The answer to boosting that average yield per acre may lie with technology, Bekele said.
There are 40 key decisions a farmer makes throughout the life cycle of a crop, he said. They have to decide, for instance, how much nitrogen to add to the soil and when; what type of seed to use and where to place it; and when to water the crops.
Technology can help farmers make most of these decisions. The problem has been that farmers use little of this technology because the tools they need haven't been centralized, and it takes hours to input the same data about their fields and crops over and over again.
Those tools are slowly being centralized, and farmers working with Land O'Lakes can access them in the cloud and input their farm data just once, saving time, money and aggravation.
Land O'Lakes is using the Google cloud and its integrated Google Maps to help farmers visualize their fields and their data. Credit: Land O'Lakes
Using a public cloud, the company created a data repository with information on farmers' field boundaries, seed prescriptions for the fields, plant nutrient history and tissue sample data. That data can be used by five tools that Bekele has added to the cloud. He's working on adding another five and hopes to have 20 to 25 tools available to farmers in the next 12 to 18 months.
The project is just starting to roll out so only 25 to 30 farmers are using it. But in 12 to 18 months, Bekele said he expects to have 20,000 to 30,000 farmers using it.
"As a farmer, my data is all in the cloud and all the tools are in the cloud," he said. "It will mean the ability to use multiple tools and make better decisions and better production with the same input … If we had done this with our legacy systems, we couldn't have achieved it. The amount of data and the ability to scale it, it would have been too much."
Bekele said Land O'Lakes will use Google's machine-learning tools to analyze data and find patterns, but he was mainly pulled to Google's cloud because Google Maps was integrated with it.
"With the farms' field boundaries, Maps can give a geospatial location to them," he explained. "Anything that goes into this central cloud has a point -- a location. With the ability to use Google Maps, we are able to visualize our data, our land. That's really helpful. When you put seed on the ground, you can see the way it looks on a map."
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