If only software from precision agriculture companies was more like Facebook or Google, no one in North America would be talking about how reluctant farmers are to use it.
Sid Gorham, chief executive and co-founder of Granular, explains how regular use of consumer sites like these has raised the bar for business software companies – including his own.
“People know what great software looks like, so they expect the same for something they’re paying for in their business.” It’s why DowDuPont’s Granular focuses so heavily on making its products easier to use, and also why it signed a deal earlier this month with aerospace and data analytics company Planet.
“(Software) needs to get dramatically easier for farmers, because right now they are frustrated by the complexity and time-consuming nature of many products in the market, so we’re very focused on that at Granular: How do I make it easier to buy, learn, and easier to use every day, and be more flexible so it fits into farms of all sizes and more crop mixes.”
Planet operates the world’s largest fleet of satellites and serves up daily satellite images of a farmer’s fields directly to his or her phone. Granular subscribed to the service last year to strong user feedback, and has expanded the partnership to a three-year agreement under which it will directly license and integrate Planet’s daily feed of satellite imagery into its farm-management software, beginning with its Encirca Services line.
Planet, which counts the U.S. government as a key customer, bumped up the number of its satellites last year and improved the frequency of images delivered – meaning more chances of cloud-free pictures – which prompted Granular to ink the longer-term commitment, Gorham explains.
“If you have a big farm to scout and are driving around the edge of the fields, it’s time-consuming, and you can’t always see what’s really going on. Walking out in the middle of fields in August is no fun – there are only so many acres you can cover. But if you’ve got a set of satellites taking pictures from above every day, it’s a pretty handy tool to be able to figure out what’s going on.”
The idea, Gorham says, is to not just inundate the farmer with a sea of information he has next to no time to digest, but rather tell the farmer what to do with that information.
The satellite imagery from Planet isn’t quite writing prescriptions – but it is a step in that direction. It will red-flag specific areas of a field that show a crop growing more slowly or less robustly than others, which could indicate pest or disease pressure, or an issue with irrigation.
“This is really just a scalable, easy way to stay on top of your operation. It’s true that everybody in the industry is trying to put more diagnostic power in (software) … Planet gives the farmer a head start in figuring it out and helps them prioritize a spot in a field – ‘Hey, this red spot is potentially a more significant issue, and you should consider this type of intervention.’”
The image will show variation both within a field and across fields and over time in the crop’s health, turning a flat picture into an analysis.
Granular, he says, will continue to develop and incorporate Planet imagery into its Encirca portfolio, which is focused on the agronomy side, but it also looks to integrate it into the more business-side-oriented software like AcreValue, which is aimed at the farmland real estate market.
Because satellite images translate so well, Granular intends to use it as its first product to launch in new geographies, including Brazil and other markets later in 2018. Language differences aside, “U.S., Brazilian, Russian farmers would all use it the same way and derive the same type of value from it, so it’s a really nice offering for us to use to enter new markets,” he says.
“Satellite imagery is something that we will continue to deliver a really simple, compelling, intuitive value proposition around. Farmers already scout their fields; they are constantly trying to assess how a crop is doing and what it needs. This is really just a better way to do that.”