Land O’Lakes and Microsoft to develop new agtech tools to boost profits and drive sustainability

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Land O’Lakes Inc, one of the USA’s largest farmer-owned cooperatives with 150 million acres of productive cropland in its network and 2019 annual sales of US$14 billion, and Microsoft Corp are to work together to develop new innovations in agriculture and enhance the supply chain, expand sustainability practices for farmers and the food system, and close the rural broadband gap, following the recent signing of a multiyear strategic alliance between the pair.

Initially, the companies will focus on developing a connected agtech platform, built on Microsoft Azure, which will bring together Land O’Lakes’ portfolio of innovative agtech tools, such as WinField United’s R7 Suite, Data Silo and Truterra Insights Engine under one unified architecture.

Intelligent agriculture

By standardizing on Azure and harnessing the power of Azure FarmBeats, Land O’Lakes will be able to derive insights that enable intelligent agriculture solutions for farmers to be more productive with their time and resources. This includes early mitigation of plant stress to guide precisely where and when farmers should take action on their field for ideal growth conditions, maximization of yield potential by planting the right seed varieties and nutrients, optimizing fertilizer investments, and ensuring accurate output ratio to meet demand properly, all while lowering the farm carbon footprint.

Built on top of the agtech platform, the companies will collaborate to advance an aggregator of data with Data Silo, as well as leverage Microsoft Azure and its AI capabilities and insights from WinField United Answer Plot test fields, to support more predictable decisions for placement of crop inputs such as seeds and treatments, with the goal of increasing return on investment with the entire acre.

The companies will also create a Digital Dairy solution, harnessing the power of edge computing to capture data from farms with poor internet coverage, and the power of AI to provide data-driven insights for dairy producers. This initiative will bring together multiple data streams — including weather, feed management and animal health — from sensors and third-party applications to help dairy producers improve profit potential, adopt conservation practices and reduce waste by feeding livestock only what they need and ensuring milk supply doesn’t go bad in the supply chain.

Such a solution will enable greater traceability throughout the Land O’Lakes supply chain, providing transparency to milk, butter and cheese, and boosting consumer confidence that foods are of the highest quality and sustainably sourced.

Carbon capture

The partners also plan to help farmers improve the health and function of their farms’ soils to both produce more food and store greenhouse gas, including carbon. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that agricultural soils could hold up to 10% of human-caused emissions within 25 years. Yet, soils are largely absent from global carbon markets. As a result, farmers lack adequate information and incentives to practice regenerative agriculture to capture and store carbon.

The two companies are working together to change that by developing a technology suite to help farmers improve their profit potential and generate new revenue in carbon markets. The new alliance will develop capabilities to quickly and effectively predict the carbon benefits of regenerative practices like no-till, precision nutrient management and planting of cover crops. Combining such capabilities with the real-time transparency from remote sensing and satellite data will make certification of these projects in global carbon markets easier, quicker and less expensive — ultimately maximizing the economic value for farmers.

The companies will explore integrating these new capabilities into the Truterra Insights Engine to create a unique soil health platform that can help farmers identify new opportunities to adopt practices to improve the quality and function of their farms’ soils, estimate the natural resource and economic benefits of those new practices, generate soil carbon credits, and connect to soil carbon markets that sell certified credits to buyers.

The platform will help unlock the potential of hundreds of millions of acres of farmland to be an effective carbon removal system and improve soil health and productivity, while providing farmers with the insights they need to make the best decisions for their farms. Markets like these may help Microsoft reach its goal to be carbon negative by 2030 and remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emitted since its founding by 2050, and help other businesses take advantage of soil carbon credits and the market to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Rural broadband

Unfortunately, more than 18 million Americans, 14 million of whom live in rural communities, currently don’t have access to broadband. Both companies hope their new partnership will build on their existing work to connect rural communities: Microsoft’s Airband Initiative seeks to eliminate the rural broadband gap; and Land O’Lakes’ American Connection Project aims to close the digital divide through action and advocacy.

The companies are launching pilots that will lead to long-term programmatic solutions in rural communities. Combining Microsoft’s Airband program and specific locations within the Land O’Lakes owner network, broadband will be deployed to rural communities along with services including telehealth, educational resources and digital skilling. Both companies are also advocating for policy changes to accelerate the availability of broadband in rural communities, including broadband mapping to fully understand who has and does not have access to broadband, and federal funding in upcoming legislation.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the digital divide felt by many US citizens. Remote work, education and healthcare are out of reach for people living in rural communities without online access. The companies are answering this immediate need for connectivity by working together to turn on free public WiFi at more than 150 locations in 19 states using a mix of technologies, including fixed wireless, and supplying internet service providers with the necessary hardware.

Finally, the agreement will also see Microsoft become Land O’Lakes’ strategic cloud provider, with Land O’Lakes migrating the majority of its IT infrastructure onto Microsoft Azure. The company has enabled Microsoft 365 and Teams for its workforce, empowering them with next-generation digital experience technology for increased productivity, advanced security, internal collaboration and customer engagement.

Land O’Lakes is one of the most important food suppliers in the US, and our nation’s farmers and consumers rely on its ability to rapidly adapt to changing market forces through innovation,” commented Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “Through our partnership, we will apply the power of Azure and its AI capabilities to help Land O’Lakes solve some of the most pressing challenges facing the industry and bridge the divide between rural and urban communities.”

“As America’s farmers continue to deliver the world’s safest, most affordable food supply, they face an increasing number of obstacles that are beyond their control,” concluded Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “The data-based, precision agriculture tools that we are building with Microsoft will provide the edge they need, but unreliable or nonexistent high-speed internet in rural areas keeps these tools out of reach for many. Through this alliance, we will work to address this need and help farmers remain profitable and sustainable.”

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With over 20 years experience in editorial management and content creation for a broad spectrum of market-leading B2B magazines and websites in the transport and technology sectors, Anthony has written news and features covering everything from airport security to autonomous vehicles, and stadium design to sustainable energy.

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