Canadian telecom giant Telus has unveiled a new business unit dedicated to providing connected tech solutions to the ag industry.
“Telus Agriculture is led by [Telus president and CEO] Darren Entwistle, who is at the core of the strategy. He has created this massive culture inside of Telus that is focused on social capitalism,” said Thad Armbruster, CEO of data management startup and recent Telus acquisition TKXS.
“As a part of that thesis, they went into health. But when they started looking beyond that, agriculture caught their eye,” he told AFN. “They’ve taken some of their experience with healthcare through Telus Health and set their eyes on a new industry.”
During the past year, Telus has completed a number of acquisitions to form the new entity. Here are the companies that it has acquired to date:
- AFS Technologies (US) – Supply chain management platform (previously acquired Exceedra and Ignition)
- AGIntegrated (US) – API integration
- Agrian – (US) – Management platform for precision ag, agronomy, analytics, and compliance
- Decisive Farming (Canada) – Precision agronomy and farm management expertise
- Farm At Hand (Canada) – Farm management software
- Muddy Boots (UK) – Farm-to-food traceability and supply chain management
- TKXS (US) – Custom data and program management
What makes Telus Agriculture special, says Armrbruster, is not simply the fact that it has combined these companies under one roof.
“The acquisitions are structured in a couple of different segments. There are a few that are direct to the farm like Decisive and Farm At Hand […] looking at agronomic and farm data,” he says.
“Extending into distribution, which could be ag inputs retailers and distributors, AGI and TKXS are core to that. Eventually, we get all the way to the food side and we see a company like Exceedra through AFS, which is the largest of the acquisitions.”
As a result of these deals, Telus Agriculture now believes it has the capacity to connect every participant in the ag value chain, from seed manufacturers and farmers to grocery stores and restaurants.
More acquisitions are on the menu, Armbruster says. In particular, the business has its eye on people power, as well as specialty crops and livestock.
“The biggest thing we are looking for is the team. Talent is the biggest piece.” Other than that, he continued, “a lot of our infrastructure today is around row crops [and] we’re excited to get into specialty crops, and livestock when it comes to virtual animal healthcare.”
“On the food side, there will be all kinds of tracking and information tied to weather that I’ll be paying attention to in those markets as well,” he said.
Putting all of these moving parts together has certainly come with challenges for Telus, even as a seasoned corporate player. The effort came to a head over the last month or so, Armbruster explained, meaning Telus Agriculture has operated exclusively against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic. This has created new challenges around teamwork and common culture.
“Learning this ‘new normal’ with a new set of folks all around the world is a challenge. But the part that’s cool about agriculture is that there’s just a natural resiliency. So far, we’ve been up to the challenge, but we certainly had to learn a few things along the way.”
Some of Telus’ other ag-focused efforts include joining forces with tech giants Microsoft and IBM in 2018 to back a C$250 million ($193 million) project to enhance cross-industry use of agricultural data. Last year, Telus invested C$16 billion ($12.2 billion) into developing Alberta’s fiber-optic broadband network, with support for agtech applications on farms one of its stated objectives.