Crop protection firm buys weather company

In the competitive world of ag fungicides, it’s logical that the company providing its customers with the most precisely tuned application recommendations should have an advantage in the marketplace.

That’s the thinking behind BASF’s recent purchase of ZedX, a global leader in the development of agronomic weather, crop, and pest models engineered to convert data into practical management information, thus leading to more efficient crop production.

The benefit of the deal is obvious to farmers battling crop disease.

More precise label information means the grower uses less product to kill more pathogens.

More effective fungicide use has the immediate effect of a better crop this year, coupled with the long-term impact of fewer pathogens escaping into the residue.

Based in Pennsylvania, ZedX has become recognized as a global leader in the development of digital agricultural intelligence.

Joe Russo, founder and president of the 30-year old weather data analysis company, said the two parties struck the purchase deal after a three-year collaboration working together to develop better prediction models for BASF crop protection products.

“Our modelling expertise, coupled with BASF’s knowledge of chemistry, has benefited growers and agriculture in general. Within the collaboration, we tackled a number of specific projects,” said Russo.

“For example, based on important weather and environmental conditions, we developed a model that gave the right window of application for a BASF herbicide.

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“It’s not just disease and fungicides. ZedX does global tracking of all pests, insects and weeds. The whole BASF team analyzed our collection of weather and soil data and pest models. It’s a mammoth amount of data.”

BASF has challenged ZedX over the past three years with various timing scenarios for different crop protection products, said Russo. ZedX would then use its database to establish better computer models for the timing of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides.

“BASF had heard about the weather-based models we could build, so they came to us with a proposal for this three year collaboration,” he said.

“The collaboration was really a shakedown for them to understand what we had and how it was compatible with crop protection products they were taking to market.”

With formal training in both agronomy and meteorology, Russo said he realized 30 years ago that the interaction between weather, soil and crops was going to be crucial to the future of agricultural production. That’s why he started ZedX. At the time, very few people in agriculture realized how deeply farming would come to depend on models that could merge those three factors.

“I wanted to take basic weather data, put it together with basic knowledge of how plants grow and create products that are practical and useful for growers. Since the early 1990s, we’ve been supplying products that do just that. The models had been more regional in nature until now.

“But the models we’ve developed more recently are global. When they evolved and became more sophisticated, that’s when we attracted the attention of companies like BASF who saw the value of our products.”

Russo said the pilot collaboration began in Canada and the United States and has since branched out to Europe.

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He said the role of his company was not to deal directly with the crop protection product. Whether it was disease, weeds or insects, the chemical component was in the hands of BASF.

Russo focuses solely on tracking the myriad of factors that would prompt a specific crop enemy to rear its head.

He uses the models to predict when a target enemy would begin to appear, in what areas it would erupt and the degree of severity. Armed with that information, BASF then designs the most appropriate application recommendation, which ultimately appears on the label.

“BASF gives me a list of specific weeds or diseases or insects for a certain crop in a defined region of Canada. Then we pull out our inventory of models and fire them up to meet their requests. The information we provide allows them to define the application window more precisely.”

Russo said his models have be-come even more useful as North American farmers begin to pay more attention to the problem of fungicide immunity. ZedX already actively tracks every pest outbreak on the continent, including diseases. Russo can easily call up geographic patterns of resistance for any type of crop enemy on the continent.

“We’ve been tracking corn diseases, for example. As agronomists watch the geographic spread of resistance on their computer screen, they know exactly where they should go with new products. It makes very good use of new chemical technology because you only spray where it’s needed,” he said.

“Moving into the future, as we get into more sophisticated chemistry, products will be much more sensitive to the stage of the crop, the timing of application and weather conditions. Our models provide those windows now.

“The company that’s done the best job of fine tuning their label will have an advantage in the marketplace. That’s also a big advantage for the grower because now he makes better use of the product. It’s a win-win.”

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The deal is expected to be wrapped up by late May. Modelling products from ZedX will be available shortly after that, the company said.