Cargill launch

EXCLUSIVE: Cargill to Launch Suite of Digital Tools, Considering Startup Acquisitions

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Cargill has released the first of a suite of digital tools across its animal nutrition business — Dairy Enteligen — and is set to announce at least four more before the second half of next year, according to SriRaj Kantamneni, managing director of Cargill’s Digital Insights department.

Cargill is creating a “cloud-first technology platform” that will have different go-to-market farm management and data analysis products relevant to individual species built off it.

Animal nutrition is just one of Cargill’s five enterprises; the company at-large plans to roll out similar digital technologies across all five, including the grain origination business and food ingredients, according to Kantamneni.

In its first iteration, Dairy Enteligen is a record-keeping farm management tool to help dairy farmers move away from notepads and excel sheets to record information about their herd and performance.

“Our platform brings certain farm management capabilities together along with some mobile capabilities to replace the manual processing of data,” Kantamneni told AgFunderNews. “Today a dairy consultant will walk through the pen to monitor certain things and will capture that data on a notepad or excel sheet; we’ve automated those processes and given dashboard access to that information. The next phase will be connecting sensors to completely replace the mobile entry part with automated data collection.”

The agribusiness plans to add automated data collection to the platform by creating a sensor network, much like Climate Corp is trying to do, by opening up its API. Cargill has a two-prong strategy for building out this network: invest in its own proprietary sensing technologies, which could involve acquisitions, or create preferred partnerships, potentially through equity investments.

While the company is not focused on acquisitions as much as other agribusinesses have been to formulate the basis of their digital offerings — Monsanto acquiring Climate Corp and DuPont acquiring Granular are two examples — the company is considering acquiring relevant businesses, particularly on the sensing side, and could be making an announcement before the end of the year, according to Kantamneni.

“We have a team of people that are focused on primarily looking at startups and the technologies we might be interested,” he said. “But Cargill has historically been disciplined in how we evaluate things and people today might tell you that Monsanto overpaid for Climate Corp.”

It’s often alluded that Monsanto acquired Climate Corporation in large part for the talent, skill set, and experience of the team, and John Teeple, director of advanced technology for John Deere, told AgFunderNews that access to talent was an important factor in its recent acquisition of Blue River Technology because it presented a big challenge for the large corporate.

But Cargill is not going to pursue this strategy of gaining talent through acquisition.

“While I think access to talent is an important ingredient in our success, we also need to be careful not to be this big monolithic ag company that goes out and pays a huge sum of money just to gain access to talent, there are other creative ways to do that,” said Kantamneni. “Having said that, we are looking at several startups at the moment and we think in the next 90 days we will probably announce something. At the same time, we also think we’re uniquely positioned to launch our tech platform with internal expertise, making sure we leverage the power of both external and internal experience; it’s not an either-or situation.”

Cargill is building out the Digital Insights from a mix of tech innovators, ag livestock industry experts, data scientists, and software developers, he added.

Once sensors are added to the platform, collecting data around inputs such as water, feed, and individual animal behavior, Dairy Enteligen will aim to send farmers alerts such as telling them when a cow has gone into heat; “the old model was for farm workers to go around and check on certain things; now you’d have a dashboard or mobile app that will send you alerts to go and check on something on an as-needed basis,” said Kantamneni.

The goal of Cargill’s technology suite, which will be a stand-alone business as well as feed into its existing business lines, is to help improve farming efficiency, said Kantamneni. In dairy, for example, it will measure the factors that impact milk output and Kantamneni believes Dairy Enteligen could positively impact milk output by 5% to 12%. This could also feed into savings for farmers. 

“Until now, a lot of this has been done in aggregate using averages to determine output on a per cow basis, but we will be able to help farmers measure what each individual cow does. Moving to precision can help us make an impact at the animal level by altering feed, water, and other environmental factors,” he added.

On the aquaculture side, data collection could impact harvest timing decisions to make them more optimal.

The company has released version 1 of Dairy Enteligen in Italy and Spain and is now working on V2, which it will launch in the US in due course. A similar product for the warm water aquaculture industry called iQuatic is next up this year, and the company then plans to launch a poultry tool in the first quarter of 2018 and a pork product in Q2 2018.

“The mobile app for aquaculture might look and feel different than the dairy one, but the underlying technology is the same,” said Kantamneni.

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