Seale said one of the challenges for a farm to get started on a project showing certified emission reductions is “there’s a lot of stuff that happens in the middle, and all of that middle stuff is very expensive.” Seale said one of Bayer’s goals is to remove as much of the cost from the middle to make it financially worthwhile for a farmer to participate in whatever market evolves for agricultural carbon credits.
“Ultimately, if it doesn’t economically benefit the farmer, they’re not going to do these things,” Seale said. “And if they don’t do these things, then agriculture is not going to be part of the solution to the 1.5 C problem.”
To limit the effects of global warming to 1.5 Celsius, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that overall net emissions need to come down to zero by midcentury. The IPCC stated limiting temperature rise to 1.5 C, compared to 2 C, would reduce temperature extremes globally as the century progresses and provide a greater opportunity to manage climate risks.
Bayer officials said its carbon initiative will start with about 1,200 farmers in the U.S. and Brazil. Bayer has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the field by 30% in 2030.
Microsoft took a big foray into the agricultural landscape when the company announced earlier this month it is partnering with one of the country’s largest cooperatives. Microsoft and Land O’Lakes are creating a digital platform for farmers to help with precision agriculture, improve soil heath and also champion expansion of rural broadband. Land O’Lakes platform will be built using Microsoft’s cloud business, Azure, which is touted as using artificial intelligence to “rapidly process data and generate new insights” for users. Azure essentially takes different sets of data and fuses them together.
Land O’Lakes will tie in Azure’s cloud technology with multiple farm apps and tools under Land O’Lakes’ divisions, including the Truterra Insights Engine, Data Silo and WinField United’s R7 tools. At least some of these products were built out from the merger between WinField and United Suppliers, which then became part of Land O’Lakes in 2015.
Truterra is already working with farmers producing for Campbell’s Soup, Cargill and Nestle Purina and is connected to about 2 million acres through those partnerships. Campbell’s Soup reported in July that farmers producing wheat for the company had signed up 70,000 acres to use Truterra as a tool to optimize fertilizer usage. Campbell’s stated it was a year ahead of schedule in sourcing 50% of its flour “from acres enrolled in a sustainable agriculture program.” Truterra will continue helping Campbell’s track the environmental footprint of its commodities.
A spokesperson for Campbell’s stated participation for farmers in the program is voluntary and participation is not required to sell wheat to Campbell’s. Beside insights on nutrient usage and conservation practices, wheat farmers in the program get more information on USDA conservation programs, as well as technical support from conservation specialists.
Jason Weller, vice president of Truterra, said Land O’Lakes stood out for Microsoft as a partner because the cooperative is farmer-owned, and thus its farm tools are focused first on benefiting farmers. Microsoft came into the partnership wanting to expand industry technology while offering a way to scale up climate-smart agricultural practices, Weller said.
“Microsoft could have worked with anyone in the industry, and in the end, they did their due diligence,” Weller said, pointing out that as a cooperative, Land O’Lakes focuses on creating value for its farmer owners. “This is, I think, a very strategic direction for Microsoft, as well as for Land O’Lakes.”
Land O’Lakes stated its network of farmer cooperatives connect with 150 million acres and the cooperative processes and sells food products coming from about 300,000 farmers. The pitch from Land O’Lakes is the various data sets will help farmers mitigate potential crop stresses earlier and recommend more precise actions to take in the field. Like Bayer, the Land O’Lakes/Microsoft collaboration stated their tools will help maximize yields, optimize inputs and lower the farm’s carbon footprint.
Highlighting the ability for farmers to sequester carbon, Land O’Lakes stated it and Microsoft are working to develop a digital product through the Truterra tool that would help farmers build a baseline for their agronomic and conservation practices, ideally to eventually generate carbon credits.
Microsoft began 2020 announcing the company wanted to be “carbon negative” by 2030 and remove carbon from the air. To make that happen, the software giant is aligning with several other companies, and agriculture is one of the few industries that can actually sequester carbon. Just in the last week, Microsoft began announcing initial investments for its $1 billion Climate Innovation Fund.
To help their agricultural digital aspirations, Land O’Lakes and Microsoft are pushing for more policy changes to boost broadband in rural communities, including better mapping to spotlight the dead spots. The companies said they plan to help offer free public wi-fi at more than 150 Land O’Lakes facilities in 19 states as well.
The tech alliances forming to measure agriculture’s environmental footprint include Smithfield Foods. The vertically integrated pork processor announced in late June that it would partner with Granular, part of Corteva Agriscience, to work with grain farmers in North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia. Granular Insights tools are designed to help farmers with in-field pest management decisions and other problems that would lower crop yield.
Smithfield said part of the goal of the agreement with Granular is to help reduce Smithfield’s greenhouse-gas emissions in its supply chain 25% by 2025. Granular will help reduce environmental impacts while improving fertilizer usage and crop production, the companies stated in a news release.
Smithfield and Granular did not respond to questions about how the program will work for farmers or how they will be enrolled.
SUPPLY CHAIN PROTECTION
Another aspect of broader data tools is the potential to see possible warning signs ahead, said Matt Hudson, co-director of the Center for Digital Agriculture at the University of Illinois.
Leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, processors and consumers were increasingly wanting more identity preservation for crops, which requires traceability tools and verification. The pandemic also showed how the food chain can be disrupted. Hudson said widespread use of these new farm technologies can provide the production and processing industries more early warning of supply problems.
“The COVID thing in particular has brought home that the food chain isn’t something we can just forget about,” Hudson said. “It’s easily disrupted. We don’t always get early warning of these disruptions. They can still be a problem. And so whether you’re a commercial organization or government, it’s good to know what’s going on, before those harvest numbers are in and you realize that harvest is bad, right? The earlier you can find out you’ve got a problem and start importing or start prioritizing other crops. So whatever it is, there’s actions you can take to prevent shortages, if it can get early warning of a problem in crop growth or in supply chains.”
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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