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Land O'Lakes maps out farming's future with Google cloud

Sharon Gaudin | June 6, 2016
Co-op helps farmers visualize their data and use tech tools.

With Maps, farmers can visualize where they've already sprayed their crops and what areas need attention. When they log in the nutrient value of a tissue sample from an ear of corn, for instance, they can see what part of the field it came from.

"Being able to visualize it in a mapping format is kind of critical," Bekele said. "When you say Field A, that could mean different things to different people. You need to see which field and which part of a field someone is talking about."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said this a smart move for Land O'Lakes.

"I think Land O'Lakes is making the right decision because exact geographic locations are so important to what they're trying to do," he said. "This is where Google's multiproduct approach really pays off. If Google didn't have Maps, they would have much stronger competition for this type of business."

Farming has become data and tech driven, Bekele added.

"The biggest factor in crop production is weather. You can't control it," he said. "You have to work around it. Now, though, you can't control the weather, but you can control what you do and you can try to react in the right way. I think the cloud plays a big role in that. It helps us get to the next frontier. It's about big data and scaling up our ability to run big analytics and the ability to learn from a variety of factors."

One of the biggest challenges Land O'Lakes has had to tackle is working with different cloud vendors.

Bekele said the company hasn't gone all-in with one cloud vendor because it prefers to use the vendor that works best for a specific project, which also enables Land O'Lakes to learn about each cloud company. That also means that Land O'Lakes' IT workers need to be able to work with different vendors.

According to Olds, using multiple cloud vendors can be worth the extra work and training.

"Having multiple vendors means you 'keep 'em honest' by letting them know you have alternatives in case they screw up," he said. "Having multiple vendors also means that a problem that is confined to one vendor, like a service outage, won't take your entire business down."

An even bigger challenge for Land O'Lakes, however, was managing security, especially around the mapping pieces in their cloud.

"We needed more security so we can share [information] with growers and nobody else… so we needed workarounds," Bekele added. "Some services, like the security piece and being able to share data and access to shared files and then rescinding that access – wasn't as built-up as I'd like."


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