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Land O’Lakes: How innovation can feed the world

You probably know Land O Lakes as a famous brand of butter. What you may not know is that Land O’Lakes is a $13 billion company that includes our Land O Lakes dairy foods business, our Purina animal feed business and our WinField business, which focuses on crop inputs (such as seeds and nutrition) for precision agriculture.

Our cooperative includes more than 4,000 member-owners, including direct agriculture and dairy producers and independently owned and operated ag retailers. These retailers operate thousands of locations across the United States, with approximately 300,000 farmers in their system representing close to 100 million acres.

Macrie_Mike_8x10We process and distribute their dairy products for our member-owners, supply them with animal feed and crop inputs, and help them run their farms more productively. It’s all part of our overall goal to feed the world in the most sustainable way possible, and we’re doing it by embracing cloud, big data and mobile technologies.

Historically, technology has had a profound impact on increasing agricultural yields and on-farm productivity. First, the mechanized revolution introduced the tractor to American farms in the early 1900s, then the biotech revolution helped us develop seeds that resisted pests and diseases from 1950 through today.

Now, we’re moving into the “AgTech” revolution – applying computer science and technology to the planning, planting, growing and harvesting of our crops. In 1940, a single farmer fed about 19 people. In 2012, that same farmer fed 155! Technology adoption has enabled one of the greatest productivity stories of our generation and resulted in lifting millions out of hunger by reducing the cost of the food we eat.

Today, Land O’Lakes is one of the largest distributors of AgTech to farmers in the United States. We provide both proprietary and third-party applications to our members to help them optimize their production and output while minimizing their inputs, all in the most sustainable way possible.

For example, we are now migrating our WinField “R7” application to Microsoft Azure to help us scale beyond the millions of acres we actively manage today. This app takes a vast array of agronomic research, weather information and satellite data and puts it together on a mobile device for farmers – and the WinField specialists who help them – so they can make important planting decisions and react to real-time changes in the field, every day.

And that’s just one example of our company-wide investments in the cloud and our strategic relationship with Microsoft. In our Purina business, we are combining over 70 years of proprietary feed research data with new sensor measurements and capabilities coming from the Internet of Things and the Cortana Analytics Suite on Azure. These new tools and technologies will allow us to shorten the time it takes to bring new products to market. In our dairy business, we are looking at ways of leveraging big data and predictive analytics to determine and alter the production of butter, cheese, powder or milk, in order to create the most profit for our member farmers.

Lastly, we have invested in the success and productivity of our employees and co-op members with wide-scale use of Office 365 and Surface tablets. It’s hard to imagine a more mobile workforce than farmers, and now they can analyze data and plan together with our reps, all while standing in the middle of a field.

These efforts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Land O’Lakes’ work with Microsoft and our commitment to technology and leading the AgTech revolution. We have truly transformed how we work and serve our cooperative members, and the benefits are clear to our business and our mission to feed human progress. Yet, we are just beginning. I look forward to sharing more about our journey and progress in this rapidly changing marketplace in the future.

Michael Macrie is SVP & CIO, Land O’Lakes Inc.