Thanks to Big Ag and Big Data, our worries about the weather are just about over. There is the possibility, another one of those blessings that is “just around the corner,” when we will know exactly which day to plant which field to which crop to be assured of abundant yields. The long-awaited paradise of guaranteed weather is almost here. And if, God forbid, it doesn’t always work out, Big Insurance will cover our losses. You can’t lose. Sell those stocks, ditch those derivatives, off that money in offshore accounts. Buy up every last acre of farmland out there.
I hope I’m joking, but maybe not. If what I read in the New Yorker (Nov. 11 issue, 2013) comes true, it could happen. Or at least some people think it could happen. (It is interesting that I keep finding really detailed articles about agriculture in big city newspapers and magazines these days.) Monsanto has just bought something called the Climate Corporation for a billion bucks or so. The Climate Corporation is an insurance company mainly selling crop insurance to farmers at around $40 an acre average, according to the article. The reason this seems (to some) to be good news is that it will make farmers better producers because crop insurance companies like to hedge their bets. For instance, car insurers want cars to be as safe as possible to minimize payouts. Crop insurers want to minimize crop losses for the same reason Climate Corporation has this brilliant notion that Big Data can supply them with enough climate, weather and agronomic information to avoid most catastrophes in the farm fields. Everybody will win. According to this article, Climate Corporation’s scientists “process 50 terabytes of weather information every day, roughly the equivalent of a hundred thousand movies or ten million songs.” I repeat, every day. “The data include eight years worth of soil, moisture and precipitation records for each of the twenty nine million farm fields in the U.S.”
Did you know there were twenty nine million farm fields in the U.S.?
The company can “create moisture and precipitation maps so precise that in some cases a farmer can determine whether the field on one side of the road is wetter than the field on the other side.” Why are people so worried about NSA snooping into our private lives? Looks like I can’t pee in my corn field any more without Monsanto knowing it.
I wonder if anyone at Climate Corporation understands that one of the biggest joys of farming is walking or driving out to the fields to check on growing conditions. Doing this on a computer from afar won’t happen until there are no real farmers left. Evidently Big Ag foresees that day coming. Executives will be able to turn on their computers and take a look at the twenty nine million fields out there somewhere over the rainbow and make planting and harvesting decisions. In addition, Monsanto must be dreaming of the ultimate monopoly. It seems to have spent years trying, in effect, to patent all plant life. Now it hopes to patent the weather too.
Echoing the words of a farmer I know who grows crops in three different counties, this insurance deal “is not about better production or protection but just a way to finally gain complete control over us. The old saying has it right. Take not and ye shall not be taken.”