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DuPont, with Deere & Co, to roll out precision farming program

A view of the Dupont logo on a wall at the Dupont Edge Moor facility near Wilmington, Delaware, April 17, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer
A view of the Dupont logo on a wall at the Dupont Edge Moor facility near Wilmington, Delaware, April 17, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - DuPont Pioneer, the agricultural seed unit of DuPont , said Friday that it has aligned with farm machinery company Deere & Co in a race against rival Monsanto Co to provide farmers with enhanced "precision agriculture" analyses aimed at maximizing crop production.

The programs these companies will roll out next year will give farmers guidance on a number of field management decisions, including planting, crop treatment, pest control and even the best time to harvest.

Officials with DuPont Pioneer said customers using its new precision agronomy software will be able to move data wirelessly through a fledgling wireless transfer system offered by Deere, speeding response times for data-driven recommendations Pioneer is rolling out in new "Field360" products next year.

Farmers can receive field-specific information that can help them with an array of decisions related to planting, field management and harvesting to try to maximize crop yields, according to DuPont Pioneer Director of Services Joe Foresman.

In the past, Pioneer has focused on counseling farmers on the best seed to plant for their particular farms. But the deal with Deere is the latest in a series of moves by both Pioneer and rival Monsanto Co. to turn farm-related data analyses into new profit streams by incorporating analytics on an array of data points, including soil types, fungicide application timing, weather patterns, and pest management.

The precision agriculture approach uses computer technology and the global positioning system to ensure that seeds, fertilizer and chemicals are applied correctly.

The move by DuPont Pioneer to align with Deere comes after Monsanto on November 1 completed its acquisition of The Climate Corp, spending nearly $1 billion to buy the weather data and modeling technology company. That followed Monsanto's purchase in 2012 of Precision Planting Inc.

Though it will not initially incorporate the climate data, Monsanto plans to launch its "FieldScripts," analytics program in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota in 2014 priced at about $10 per acre.

Both companies say the future of farming and increased food production will be closely tied to sophisticated analyses of data to let farmers know what types of seed work best in certain fields; where in a field they might want to plant more seed, or less; where they might have better moisture; or more need for chemical treatments; and what type of weather events they might expect.

How much in revenue these data-driven product lines might translate to for the seed companies is still unknown.

"As we build and demonstrate value for the farmer it creates that opportunity for us to have value recognized," said Foresman. "It's really a good foundation to build from."

Edward Jones analyst Matt Arnold, who tracks the sector, said the value proposition is still murky.

"We think it is too early to tell how meaningful the revenue opportunity is in this business, or who is poised to prevail as the market leader," Arnold said.

DuPont Pioneer has "mapped" about 20 million acres from 2012 to 2013, filling a database that can churn out "yield maps" for customers, and provide about 1.5 million acres of variable seeding prescriptions.

The alliance with Deere, which is not exclusive, will speed up the turnaround of such yield maps by months, by allowing transfer of data between farmers and DuPont Pioneer analysts wirelessly, said Foresman.

The company will be working to forge similar arrangements with other equipment manufacturers, he said.

(Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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