Crops and weatherYara International (Yara) and IBM have agreed to build a digital farming platform, with the intention that this feeds (sic) into the IBM Food Trust blockchain initiative. The agreement envisages the provision of holistic digital services and instant agronomic advice and will combine world-class agronomy with cutting-edge technology.

Our collaboration centers around a common goal to make a real difference in agriculture. To be able to responsibly feed a growing population, it is critical that farmers increase food production on existing farmland to avoid deforestation. Yara and IBM will develop digital solutions that empower professional and smallholder farmers to optimize farming practices to increase yields, crop quality and incomes in a sustainable way,” said Terje Knutsen, EVP Sales and Marketing in Yara.

Terje Knutsen
Terje Knutsen

The Yara dimension

Yara International claims to be a global leader in crop nutrition. The ‘Digital Farming Platform’, which will be built using IBM technologies, will enable Yara to:

  • create digital twins of farmers’ fields
  • bring together advanced analytics, weather data and satellite images
  • offer farmers insights and actions which can drive production improvements.

In essence the Yara/IBM collaboration centres around a joint vision which hopes to to make a real difference in food production with Yara and IBM Services jointly innovating to:

  • commercialise digital agricultural solutions
  • increase global food production.

This can occur because the initiative will draw on the two companies’ complementary capabilities:

  • Yara’s agronomy knowledge, backed by more than 800 agronomists and a century of experience
  • IBM’s technology understanding along with its digital platforms, services and expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics. The digital platform will have worldwide coverage and aspires to reach 100 million hectares of farmland – which is equivalent to twice the size of Spain or close to 7% of all arable land worldwide – including millions of smallholder farms.
Luq Niazi
Luq Niazi

Luq Niazi, IBM Global Managing Director Consumer Industries said: “As demand for food rises along with the world’s population, the digital farming platform will play a key role in increasing global farming yields in a sustainable way.

“The collaboration is a perfect symbiosis of IBM’s capabilities in AI, big data management and blockchain technology and Yara’s agronomic knowledge, farmer-centric digital innovation, and proven track record in improving farming across the globe.

First steps

As a first step, Yara and IBM will establish joint innovation teams (with first services being available by the end of 2019). These teams will collaborate at digital hubs in:

  • Europe
  • Singapore
  • USA
  • Brazil.

The teams will work with IBM researchers to develop new capabilities specific to crop insights, such as:

  • visual analytics
  • machine learning techniques.

The Yara/IBM partnership will focus on all aspects of farm optimisation. For example, one specific area of collaboration will be weather data. The ability to respond optimally to weather conditions is critical for successful farming. By merging analytical insights from IBM’s Watson Studio, IBM PAIRS technology, The Weather Company and other services, with Yara’s crop knowledge and modelling capabilities, the joint platform will:

  • provide hyper-local weather forecasts
  • be able to offer real-time actionable recommendations, ones tailored to the specific needs of individual fields/crops.

As the joint digital farming platform expands, the teams will explore integration of their platform into the IBM Food Trust, IBM’s blockchain-enabled network of food chain players. This will add:

  • traceability
  • supply chain efficiency
  • the ability to tackle food fraud, food waste
  • sustainability.

Enterprise Times: what does this mean

This Yara/IBM initiative does not immediately seem to use blockchain as part of the platform. Instead it focuses on creating a holistic approach to food production from farm to plate. The ‘sense’ in IBM buying The Weather Channel’ becomes clearer. This adds a dimension that few individual farmers, least of all in the developing world, could reasonably afford.

The more interesting dimension, from a blockchain and technology viewpoint, comes when the initiative links farms into the full food chain, including supply chain. Not only does this add fraud countermeasures but it improves, through Food Trust, the connection between producers (the farmers) and consumers – and all participants in between.

Presuming that the initiative succeeds, this demonstrates how technological expertise (including blockchain), when shared, can open new opportunities for efficiency. It may yet deliver a further defeat of Malthusian theory.


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