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Cargill's big data makes happier, and more productive, cows

(Bloomberg) -- Cargill Inc., one of the world’s biggest agricultural companies, is tapping big data to help U.S. farmers make their cows more comfortable -- and more productive.

The 152-year-old Minneapolis-based company said Tuesday that it plans to offer its Dairy Enteligen application in the U.S. in the next several months after introducing it in Italy and Spain. The platform lets consultants and farmers analyze reams of information, from cows’ living conditions to diet and milk productivity on smart tablets and computers.

Cargill is part of the growing wave of companies looking to tap into the proliferation of data that’s sweeping across industries, from automotive to telecommunications and agriculture. Deere & Co., the world’s biggest producer of farm equipment, said Tuesday that it closed on its $305 million acquisition of Blue River Technology Inc., a Silicon Valley-based company that specializes in smart machines. In its annual report last month, Cargill said it aspires to “change the game” within its industry with digitalization and analytics.

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Cows stand in a barn at the Lake Breeze Dairy farm in Malone, Wisconsin, U.S., on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. Donald Trump's proposal to deport undocumented immigrants and wall off the southern U.S. border has created an unexpected bastion of resistance: dairy farmers. Unlike farms that operate with a seasonal rhythm, milk operations function around the clock, 365 days a year, making short-term guest-worker programs ill suited. Farmers say they can't get enough relatives or local workers, even with pay starting at $11 an hour or more -- well above the minimum wage of $7.25 -- with benefits that include a 401(k). Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The market for precision agriculture, encompassing analytics, drones, digitization and other technologies, may be worth $240 billion by 2050 as farmers look for ways to boost productivity as population growth lifts food demand, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

“The surge in agtech investment has brought the agriculture industry to the threshold of a new agricultural revolution,” Decker Walker, Torsten Kurth and Matt Westerlund, analysts at Boston Consulting Group Inc., wrote in a July report. “The major sources of revenue are changing and new profit pools are being created.”

Production Boost

Cargill’s seen an 11.7 percent increase in milk production in Italian farms using the new application, along with lower production costs, Ricardo Daura, global product line director in Cargill’s animal nutrition’s digital insights business, said by phone Tuesday.

“There are multiple things that affect how many” gallons of milk a cow produces, Daura said. “If animal welfare” is optimal then farmers will see higher productivity.

Daura said the company is researching the use of sensors and artificial intelligence as it updates the application.

Dairy farmers have long had access to reams of data, but it hasn’t been widely collated, Chantal van der Meijde, the company’s global category manager for dairy technology, said in an interview.

The company’s focusing on similar efforts in other segments, including aquaculture, SriRaj Kantamneni, managing director of digital insights in Cargill’s animal nutrition business, said.

“What we’re really chasing after as a digital business is a connected system,” Kantamneni said.