So many of California’s Silicon Valley tech start-ups aim to build better social media software or photo sharing apps. But when David Friedberg took his data experience and left Google in 2006, he had much bigger plans, like developing weather simulation models aimed to help 70% of businesses that suffer losses related to weather – something farmers can grasp.
He started by building an online custom insurance product for the energy industry. In January 2007 he launched Weatherbill.com (now Climate Corporation) using data from weather stations. “Over the next two years we started to see opportunities for what we had built. Growers and retailers were telling us stories of financial losses and shortcomings in federal crop insurance. So in 2009 we started to build products to solve problems in agriculture,” Friedberg says.
A lot of early trial and error ensued, with farmers providing input of the weather challenges of their evolving products. Climate Corp raised close to $100 million from venture capitalists (including Google money), and began investing in technology and acquiring a lot of data on weather records, soil records, historical yields, agronomic research and more in order to build the best predictive models (its Climate Technology Platform) for their Total Weather Insurance (TWI) product, designed to supplement Federal crop insurance.
For TWI customers, the company built Climate.com so growers could login to a website and see their field-by-field weather with predictions on how it was impacting their crop every day. Indiana farmer John Jackle, a TWI buyer for the last two years, says their local rainfall by field is amazingly accurate. “It was very close to my rain gauge, and I’m amazed by the amount of historical rainfall and soil moisture data you can find on any field,” he says. “And the accuracy of their harvest timing (crop maturity and grain moisture estimates) was right within their 5-7 day range.”
Crop insurance agent, George Bercaw with Premier Crop Insurance, Greenville, Ind., has been visited numerous times by Climate Corp’s top engineers to learn from farmers as they continue to improve their predictive models. “The predicted yield results have usually been within 10 bushels of actual yield. In some cases where heavy spring rains dropped yields initially, the models were not programed to add yield back on when the weather improved this summer. So the engineers were excited to get this data to improve the yield model under this scenario for 2014,” Bercaw says.
New data tracking/analytics products offered for 2014 are Climate Basic and Climate Pro. Climate Basic offers free, real-time info on field-level weather and forecasts; tracks crop growth stages and soil moisture; sends alerts on extreme weather, daily rainfall and temperature summaries, hail alerts and crop updates; and provides mobile/tablet tools for scouting and in-field activities. Climate Pro version opens up a host of valuable in-season advisor tools to improve management decisions during planting, nitrogen application, variable rate strategies using in-season satellite imagery, scouting, spraying, and harvesting. Cost is $15/corn acre and $7.50/soybean acre, and the company expects the average increase in profit using this service will be $100/acre for corn and $50/acre for soybeans.
Jimi Crawford, Sr. VP, Science and Engineering, says the reason they have confidence in these profit numbers has to do with the ground-truthed data models they have strategically designed. “You have to build a dozen different models and get them all working together in order to get an accurate yield range. University research projects and papers have helped us to add good information to our models,” he says.
“Our agronomy and economist advisors review our methodology, our environmental variables, our approaches – and in general they are impressed with what we are building, the level of sophistication, the attention to detail, the methodical approach we’re taking, and the quality,” Crawford adds. We encourage all growers to read the white papers for each advisor on the website to learn further details about the value creation of this technology.
Regarding the recent purchase by Monsanto, Friedberg says Climate Corp will remain an independent company with its own products. “We chose Monsanto because they have the right vision and passion that fits where we want to go. Their Integrated Farming Strategy platform and FieldScripts fits really well as a combination offer for growers with our Climate Pro platform,” he adds. “And our combined data research strengths bodes well for the future.”
For more info on its full suite of crop insurance products and these data tools, visit www.climate.com.