Farm­ing data man­ager, rein­sur­ance gi­ant team up

Ottawa Citizen - - FINANCIAL POST - 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, an­nounced Tues­day, be­tween Farm­ers Edge and Ber­muda-based Part­nerRe 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 lo­ca­tion-spe­cific 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 to farm­ers, such as com­mod­ity costs, pest threats and weather data.

“We are grow­ing re­ally quickly,” Barnes said. “Orig­i­nally we were a pre­ci­sion agron­omy com­pany where we did a lot of work uti­liz­ing tech­nol­ogy in putting the right fer­til­izer in the right spot in fields.

“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 tai­lor­made 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 ar­eas glob­ally and al­low them to bring their tech­nol­ogy to at least 8 mil­lion new hectares of farm­land within the four years.

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