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Land O’Lakes & Microsoft partner to support rural communities

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Land O’Lakes Inc. and Microsoft Corp. announced a multiyear strategic alliance to pioneer new innovations in agriculture and enhance the supply chain, expand sustainability practices for farmers and the food system, and close the rural broadband gap. As one of the nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperatives with 150 million acres of productive cropland in its network, Land O’Lakes is deeply connected to rural America and has a unique understanding of farmers’ needs and the communities where they and their families live and work. Combined with Microsoft’s trusted cloud technologies and AI capabilities, the companies will deliver solutions that help farmers’ profit potential and adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. farms contribute more than $130 billion to the economy, emphasizing the critical role farmers play in our nation’s food supply. Yet the industry faces challenges that threaten its viability, including climate change, trade issues and an evolving workforce. With the emergence of COVID-19, the industry is increasingly facing production and supply-chain issues, and many farmers are facing new economic challenges for their family-owned businesses.

Accelerating agriculture innovation

Initially, the companies will focus on developing a connected AgTech platform, built on Microsoft Azure, that will bring together Land O’Lakes’ portfolio of innovative AgTech tools, such as WinField United’s R7 Suite, Data Silo, and Truterra Insights Engine under one unified architecture. By standardizing on Azure and harnessing the power of Azure FarmBeats, Land O’Lakes will be able to derive insights that enable intelligent agriculture solutions for farmers to be more productive with their time and resources. This includes early mitigation of plant stress to guide precisely where and when farmers should take action on their field for ideal growth conditions, maximization of yield potential by planting the right seed varieties and nutrients, optimizing fertilizer investments, and ensuring accurate output ratio to meet demand properly, all while lowering the farm carbon footprint.

Built on top of the AgTech platform, the companies will collaborate to advance an aggregator of data with Data Silo, as well as leverage Microsoft Azure and its AI capabilities and insights from WinField United Answer Plot test fields, to support more predictable decisions for placement of crop inputs such as seeds and treatments, with the goal of increasing return on investment with the entire acre.

The companies will create a Digital Dairy solution, harnessing the power of edge computing to capture data from farms with poor internet coverage, and the power of AI to provide data-driven insights for dairy producers. This initiative will bring together multiple data streams — including weather, feed management, and animal health — from sensors and third-party applications to help dairy producers improve profit potential, adopt conservation practices and reduce waste by feeding livestock only what they need and ensuring milk supply doesn’t go bad in the supply chain. Through the Digital Dairy solution, the companies will enable Traceability throughout the Land O’Lakes supply chain, providing transparency to milk, butter and cheese, ensuring consumer confidence that foods are of the highest quality and sustainably sourced. At a time when the dairy industry is stressed with changing customer demand and supply-chain disruptions, these digital tools will help producers improve efficiencies and profit potential, while helping to ensure food gets to the people who need it most.

Advancing sustainability initiatives

With the challenges of a changing climate, more extreme weather and a growing world population, Land O’Lakes and Microsoft share a commitment to sustainability and natural resources stewardship to help farm fields be both more resilient and productive for generations to come. We can help farmers improve the health and function of their farms’ soils to both produce more food and store greenhouse gas, including carbon. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that agricultural soils could hold up to 10% of human-caused emissions within 25 years. Yet, soils are largely absent from global carbon markets. As a result, farmers lack adequate information and incentives to practice regenerative agriculture to capture and store carbon.

The companies are working together to change that by developing a technology suite to help farmers improve their profit potential and generate new revenue in carbon markets. The new alliance will develop capabilities to quickly and effectively predict the carbon benefits of regenerative practices like no-till, precision nutrient management and planting of cover crops. Combining such capabilities with the real-time transparency from remote sensing and satellite data will make certification of these projects in global carbon markets easier, quicker and less expensive — ultimately maximizing the economic value for farmers.

The companies will explore integrating these new capabilities into the Truterra Insights Engine to create a unique soil health platform that can help farmers identify new opportunities to adopt practices to improve the quality and function of their farms’ soils, estimate the natural resource and economic benefits of those new practices, generate soil carbon credits, and connect to soil carbon markets that sell certified credits to buyers.

The platform would help unlock the potential of hundreds of millions of acres of farmland to be an effective carbon removal system and improve soil health and productivity, while providing farmers with the insights they need to make the best decisions for their farms.

Connecting rural America

Broadband is essential to fully participate in the modern economy. Unfortunately, more than 18 million Americans, 14 million of whom live in rural communities, don’t have access to broadband connections. Both companies are working to connect rural communities: Microsoft’s Airband Initiative has worked around the country to eliminate the rural broadband gap, and Land O’Lakes’ American Connection Project aims to close the digital divide through action and advocacy.

The companies are launching pilots that will lead to long-term programmatic solutions in rural communities. Combining Microsoft’s Airband program and specific locations within the Land O’Lakes owner network, broadband will be deployed to rural communities along with services including telehealth, educational resources and digital skilling. Both companies are also advocating for policy changes to accelerate the availability of broadband in rural communities, including broadband mapping to fully understand who has and does not have access to broadband, and federal funding in upcoming legislation.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic makes the digital divide even worse for many people. Remote work, education and healthcare are out of reach for people living in rural communities without online access. The companies are answering this immediate need for connectivity by working together to turn on free public Wi-Fi at more than 150+ locations in 19 states using a mix of technologies, including fixed wireless, and supplying internet service providers with the necessary hardware.

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of AGDAILY. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
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