LONDONDERRY — Stonyfield Organic is launching a new $10 million tech initiative to create smart farms, using predictive data models, spectral analysis and customized cover cropping techniques to reduce agricultural carbon emissions and help farmers maximize their profits.
In much the same way that electricity grids are incorporating more data-feedback systems to create a more efficient power distribution system, Stonyfield and a group of about a dozen partner organizations hope to devise a system that gives farmers the data they need to make smarter decisions resulting in less carbon emission and better crop yields, according to Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield’s director of organic and sustainable agriculture.
The initiative will work to develop a new open-source platform called OpenTEAM (Technology Ecosystem for Agriculture Management), which was announced Wednesday. The goal is to provide quantitative feedback for millions of acres of farmland by 2024 that will help farmers trap more carbon in the soil, which will be good for the soil and the atmosphere.
Lundgren said Stonyfield has been looking at the issue of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture for more than 15 years, but has thus far fallen short on solutions.
“We struggled with that a bit,” Lundgren said.
Roughly half of the greenhouse gasses emitted in the full lifecycle of Stonyfield products came from the agriculture, she said.
Lundgren said if Stonyfield could increase soil sequestration up to four parts per thousand of CO2 in all the farmland on the planet, the company could essentially halt the increased release of carbon into the atmosphere.
Now, the technology exists to make strides toward doing that.
“There’s been this explosion in hardware and software that’s related to soil health over the last couple of years,” Lundgren said.
A key piece of hardware that is becoming increasingly available is the spectral analysis camera, which can detect the carbon content of soil using the same camera technology that tells us what the rocks on the surface of Mars are made of.
Lundgren said those cameras will provide the hard data points. She said cloud based software programs will compile and track the data, plug it into predictive models, and calculate recommendations for crop cover and other regenerative agriculture techniques catered to specific farmers.
“But none of these tools really talk to each other,” Lundgren said.
Developers will be working on developing the platform in the next several months, and it’s expected to be ready for field testing in the 2020 growing season. By the spring of 2021, Lundgren said, Stonyfield hopes to have it developed enough to start building a larger network of farms to use the system.
About 15 to 20 farms will be testing it, including two or three that are in Stonyfield’s own supply chain. In a few years, Lundgren said, the company plans on incorporating some financial management tools into the program.
“So we’re moving from best management practices to adaptive management practices at the farm level,” Lundgren said.
It will be free for farmers to use, and Lundgren said the potential benefits go beyond battling climate change.
Improved soil health, she said, increases crop yield, reduces a farmer’s reliance on fertilizer, and increases the soil’s water retention capacity, making it more resilient to drought and extreme precipitation events. All of that means more money in the farmer’s pocket.
The project will be funded by a $5 million grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), plus matching funds from the various partners. Stonyfield Organic is a leading financial partner, contributing $200,000 in cash and in-kind work over three years. The Stonyfield Foundation is also contributing another $200,000 over three years.
Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment will coordinate development efforts from its headquarters in Maine. The founding collaborators include Stonyfield, FFAR, Wolfe’s Neck Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s LandPKS project.
Stonyfield is also announcing a new Science Based Targets Initiative to reduce its emissions by 30% by 2030. The OpenTEAM project is expected to be a critical component of that.