For ages, farmers held a finger to the wind and called it analytics. Every season, that finger and a lifetime of observation said when to plant, what pests to kill, and when to harvest. Every year, it started all over again.
As you might imagine, the farmer’s finger has been replaced somewhat by data-driven “precision agriculture.” The annual game of planting, killing, and eating now runs more scientifically.
What hasn’t changed much is the timeframe: it’s still primarily a finite, annual game. By the sound of it, mesur.io founder and CTO Mike Prorock — whom I talk to originally at last year’s Qlik Qonnections — may end up changing the ag game more than simply driving it with data.
Prorock and company started out working with farms — Prorock himself farmed — when they took a project with a fundamentally different rhythm: a golf course. Unlike the seasonally-oriented farmers, golf course operators just want to keep things lush all the time.
That suited Prorock just fine. “We took the approach, probably just being naive more than anything else,” he said, “of saying well we want to encourage things to grow.”
Instead of just trying to get crops out of the ground as quickly as possible, he wanted to support a living ecosystem. “We model a living ecosystem,” he said. “That’s our secret sauce.”
“When a certain disease is going to pop up, you know it with a high degree of precision,” he says. “And so when we look at things like fungus in particular, the ideal treatment for a lot of fungal diseases is just to keep it at bay with as close to natural chemical methods as possible until nature dries things out.”
By the time mesur.io took on the first golf course, its system could accommodate the many types of data that would not ordinarily find a home in other systems, Prorock said.
He says that mesur.io has gone further than other precision-ag vendors,, into prediction and even inference of data.
I confess, I know precision ag as well as I know space travel. But whether what Prorock’s doing is unlike his competitors, it still sounds much different from the usual plant-kill-harvest cycle.
The company is interesting for its infinite game, the ongoing cycle. Commercial ag of any kind is in a very long haul, with land, crops, pests, water, weather, chemicals, and whatever else blows your way and no matter how rules and boundaries shift. No one wins or loses for keeps, so play nice.
It’s like what James Carse describes in his book Finite and Infinite Games. As Carse explains, “A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength.”
Qlik is part of his architecture. Prorock speaks at this year’s Qlik Qonnections conference, to be held in May in Dallas, Texas.