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Farming revolution to place data centre stage, says Bayer

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Radical change in arable farming means that by 2025 growers are likely to be using digital advice tools, companies will sell complete crop packages, and data will be driving the sector, Bayer said.

But this will mean embracing totally different technology than that in use today, and big business will need to partner with people to make it happen.

Speaking at Rabobank's F&A Next event at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Bayer's global head of digital farming Tobias Menne said that the agrichemicals giant, which is acquiring Monsanto, was always looking for new sources of data, as well as working with start-ups generating such statistics.

The data would be a critical part of developing a "command centre", he said.

'Not the answer'

This strategy was part of working towards a more sophisticated approach to crop production.

"Pouring crop protection products on is not the answer - anyone pushing volume is not the answer, we need something better," Mr Menne said

He said Brazilian farmers were already using satellite technology to help identify and treat resistant weeds, and at the other end of the scale, a Bayer app for identifying pests and diseases, mainly in developing countries, had become very popular even in countries such as France.

"By 2025 growers will be using a digital advice tool. Selling advice at €5-10 a hectare is not going to be the next big thing."

He believes companies will be able to offer products which "take the complexity out".

This would mean offering growers a package of weed and pest-free crops for a lump sum per hectare, he said.

'A lot of buzzwords'

Separately, Bruno Melcher, a largest-scale Brazilian farmer, told the event that while producers were continually being offered tools billed as an aid to performance, these products were often not useful.

Mr Melcher - who farms 15,000 hectares in Brazil and is in the board of a large farming operation in Eastern Europe – said that "there are many things being brought to farmers, but they are not useable by farmers," adding that agriculture had become "a very complex system".

Farmers were faced with "a lot of buzzwords", which they had only a limited time to learn.

"Say they farm for 30 years - that is only 30 chances to do something, and then things such as the weather, varieties, diseases, change every year.

"Farmers are super smart, and if you [developers] cannot explain something in simple words, I can tell you it will not work.

"We see many data and technical products, yet 90% of all crop losses are due to the weather."

By Emma Penny

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