Farms on the Canadian prairies have grown much larger over the years. In 2016, the agriculture census counted 43,457 incorporated family farms, along with 5,135 non-family corporations. New tools are helping farmers grow these developing businesses.
|Trevor Scherman is a Saskatchewan farmer who farms 4,400 acres or 1,780 hectares just south of the town of Battleford in west-central Saskatchewan. Scherman's farm is four times as large as Vancouver's Stanley Park.|
An edge on the competitionTo cover the huge costs of equipment, seed and fuel and still make a profit, Scherman has to make sure that he is operating efficiently. To do this he has the help of a single app created by Farmer's Edge, a company that specializes in providing cutting edge technology to farmers such as Scherman. Scherman has access to a huge range of management and data tools that could not be imagined just a decade ago.From three weather stations on Scherman's property plus five others on neighbouring farms, Farmer's Edge gathers data and can assess when there is a wind headed his way that might disrupt pesticide spraying. The app contains a gridded map of his farm, using precise info derived from satellite imagery, and also with info from soil samples taken from each square on the grid.All this information is incorporated into a predictive model based on data from Farmer's Edge client farms across Western Canada. Based on this information Scherman can determine how much seed and fertilizer is needed for each grid on his land. The app can also set schedules for hired hands and keep track of his finances.Efficiency and peace of mindScherman had already been using multiple weather apps and a number of websites, plus spreadsheets downloaded on his computer, but these have been replaced by the Farmer's Edge app. Scherman says in the seven years he worked with the company he has seen his inputs decline while yields have climbed. He claims he is spending about the same amount of money but produces more.Scherman notes: “I’ve been able to wake up in the morning and, with the weather stations Farmers Edge has installed on my land, I know if I’m going spraying at four in the morning or if I’m going to my son’s ball game that day. Before, you used to wake up and drive all around the country and check rain gauges to see how much rain we got, so you could make your decisions. Well, it was noon before you figured out what you were doing.”Farmer's Edge was started by two Manitoba agronomists way back in 2005 based in Winnipeg. The venture looked so promising that the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers invested early on, back in 2014. It was later joined by a Japanese commodity trading firm raising $58 million in finances. Later in 2016 they were bought out by the Canadian Investment firm Fairfax Financial. According to a recent article:
Two years ago, the company’s app and data-crunching tools were in use on 600,000 acres of farmland. Today, the number is 6 million, with substantial market penetration in western Canada — nearly one-tenth of all land in cultivation on the prairie is now managed by Farmers Edge clients — and new growth in Australia, Brazil and eastern Europe.Farmer's Edge was awarded the Startup Canada Global Entrepreneurship Award in September of 2017. With the rapid transformation of agriculture and the business of farming, we can expect to see more innovations such as Farmer's Edge in the future.