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Acquisitions and SaaS Development: What’s Trimble Been Up To in Agtech?

September 8, 2016

While best known in the agriculture world for its GPS guidance and steering technology, Trimble has been slowly, but surely, building up an arsenal of agriculture technologies far beyond this early step in farm machine automation.

In the last five years alone it has acquired 10 companies across various different subsectors of agriculture technology, according to AgFunder agtech M&A data. These acquisitions range from RainWave, a precipitation monitoring system to Irrigate-IQ, a precision irrigation company, to Fifth Element, a forestry and logistics technology platform.

“In acquisitions, we generally look for two things: we look at our overall strategic plan and the opportunity to build a particular position in a new vertical, or an area we think is developing relatively quickly; we also look for a company that’s already revenue-generating or close to it,” Darryl Matthews, sector head of Trimble’s natural resources sector, told AgFunderNews.

“When we build an anchor position in a vertical, we then add on to it through acquisitions or internal development to close the loop.”

Trimble acquisitions

Target companies need to be able to generate revenues within the Trimble structure within three to five years. While it sounds obvious, potential targets need to be transformative in the tech or services they’re offering, and they need to be meaningful in scale, he added.

One of its most recent acquisitions was HarvestMark, the food traceability technology company.

“We acquired HarvestMark because we needed help being more connected to the consumer,” said Matthews. “We feel that consumer demands are going to have a bigger impact on what’s grown on the farm than ever before. HarvestMark gives us a better understanding of consumer feedback.”

Another recent acquisition, and a key part of Trimble’s growing farm management software and precision ag technology suite, was Agri-Trend, an ag data software and consulting platform, which it acquired in November 2015.

Integrating technology

While previously the company’s software solutions were tied to a particular line of equipment or remained largely separate businesses like FarmWorks, last month Trimble consolidated its acquisitions and equipment onto one platform, by launching the Trimble Ag Business Solutions Group.

The new group’s integrated data feed and platform will feed into a software-as-a-service product the company plans to launch later this year. Targeting farmers, retailers, and food processors, the SaaS aims to connect farmers, ag retailers, and processors together by offering them integrated contract management tools, compliance management tools, data analysis, and farm prescription building tools.

The software will help retailers manage their client relationships, and give food processors a line of sight on their inventory in the field, giving farmers an easy way to communicate that to them.

“Our focus is to enable the customer to have one platform where they can gather all of the information they need to make decisions either on their own or with the support of an advisor,” said Darren Howie, general manager of Agri-Trend and lead of the Ag Business Solutions group.

“Trimble is focused on linking the food industry with the farmer,” added Matthews. “Other solutions in the market are point solutions offering specific solutions that only solve an individual problem for the farmer, such as nitrogen management. Trimble is building an ecosystem where a farmer, food processor, and ag retailer can work together in one easy environment where software and hardware all interconnect. In this environment, a farmer can work with his farm operation service providers like commodity brokers, food processors, ag retailers and advisers to share files and build prescriptions for their farming operations.  Farmers continue to give us feedback they want an environment that is easy and all-encompassing to their farm.”

Trimble Agriculture

Trimble Agriculture, the provider of this platform, will be compatible with a range of different equipment manufacturers and crop inputs.

Trimble has announced an API arrangement with John Deere to integrate its equipment into Trimble’s software platform, and it will continue to make connections with other hardware providers like sensors and weather stations.

As part of this overall effort to help farmers digitize the farm, Trimble is establishing 120 “Vantage dealerships,” which are one-stop shops for farmers to go to buy all the hardware and software equipment they need to digitize their farm. There are already 24 of these dealerships launched. They use Agri-Trend technology and its network of coaches to help advise on the deployment and use of equipment.

“There’s been a lack of connection between agronomy and technology, and that’s a focus of the Vantage dealerships, to provide that connection,” said Howie. “We’ve also found in many cases you can purchase hardware under one roof and software, and agronomy under another, meaning the farmer is usually having to talk to multiple people. Our strategy is to provide one place where they can go and get the information they need to execute on their prescription.”

Vantage dealerships help farmers regardless of what equipment they have, he added. When they need to find a solution they will recommend Trimble equipment first, but if it’s not suitable, they will look to other manufacturers.

Most of the larger businesses will be working directly with Trimble through its enterprise sales team and acquiring the SaaS product through them, whereas others will purchase it through the Vantage dealerships.

Howie and his team plan to leverage the 120 million acres of farmland globally that are using Trimble products onto the software platform.

Watch this space for further announcements from the Trimble camp in the coming months!

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