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Climate Corp. Updates Crop Insurance via High Tech

Climate Corp.’s PhDs crunch numbers to insure crops against erratic weather
Climate Corp. Updates Crop Insurance via High Tech
Photograph by Daniel Shea for Bloomberg Businessweek

Louis Wischmeier oversees 5,300 acres of farmland near Columbus, Ind., and spends much of the winter trying to find the perfect “prescriptions,” as he puts it, for his fields. A large, soft-spoken man, Wischmeier pores over weather data, takes soil moisture readings, and studies the latest news on seed hybrids with the aim of maximizing crop yields. Over the past few years that meticulous planning has been undermined by unusual weather. Heavy rains fell during the brief five-day planting windows, then scorching temperatures cracked seeds and suffocated crops. “Sometimes we have to replant two or three times to get a crop up and started,” Wischmeier says. He refuses to utter the words “global warming” or to complain, saying only that “the excessive weather events seem to have a huge impact on our success.”

To fight back, last year Wischmeier turned to a surprising place: Silicon Valley. He bought crop insurance from Climate Corp., a startup founded by two former Google executives and funded by $60 million in venture capital. Staffed by an army of data scientists, the company is bringing data analytics to rural America and helping farmers reap more consistent profits from their fields. It’s an example of how cloud computing, modeling, and other technologies that have reshaped the Web and business are now revolutionizing more traditional industries. “Software is going to fundamentally change how the world operates,” says David Friedberg, Climate’s chief executive officer and co-founder.