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Why Monsanto and Big Ag Likes Big Data

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

Big Data's push to remake the industrial economy took a big step forward Wednesday, when Monsanto announced it had bought the Climate Corporation.

Monsanto said it was paying $930 million in cash for the company, which looks at data like historic rainfall and soil quality to help farmers predict crop yields. Monsanto hopes to apply the Climate Corporation's data analysis insight across the company, to create what a Monsanto executive called "the next level of agriculture."

"A farmer should be able to grow on farmland square meter by square meter, for lots more yield, planting seeds at different rates for each meter," said Kerry Preete, Monsanto's executive vice president of strategy. "We're a data company at heart, breeding seeds and helping farmers optimize yields and manage risk."

To its critics, Monsanto is something worse, producing genetically modified crops that it then sells to farmers on a one-time use basis. In either version of the company, however, Mr. Preete has a point about the importance of data to Monsanto.

Last year Monsanto paid $250 million for Precision Planting , a company that enables farmers to plant seeds in various depths and spaces, almost by the square meter, so different parts of a farm can get different treatment. Mr. Preete said Monsanto saw this as a first step in developing two-way farm machinery systems that took up and receive data, giving farmers better sense of what to plant and how much water and fertilizer to use.

The company also plans to sell Climate Corporation's crop insurance products to farmers internationally. Climate Corporation writes these policies in the United States based on a wealth of public data on rainfall, temperature and soil types around the country. It is not clear how well or how quickly this can be deployed internationally.