“This data layer did not exist in US agriculture previously,” said Dan Ryan, CEO, CIBO Technologies.
While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides an important signal to national markets, CIBO says it can offer deeper and more detailed decision-ready insights from county to farm and field.
The company said the new capability allows for comparisons and experiments to be done on parcels of farmland, benefiting farmers and others in the agriculture ecosystem of buyers, lenders and operators who want to know how any parcel will perform in the future under different scenarios.
Users can determine whether a certain weather event for the coming growing season will likely affect a field’s yield, or how a field will perform based upon its historical performance, the factors that might affect when crops mature, or how fields a user is not familiar with compare to each other.
Relying on proprietary machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as data sets in soil, weather, and agronomy, the technology does not require input from individual farmers.
“We have three key elements of technology, on the science side. One is ecosystem and crop level simulation - that engine simulates the growth of the plant on a daily basis based on current weather, historic weather, what happens in the soil, what happens with the sun, what happens with the moisture. That is our fundamental science. The other technological element is the use of satellite imagery – using computer vision on that satellite imagery, we can identify what crops were growing in a parcel, we can identify, in the case of sustainability, what was the tillage used, and we are also able to leverage that to identify field variability. We carry out machine learning and AI on data as well.
“Coming into those core engines are data sets, mostly public, on weather, soil, owner and parcel information, along with tax information and satellite information. This is a huge amount of data, you probably could not have done this 10 years ago as there was not the infrastructure available to process that level of data,” Ryan told us.
The two NOAA future climate scenarios for the next 50 years are included in those data sets.
CIBO was founded in May 2015 by Flagship Pioneering, a venture fund primarily focused on biotech but with a growing focus on ag and sustainability areas in the past few years, said the CEO.
“CIBO was based, initially, on the ecosystem simulation capability it licensed from Michigan State University and Dr Bruno Basso, one of the leading experts in the ag simulation space. They spent three years building on that core technology capability.”
With a software development background, Ryan joined the company over a year ago, last January. His objective was to determine how to turn a powerful science driven core technology into a commercial product.
“I concluded that the key value proposition for CIBO was that it was able to look at any parcel of land in the US [it is limited to the US right now] and provide fairly rich insights about the land without having any local inputs. We did not need to ask farmers about their land, we could help people evaluate a parcel of land with information like yield, valuation, productivity, and the environmental impact of that parcel, we could do that for every parcel in the country without local data.
“So what we decided to do was to give such data a scoring system, and users could use those numbers to evaluate or compare different parcels of land. While we were doing that, we built a very powerful map- based and search- based internet platform that lets users look at land anywhere in the country and do searches, then drill down to the parcel level when they find the kind of results they want,” explained the CEO.
The business model is a 'freemium' based one.
“We want to get users on the platform and continue to improve it; the typical users will be anyone around the land ecosystem, it could be a farmer, it could be a lender that is trying to evaluate land, or a land buyer, an insurance company, or an ag input or seed retailer.
“It is the kind of the reverse of agtech, which is often about precision agriculture, about enabling farmers to better manage their land. We are not in that business. We are more about enabling anybody that wants to understand land or wants to evaluate land from a risk or an opportunity perspective or just a customer relation perspective, to do that.”
The CEO said this information can drive efficiencies in land and related markets by connecting participants to objective information, and to each other.
Would this kind of technology support the trend for large-scale farming in the US?
“If you are looking to buy new land, we can help you identify new land and connect you to the owners. If you are looking to lease 1,000 acres that you have never farmed before, we can also help you qualify that land, we can give you historical yields, the productivity, the risk, the variability of that land.
“So, yes, it is to help people who are scaling.
“But it is also designed to help [other categories of users] - every year a farmer gets an operating loan, every year they get crop insurance, every year they buy seeds and fertilizers and other inputs, so now a lender has another tool to carry out an appraisal of land, to understand that field, before giving a loan to a prospect.”
Taking its core platform, CIBO is looking to build additional capabilities around land investing and carbon offsetting programs, and other aspects, and will, eventually, be adding more marketplace features.
Additionally, CIBO has created a data set that includes past and in-season management practices and yields and allows users to assess the impact of various management practices on the future productivity and value of a parcel.
“CIBO Labs allows a user to go in a simulate on a field, what a change in inputs such as nitrogen would do to the yield.”
He said the tool is also intended to drive more sustainable farm management practices in the future.
“One of the areas that we are focused on is really the whole notion of regenerative and organic practices, mostly management practices that look to [protect] the soil, to prevent nitrogen leaching and to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ryan.
He said a lot of farmers CIBO talks to are increasingly interested in conservation practices, with the idea they will, long term, not have to use or can, at the very least, reduce their use of fertilizer.
“We are working on ensuring that farmers can be compensated for good practices."