Fertiliser manufacturer Yara International and global IT company IBM Services have agreed to collaborate in developing a digital farming platform to help increase global food production.

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The two companies say the agreement combines Yara’s agronomic knowledge, backed by more than 800 agronomists and a century of experience, with IBM’s expertise in digital platforms and services, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and blockchain trading. The initial aim is for the new platform to reach 100 million hectares of farmland across the world – some 7% of the total – including millions of smallholder farms. The first services should be available by the end of this year.

The joint platform will apply AI, machine learning and in-field data to help optimise farm practice. For example, it will merge analytical weather insights from IBM’s Watson Studio, IBM PAIRS technology, The Weather Company and other services with Yara’s crop knowledge and modelling capabilities. The platform will provide hyperlocal weather forecasts plus real-time actionable recommendations tailored to the specific needs of individual fields and crops.

Looking further ahead, the partners intend to integrate the joint platform into the IBM Food Trust, IBM’s blockchain-enabled network of food chain players. This functionality will allow greater traceability and supply chain efficiency, helping to tackle food fraud and food waste in improving food chain sustainability. The technology will create a holistic approach to food production from farm to plate.

The platform will be developed through joint Yara and IBM innovation teams working at digital hubs in Europe, Singapore, the US and Brazil. These teams will work closely with IBM researchers to develop new capabilities such as visual analytics and machine learning techniques for crop insights.

“Our collaboration centres around a common goal to make a real difference in agriculture,” says Terje Knutsen, Yara executive vice-president sales and marketing. “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.”

For IBM, global managing director consumer industries Luq Niazi adds: “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.”