Yara International, Norway, partnered with IBM, North Castle, N.Y., to build what is dubbed to be the world's leading digital farming platform, providing holistic digital services and instant agronomic advice.

Yara's agronomic knowledge, backed by more than 800 agronomists and a century of experience, and IBM's digital platforms, services and expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics, will innovate and commercialize digital agricultural solutions to increase global food production.

"Our collaboration centers around a common goal to make a real difference in agriculture. To be able to responsibly feed a growing population, it is critical that farmers increase food production on existing farmland to avoid deforestation. Yara and IBM will develop digital solutions that empower professional and smallholder farmers to optimize farming practices to increase yields, crop quality and incomes in a sustainable way," says Terje Knutsen, executive vice president sales and marketing for Yara.

The joint global digital farming platform will apply AI, machine learning and in-field data to unlock new insights for farmers. The digital platform will have worldwide coverage and aspires to reach 100 million hectares of farmland, which is equivalent to twice the size of Spain or close to 7% of all arable land worldwide, including millions of smallholder farms.  

"As demand for food rises along with the world's population, the digital farming platform will play a key role in increasing global farming yields in a sustainable way. The collaboration is a perfect symbiosis of IBM's capabilities in AI, big data management and blockchain technology and Yara's agronomic knowledge, farmer-centric digital innovation and proven track record in improving farming across the globe," says Luq Niazi, IBM’s global managing director consumer industries.

As a first step, Yara and IBM will establish joint innovation teams, collaborating at digital hubs in Europe, Singapore, the United States and Brazil. The teams will work closely with IBM researchers to develop new capabilities, such as visual analytics and machine learning techniques for crop insights. The first services are planned for end 2019.

Advancing the digital frontier of farming

The Yara/IBM partnership will focus on all aspects of farm optimization. One specific area of collaboration will be weather data. By merging analytical insights from IBM's Watson Studio, IBM PAIRS technology, The Weather Co. and other services with Yara's crop knowledge and modelling capabilities, the joint platform will provide hyperlocal weather forecasts and give real-time actionable recommendations tailored to the specific needs of individual fields/crops.

As the joint digital farming platform expands, the teams will explore additional business solutions to integrate the joint platform into the IBM Food Trust. This will allow for greater traceability and supply chain efficiency as well as ways to tackle food fraud, food waste and sustainability. It will firmly link the farm into the full food chain, creating a holistic approach to food production from farm to plate.