Farmers Edge makes precision ag simple

ARGYLE, Minn. -- Jon Labine of Argyle, Minn., is a regional sales representative for Farmers Edge Inc., one of the latest entries in precision agriculture for the Upper Midwest, but a company with more than a decade of history.

Jon Labine of Argyle, Minn., is a regional sales representative for Farmers Edge, Inc., a "big data" precision agriculture company moving into the Upper Midwest from its Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Phoot by Mikkel Pates, Agweek)

ARGYLE, Minn. - Jon Labine of Argyle, Minn., is a regional sales representative for Farmers Edge Inc., one of the latest entries in precision agriculture for the Upper Midwest, but a company with more than a decade of history.

The Winnipeg, Manitoba-based company is growing. It describes itself as a "big data/big analytics" company, helping farmers and their advisers with precision agriculture and decision-making information. Labine says Farmers Edge does everything from soil sampling to zone management and data analytics, yield application and yield mapping.

"Everything goes back to the software. We bring that back and show precision profit maps, back to the grower and they're getting a better understanding of how they can get an (return on investment) on their farm today," Labine says. "It takes the guesswork out of farming. That's what we're trying to do."

Farmers Edge promises that farmers own their own data. In this market they can participate by contacting Labine in Argyle directly. In other markets they've announced marketing partnerships with independent retailers and input suppliers.

Fertility first


The company has a full operations team that comes onto the farm and installs all of their equipment, training growers on software and coming back every spring and fall to make sure things are calibrated.

That information goes to the "cloud," a virtual storage space, which is relayed to the farmer to help as a decision aid. The company supplies "as-applied maps," created every time a machine crosses the field. The grower logs into a website to retrieve the information.

"Not only can you connect via tablet and view important information, but you can rest assured if you forget your tablet or smartphone," Labine says. "The critical data will still get to your cloud. It is easy and automated, so that you can get back to the business of farming."

Farmers Edge starts with fertility and moves to variable rate for seed population. The philosophy is to improve return-on-investment by field zones, Labine says. Zones are various sizes, but a 160-acre parcel typically involves six to nine zones, dictated primarily by soil type.

They also place weather stations on the farms - one per every 2,500 acres, included in the cost. The company then uses "predictive modeling" to identify weather-affected threats such as bugs or aphids.

The physical key to the system is a "CanPlug," a wireless data analytics device, plugs into equipment monitor ports. It gathers its information about everything a machine does, from fuel consumption, engine oil, seed planted and fertilizer going into the zones, or chemicals being sprayed at a particular time. The company describes it as a "rugged and durable device with innovative cloud-based technology," using an "integrated GPS, cellular modem and Bluetooth connectivity." Each piece of equipment has its own CanPlug, and there can be six to eight on atypical farm.

The CanPlug was designed by Ron Osborne of Omaha, Neb. Osborne's company, was purchased by Farmers Edge in 2015. Osborne then became vice president of Farmers Edge and is in charge of the Division of New Technology.

Agronomy roots


Farmers Edge was started in 2005 by Wade Barnes and Curtis MacKinnon, two agronomists in Manitoba. The two developed Variable Rate Technology tools for farmers in the Pilot Mound, Manitoba, area, about 25 miles west of Morden.

At 11 years old, Farmers Edge is already one of the more established companies in the field, according to AgFunder News. In January 2016 the publication wrote that Farmers Edge had raised $41 million in equity funding from existing investors, completing a $60 million effort. The publication said participants in the investment round were Mitsui & Co., a Japanese trading house, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm, and Osmington, Inc., a Canadian real estate company controlled by the Thomson family, an owner of the Winnipeg Jets.

Farmers Edge is using the funds for global expansion. As of 2016, the company is working across Canada, the U.S., South America, Eastern Europe, and the Russian Federation, as well as Australia. It is expanding into Brazil.

Labine says the company involves "thousands" of farmers, covering 7 million acres by the end of 2016. The company has moved across the border into the U.S. in 2016 but had more than 500,000 acres. "We see increases in productivity of roughly 25 percent, compared to what the clients had been seeing prior to using variable-rate technology," Labine says. "We can cut actual costs as much as 25 percent also."

Cost choices

The company's services are based on an array of price points. The basic service is called the "Smart Solutions" package, at a cost of $1.95 per acre. This provides precision weather solutions - one weather station every 2,500 acres, coordinated among neighboring clients and often no closer than five miles apart.

The "Farm Command" software package offers tech support, field-centric data, field-centric analytics, as-applied maps, precision health maps and precision harvest maps.

The "Ultra" program adds zone mapping, ground-truthing, soil sampling and analysis and prescription maps, as-applied maps and precision profit maps. This package costs $3.95 per acre, in a four-year commitment for the entire farm. In the Ultra program, fields are sampled in the first year, one-third of the fields are sampled each in years two, three and four. That means all fields are physically sampled twice in a four-year contract. The sample is comprehensive and appropriate to each crop.


The "Platinum" program is available for partial farms or one-year programs. This option is $7.95 per acre, the same as the Ultra program, except that it's a one-year contract and not necessarily all acres are zone-sampled with complete analysis.

"Once the farm gets to over 35 percent of the farm's acres, the client is better off going to the full farm," Labine says.

The company works to improve nitrogen management practices for environmental programs, and the accumulated data can help prescribe what varieties work best in certain fields, what type of chemicals or herbicides work best, how to reduce the amount you're using, Labine says. It can tell you which equipment runs most efficiently, which has the best fuel economy.

The good part, he says, is that the value the farmer will be compounded over a number of years of involvement in the program.

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