Climate Corporation Builds Massive Data Platform for Agriculture in the US

Climate Corporation Builds Massive Data Platform for Agriculture in the US

According to The Climate Corporation – a tech company based in San Francisco -- data science has the potential to fundamentally improve the productivity and sustainability of global agriculture.

Since 2007, the Climate Corporation has been hard at work building a technology platform that combines hyper-local weather monitoring, agronomic data modeling, and high-resolution weather simulations that are updated hourly. On the platform (see, Climate has built products to protect farmers with index-based insurance and improve profits with software that help farmers make more informed operating decisions.

In the United States, government-subsidized Federal Crop Insurance covers up to 85 percent of a farmer’s yield, based on actual production history. So then what exactly do farmers get from weather insurance? Index-based parametric weather insurance supplements Federal Crop Insurance to help protect risk outside of what the government covers. Climate’s products are not subsidized and pay out automatically when bad weather happens. Their flagship product, Total Weather Insurance, is designed to protect against shallow losses (eg.,small yield shortfalls rather than major losses which occur more infrequently) providing coverage against major weather perils including drought, excess moisture, and a shortfall of heat units; correlating with yield losses. On average, the per acre premium is $25-$40, depending on the exact coverage details.

In addition to weather insurance, Climate offers high-tech agricultural advice. Farmers use their free Climate BasicTM app to see up-to-the minute which fields are workable, track crop growth phases, take scouting notes and generate reports. The paid version Climate ProTM goes further to make proactive recommendations on production such as when a farmer should plant, when and how much nitrogen to apply, what to do for pests and disease alerts, and advice on when farmers should harvest and more.

“The Climate Corporation creates moisture and precipitation maps so precise that, in some cases, a farmer can determine whether the field on one side of a road is wetter than the field on the other side,” reported The New Yorker in a November 11, 2013 article “Climate by Numbers.”

To build the hyper-localized weather and yield models that support its insurance platform, the Climate Corporation acquired sixty years of crop-yield statistics for every planting region in the country from the Department of Agriculture (for free) and matched that information with reports from two million locations that the National Weather Service scans regularly with Doppler radar (also free). What wasn’t free was making sense of all that data. The company employs dozens of scientists and mathematicians to create algorithms and simulations for farmland across the country, down to the field level. It took so much computer power to create the underlying models that Climate was one of the world’s largest consumers of Amazon’s Cloud services.

Information technology is as important as the weather for today’s farmers in the US, particularly as climate change makes agriculture a more precarious investment. In 2012, drought affected eighty percent of the country’s farmland.

Something must be working - Monsanto recently bought The Climate Corporation for $1.1 billion. They won’t reveal their client numbers or current revenue, but they have released that today customers in the US are using their Climate Basic product on over 25 million acres, and that number is growing every day. Climate is considering expanding into developing countries, and they are discussing possible collaboration with the WBG Global Index Insurance Facility and its partners.