Farm data firm hooks up with rein­sur­ance gi­ant

Dig­i­tal ser­vice for as­sist­ing crop in­surance

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - BUSINESS NEWS - CHRIS NEL­SON

A Win­nipeg-based farm-man­age­ment com­pany that com­bines big data with agri­cul­tural per­for­mance is form­ing a part­ner­ship with a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional rein­sur­ance gi­ant.

The four-year deal be­tween Farm­ers Edge and Ber­muda-based Part­nerRe Ltd. will al­low the Cana­dian com­pany to ex­pand into new mar­kets with the dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy that has al­ready helped re­shape the way many farm­ers do busi­ness.

It is hoped that tech­nol­ogy will help Part­nerRe, which cov­ers the risk of in­di­vid­ual in­sur­ers of­fer­ing di­rect poli­cies, pro­vide ac­cess to clients so they can of­fer more lo­ca­tion­spe­cific poli­cies to farm­ers un­will­ing or un­able to take out risk cov­er­age on crops, lim­it­ing their abil­ity to in­vest and grow their busi­nesses.

Wade Barnes started Farm­ers Edge in 2005 with his friend Cur­tis MacKin­non. A for­mer agron­o­mist who has worked as a crop ad­viser, Barnes saw an op­por­tu­nity with the growth of dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion. “We wanted to join the dots for farm­ers,” he said. The two-man com­pany be­gan with 8,000 hectares worth of client busi­ness. To­day it has more than 400 em­ploy­ees world­wide and ex­pects to be deal­ing with more than 10 mil­lion hectares by the end of this year. Farm­ers Edge brings to­gether dig­i­tal tools to pro­vide farm­ers a pack­age of real-time in­for­ma­tion, such as com­mod­ity costs, pest threats and weather data.

“But in 2014 we started fo­cus­ing more on the data. We think agri­cul­ture is ripe for a sig­nif­i­cant dis­rup­tion as has hap­pened in other in­dus­tries. Farm­ers Edge is lead­ing that change. Rich data leads to pre­dic­tive mod­els which then tell a farmer such things as when he might get a dis­ease out­break, what his fu­ture yields might be — be­fore long we will be pre­dict­ing when their equip­ment breaks down be­fore it does,” he added.

Barnes be­lieves the deal with Part­nerRe will speed up the spread and ac­cep­tance of their dig­i­tal tool kit, es­pe­cially in those ar­eas of the world where farm­ers have never taken on crop in­surance nor been ex­posed to data anal­y­sis of their fields.

“There’s been a solid in­surance prod­uct in North Amer­ica around for a long time and that has en­abled farm­ers to take more risk. But with the data we can pro­vide it al­lows in­surance to be more tai­lor-made and gives farm­ers an alert ahead of time when the crop is in dan­ger. It is re­ally go­ing to help in­surance com­pa­nies do a bet­ter job of man­ag­ing that risk and help farm­ers get bet­ter prod­ucts from those same in­surance com­pa­nies,” Barnes said.

As a global rein­sur­ance com­pany Part­nerRe can pro­vide Farm­ers Edge’s ser­vices to a host of sep­a­rate in­sur­ers and agents who sub­se­quently deal di­rectly with in­di­vid­ual farm­ers, Barnes said. Farm­ers Edge ex­pects the part­ner­ship to open up ma­jor farm­ing area glob­ally and al­low them to bring their tech­nol­ogy to at least 20 mil­lion new acres of farm­land within the four years.

“Farm­ers are prag­matic,” he said. “They want to make sure they’re not just adopt­ing tech­nol­ogy for the sake of adopt­ing tech­nol­ogy — there has to be a pay­back. Some of the folks com­ing in from Sil­i­con Val­ley think they can cre­ate a neat app, but farm­ers are not look­ing for a cool app. They want tech­nol­ogy that drives in­creases in pro­duc­tiv­ity and de­creases costs. If you don’t have that, if you are not real, then they don’t have time for you.”

POST­MEDIA NET­WORK FILES

Farm­ers’ Edge CEO Wade Barnes, left, and Farm­ers’ Edge di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing Ma­rina Barnes in the com­pany’s Win­nipeg of­fice in 2013.

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