By Carey Gillam
Feb 27 (Reuters) - DuPont Pioneer, the agricultural seed unit of DuPont, said on Thursday it was launching a suite of "whole-farm decision" services aimed at boosting crop productivity, a line of business many in the agricultural sector are racing to offer.
The platform of data and technology services, to be called "Encirca," will have a dedicated website and a team of about 50 Encirca sales and service agents through key corn- and soybean-growing areas of the U.S. Midwest, DuPont said.
The move, which comes just ahead of the key U.S. spring planting season for corn, soybeans and other crops, follows several deals the company has signed with various information and technology partners.
DuPont Pioneer Director of Decision Services Joe Foresman said he expects the series of offerings planned under the Encirca umbrella to have a "pretty material impact" on company revenues.
"There is definitely pent-up demand," said Foresman.
"EncircaSM View" will provide farmers with a free information site on crop observations as well as a fee-based program that includes market news and analysis, grain trading capabilities and location specific weather forecasts. It launches in March.
Farmers can track crop performance and conditions across a range of three to 50 counties in their area through a mobile application as part of the offering.
DuPont said it is pricing its fee-based program at $150 a month after an initial set-up fee of $450.
Farmers already face rising input costs and a squeeze on profit margins, and Foresman said enhancing the level of information farmers have to make decisions about crops will help their profitability.
In July, DuPont Pioneer plans to release "EnciraSM Yield," another fee-based offering that will help growers assess specific decisions on seeding, chemical applications and water usage. The company has not yet set the pricing for that, Foresman said.
Last week DuPont, the largest U.S. chemical maker by market value, announced a three-year agreement with the University of Missouri and the U.S. Department of Agricultural Research Service for collection of soil, topography and watershed data.
Earlier this month DuPont announced a deal with DTN/The Progressive Farmer to provide weather and market information to farmers, along with new grain trading capabilities, all accessed through mobile devices. In November, DuPont inked a deal with farm machinery company Deere & Co to provide farmers a wireless transfer system for their data.
DuPont and rival Monsanto Co are racing to capture market share in the burgeoning "precision agriculture" arena, turning farm-related data into new profit streams by incorporating analytics on an array of data points, including soil types, fungicide application timing, weather patterns and pest management.
Officials from both DuPont and Monsanto have said the future of farming and increased food production will be closely tied to sophisticated analyses of data to inform farmers on how to boost production as well as profits.
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