As the domestic ag tech market continues to mature and develop as we barrel into 2018, another intriguing partnership has emerged from the shadows.
Winnipeg-based Farm Management Information System (FMIS) outfit Farmers Edge — a company founded and headed up by 2017 PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence Entrepreneur of the Year Wade Barnes — has announced the signing of an exclusive three year global distribution agreement with Bay Area-based Planet Labs in time for the 2018 growing season.
Under the deal, which includes a Farmers Edge option to extend the agreement to a fourth year, Farmers Edge becomes the exclusive distributor of Planet Labs high-frequency, 3.8 meter resolution satellite imagery for agriculture in what the company describes as “key agricultural regions” until 2020.
Powered by Planet’s record-breaking Dove constellation — at over 88 satellites it is the largest private satellite constellation to reach orbit in world history — the deal promises to deliver near-daily satellite imagery to users of Farmer Edges’ FarmCommand FMIS platform. It bears noting that in 2017 RapidEye imagery was included in FarmCommand’s $2 per acre pricing tier, but Farmers Edge declined to comment for now on how the new high-frequency imagery will be priced.
“We’ve got a longstanding collaboration with (Planet) and really over the last six months to a year we began working with them with their high frequency imagery products around the Dove Constellation, and beta-testing that product out with our grower-customers,” recalls Farmers Edge Chief Operating Officer Patrick Crampton when asked how the deal came about. “Based on the feedback and success of that pilot we got into deeper talks with Planet in terms of this strategic partnership to move the products together within the FarmCommand platform.”
In the news release announcing the deal, Farmers Edge co-founder Wade Barnes states that, prior to Planet’s Dove constellation coming online, acquiring enough timely imagery throughout the growing season proved difficult at best and darn near impossible at times for growers. Crampton agrees with Barnes that this integration of high-frequency imagery will allow FarmCommand users and their service providers to do more with the data.
“We view it as a game changer,” he admits. “The frequency of this imagery and the resolution — down to 3.8 meters — changes the game where now our growers and their agronomy partners can really start to use imagery as an in-season diagnostic tool to identify issues fast enough where they can actually take corrective action in season to prevent yield loss. It takes imagery from post-mortem diagnosis to proactive.”
Naturally with increased frequency, however, comes larger and perhaps more complex data sets. While short on specific details currently, Crampton assured us that Farmers Edge is building out advanced processing algorithms and alerting capabilities that will help growers or agronomists managing multiple fields across large swaths of geography decide where best to prioritize their time.
“The challenge with this frequency, the amount of imagery that will now be available, it becomes a little bit of a challenge of information overload,” he reasons. “The release of the products we build around this functionality will include alerting tools to allow growers and their agronomy providers to quickly narrow in on a specific field, and really help turn that imagery from information into action.”
Helping turn that information into action will fall on the agronomic service providers that make up the Farmers Edge dealer network. Matt Helmke, a farmer and Farmers Edge dealer in Pickrell, NE, and owner of startup seed dealer/agronomic consulting firm 4 Generations Ag, agrees that increased frequency is something growers and professional ag service providers need.
“Working with imagery since back in 2007, I’ve seen a progression from once a season acquisition to up to multiple times per week,” he shares. “This more-frequent imagery will help us better keep track of what’s going on, provide us a nice point of reference throughout the season, and you can benchmark different fields from one day to the next. The more data the better, if you ask me.”
In Helmke’s southeast Nebraska region growers will especially enjoy being able to remotely monitor and diagnose in-season issues with irrigation pivots, and there’s even some fringe benefits for growers that maybe haven’t been as keen on collecting and storing good yield data these past couple years, but still think variable rate sounds pretty cool.
“It’s a great way to get to that point where they can make management zones and not have yield data, there’s just different instances where satellite imagery of this frequency will help a crop professional,” Helmke says. “And I think it’s going to be a really exciting sales tool (for the professional agronomist), you can pull up a growers field on the iPad and show them the imagery from a day or two ago and they can see the problem for themselves, then you can have that discussion on what product to apply or what treatment they may need.”
Adds Crampton: “For us, the focus of Farmers Edge and the FarmCommand platform remains empowering our retail and independent agronomists to enhance their service level to the growers.”