For many U.S. farmers, improving agricultural productivity while meeting consumer demand to reduce the use of pesticides and chemicals on crops became a goal during the 2000s. To help farmers manage pests, plant diseases, weather conditions, and yields, dozens of startups emerged to offer apps and data services — part of a precision agriculture boom. Many of these companies failed or struggled as data alone proved insufficient; farmers also needed help interpreting the data. By 2016, a new variety of data-oriented service providers was helping farmers apply their harvested data.
For example, WinField United, the seed and crop-protection division of Land O’Lakes Inc., helps farm operators analyze millions of data points from multiple sources, to boost per-acre production. WinField United taps sources such as controlled experiments at test farms, performance data gathered from sensors provided by equipment manufacturers, and extensive weather data. Analytical and decision-support tools use these myriad data sources to present individualized recommendations to the company’s customers. The analytics helps grow more than crops; it fosters loyal relationships with core customers in the process.
According to Teddy Bekele, WinField United’s vice president of agricultural technology, there is a great disparity in the use of technology and analytics among farmers. But for active adopters, the return on investment can be dramatic. “We are working with farmers who were averaging about 150 bushels per acre but, after following our recommendations, are now producing 195 bushels — paying for their incremental investment five times over,” says Bekele.
By helping its customers achieve measurable gains, WinField United strengthens the bonds it has with them, deepening customer engagement. “Farming is very relationship-based, so, on top of the data, our goal is to get them to say, ‘WinField United is giving me the right advice and helping me make the right choices,’” says Bekele.