Understory Teams Up With Monsanto to Bring Weather Tech to Argentina
[Updated 3/26/18 9:09 p.m. See below.] Many people look up information about local weather conditions to make low-stakes, everyday decisions, like whether to grab an umbrella or put on an extra layer of clothing before leaving the house.
But for farmers, there’s more on the line when it comes to weather data. Many growers factor in short- and long-term forecasts in deciding when the best times are to plant, water, and harvest their crops. Timely decisions can yield bigger harvests for farms and bolster their bottom lines.
One company working to provide commercial growers with data on past and current weather conditions, as well as future forecasts, is Understory. On Thursday, the Madison, WI-based startup announced a partnership with Monsanto (NYSE: MON), a leading agrochemical and seed manufacturer headquartered in St. Louis.
Understory says it’s installing 30 of its proprietary weather stations in Argentina—specifically, areas in and around Buenos Aires and Córdoba. The stations will monitor conditions in fields that grow Monsanto seeds for sale in South America, according to a spokesperson for Understory. (Monsanto owns some of these fields, while others are leased by the company.) Two popular seed varieties Monsanto sells in South America are used to grow soybeans and corn; Argentina is one of the world’s top-five producers of both crops, according to World Atlas. The goal is to provide growers in Argentina with more weather data so they can make better decisions, Understory says. [This paragraph has been updated with information from a spokesperson for Understory.]
“Our collaboration with Monsanto promises to deliver daily operational insights to farmers around the world to yield better, healthier crops,” Alex Kubicek, co-founder and CEO of Understory, says in a news release.
The weather stations Understory builds and installs in cities across the U.S.—and now, foreign countries—can measure precipitation, temperature, humidity, and wind. The devices can also gauge where a plant is in its life cycle, which can help farmers determine the best time to harvest. Clients can review information collected by the company’s sensor-equipped stations using complementary software applications, Understory says. The company claims its solar-powered stations can function for up to five years without requiring maintenance.
In November, Xconomy first reported the company was working with customers in Argentina to use data recorded by Understory stations in their operations. However, Understory did not say at the time that Monsanto was part of its international expansion.
Understory’s news release did not disclose financial terms of its partnership with Monsanto. The Wisconsin company says its agreement with Monsanto is not exclusive, and that Understory “plans to make its technology available to additional agricultural partners in the near future.” It’s not clear whether the two businesses plan to install weather stations together in other countries if their efforts in Argentina are successful.
Understory says it and Monsanto began conducting a pilot program in Hawaii about a year ago. The pilot focused on how growers can ramp up their use of weather data on a day-to-day basis, Understory says.
The two companies’ relationship goes back even further, however. The agriculture giant’s investing arm, Monsanto Growth Ventures, co-led Understory’s $7.5 million Series A funding round in 2016.
Monsanto signaled its interest in weather technologies three years earlier, when it paid $930 million to acquire Climate Corporation, a San Francisco startup that collected and analyzed weather data for agricultural applications, such as insurance. Though Monsanto sold off Climate Corporation’s crop insurance business in 2015, the subsidiary continues to offer software and hardware products that analyze weather, soil, and crop data in order to help farmers make better decisions.
In the past, Kubicek and other leaders at Understory have repeatedly said agribusiness is a sector that could benefit from using the company’s technology. Another industry where Understory has made inroads is insurance. Carriers like Pacific Specialty and American Family Insurance pay Understory for weather information, believing it will help them reduce the amount in insurance claims they pay out following severe hailstorms and other events.