembles’s evolution from an online bookstore to selling clothing and groceries while building out a separate web services division. He said the move will make Monsanto’s digital agriculture offering more central to farmers’ operations, while opening up an established base of users and technology infrastructure to other farm supply companies developing their own data-powered services.”

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