Using data to advance traceability

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When consumers think of agriculture, they often think of fields ready for harvest, tractors driven by experienced farmers, and cattle in green pastures. Few think of the digital transformation modern agriculture has undergone, or the grid of data helping propel Canada’s agriculture industry forward.

Skymatics has a firm history of melding data and agriculture. In February 2020, it was announced Skymatics had partnered with Provision Analytics, Verge Ag and Coutts Agro, with a co-investment from Protein Industries Canada, to improve on-farm logistics and food traceability through an integrated data platform. Skymatics’ role in this project is largely tracking on-farm data to be used in developing the platform, which will eventually be rolled out by a team headed by Erik Westblom at Provision Analytics.

“So we’re looking at those field boundaries, we’re looking at mostly weather events and a little bit of farming practices,” Skymatics Co-Founder Samantha Malach said.

The team’s experience with data in agriculture, however, began before this partnership. Malach, along with other co-founders EJ Burrows and Connor Burns. As part of their own mandate, Skymatics has also been using data to improve traceability within the agriculture insurance industry. The team has seen some degree of success so far, and has begun partnering with outside organizations to make their traceability services more widely available.

“Insurance is looked at as basic, and is often a glossed-over line item when it comes to agriculture,” Malach said. “It’s really important to have transparency … and so as you can make things really clear for people, I think it just makes them have more trust in the system.”

Using on-farm data to build out traceability within the agriculture insurance sector is an important initiative for the Skymatics team for a number of reasons, one of the most important being trust.

In particular, Malach explained that the data they’re utilizing in their work helps make both the insurance sector and on-farm work more transparent. It allows farmers to better see how insurance brokers are assessing their claims, while also allowing brokers to more easily access past information and assess farmers’ fields in real time. The data used to accomplish this goal includes everything from drone imagery and satellite imagery to artificial intelligence and geospatial information.

“The goal [for Skymatics] is really to be that third neutral party that can bring people together,” Malach said. “We do that through data because data is tangible. Data is something that you can see, you can repeat it again, and that actually starts to create some trust.”

Having established partnerships to help make the agriculture insurance sector more transparent doesn’t mean Skymatics sees their work in data as being complete. With data being ever-evolving, the team will need to work to re-evaluate and re-incorporate new tools and resources into their platform, while also taking it to new partners in order to expand traceability within the sector.