Each week, staff writer Paul Wood chats with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet BRENT TRENHAILE, senior vice president of technology at Agrible. After earning his doctorate at the University of Illinois, he now heads up projects that include helping to produce Homer Simpson's favorite beverage. Anheuser Busch InBev runs its own analytics lab at the Research Park, where Agrible is one of its neighbors. The company started working with Agrible in 2016 on a project to forecast barley yield and quality factors through Agrible's crop modeling and analytics for U.S. and Brazilian farmers.
Who is on your team?
The core science team comprises experts from a diverse group of disciplines that include software engineering, atmospheric science, physics, data science, agricultural engineering, soil science, and plant science.
Can you explain what Agrible is doing with InBev so that a bright ninth-grader could understand it?
We have partnered with AB InBev to put information in the hands of barley growers around the globe to enable them to gain insights and make decisions that will result in growing their barley and other crops even more efficiently and sustainability than they already do. This information is provided to them by our Morning Farm Report platform, and it includes historic and forecast weather, operational logistics, predictions of grain yield and quality, financial and market information and ratings that show how sustainable their farm practices are. All this information is provided for each of the grower's individual fields, and it is also summarized by totaling across their farm.
How long has Agrible had the resources to do this?
Agrible's founders and employees have been leading the technology to perform sustainability analyses and developing sustainability science since about 2008. We have had the compute infrastructure and people in place to do this for the past year and a half internally at Agrible.
How can Agrible help the world's largest brewer (and user of malt barley) to improve the cost, efficiency and quality of its barley production while minimizing impacts to the environment?
Agrible leverages our Morning Farm Report platform to put data and information in the hands of barley growers who can then use that information to make more informed and even better decisions when it comes to the timing and management of their farm operations.
Agrible has always been interested in sustainability. Besides concerns for humanity, this also sounds like a good business model. Was it one of Agrible's earliest priorities?
Yes, helping growers produce even more sustainably grown crops was prioritized early on. In addition to providing weather, logistics, and agronomy data to the growers, Morning Farm Report allows growers to digitize and record their farm operations. It was realized early on that this provided the information necessary to calculate sustainability metrics, thus making it a natural strategy for the business to pursue.
Did Agrible create software expressly with InBev in mind?
Our infrastructure, software, and resources were developed and operational before we started working with AB InBev. Over the course of working with AB InBev during the past year, they realized that the predictive analytics capabilities in the Morning Farm Report platform could enable them to take their SmartBarley program to the next level. AB InBev farmers will gain access to Agrible's Morning Farm Report agriculture software, which helps growers detect disease threats earlier, improve logistics planning, monitor crops on all fields and improve quality.
That sounds like massive growth for you.
It is estimated that there are approximately 11 million farms in the world that are larger than 50 acres, about 80 percent of these farms lie outside the U.S., and the global expansion with AB InBev will expose the Morning Farm Report platform to some of these international growers, so we are definitely excited by the potential growth coming from international subscribers over the course of 2018 and beyond.
What’s your best advice for someone who’s starting up?
Focus on your business plan and revenue generation. Listen to your customers and makes changes as needed and quickly.
TECH TIDBITS ... from BRENT TRENHAILE
Favorite app: IFTTT, a way to get your apps and devices working together.
Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? Book. "The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman.
Do you have any wearable electronics? Apple Watch.
Do you have an entrepreneur hero? My father, Ned Trenhaile. He established our family farm in Northeast Missouri and grew it to nearly 1,500 acres over the course of 20 years. He also founded an income-tax business in our rural community and grew it to several hundred clients, his maximum capacity. He specialized in preparing farm returns to assist other farmers in navigating the complex IRS tax code. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2003.