Land O’Lakes and Microsoft have created a multiyear strategic alliance aimed at developing agricultural tools to enhance the food supply chain, expand sustainability practices for farmers and the food system and to close the rural broadband gap. Although member-owned cooperative Land O’Lakes is best known as a dairy company, the company’s focus has shifted toward precision agriculture.

The Land O’Lakes Microsoft deal calls for the partners to launch pilots that will bring broadband to rural communities along with services such as telehealth, educational resources and digital skills. The pilots will combine Microsoft’s Airband program with specific locations within the Land O’Lakes owner network, the companies said. Microsoft Airband is a technology and business program under which Microsoft partners with wireless ISPs and other companies to leverage fixed broadband wireless and other technologies to bring broadband to rural areas.

In addition, Microsoft will become Land O’Lakes strategic cloud provider, with most of the agribusiness company’s IT infrastructure migrating onto Microsoft’s Azure platform.

The first joint project will be development of an AgTech platform that marries Microsoft Azure with Land O’Lakes tools including WinField United’s R7 Suite, Data Silo and Truterra Insights Engine. The goal is to gain insights enabling intelligent agriculture solutions that increase productivity of time and resources. 

The two companies also will strive to help dairy farmers with Digital Dairy, which will use edge computing to capture data from farms with poor Internet access and combine it with AI to provide data-driven insights for these farmers. Sensors and third party applications will provide weather, feed management, animal health data streams and other valuable data. The goals are to improve profit potential, adopt conservation practices and reduce waste. 

Technology offers answers to two related challenges: Getting the most out of farms and fully enfranchising rural citizens. “As America’s farmers continue to deliver the world’s safest, most affordable food supply, they face an increasing number of obstacles that are beyond their control,” Land O’Lakes president and CEO Beth Ford said in a press release. about the Land O’Lakes Microsoft plans. “The data-based, precision agriculture tools that we are building with Microsoft will provide the edge they need, but unreliable or nonexistent high-speed internet in rural areas keeps these tools out of reach for many. Through this alliance, we will work to address this need and help farmers remain profitable and sustainable,” 

This is the second recent move by Land O’Lakes to take on the rural digital divide.  The company is spearheading a coalition, announced last week, that will “advocate for public and private sector investment” to bring high speed broadband to rural areas. The American Connection Project Broadband Coalition (ACPBC) now has 49 members including Hershey, Nestle, Cargill, Bayer U.S., NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the National Farmers Union and the National Grain and Feed Association. Microsoft is a member of ACPBC as well.

 

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