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DuPont signs up U.S. Midwest colleges for big data services for farms

By Karl Plume

June 5 (Reuters) - DuPont Pioneer has signed up eight U.S. Midwest universities to work on research into nitrogen use on farms, the latest in a flurry of deals by agriculture firms looking to reap the benefits of the data collection from farm machines.

The seed and chemicals company will provide some funding for the research and equipment and technology for the schools, according to the three-year agreement announced on Thursday.

In return, the company will have exclusive use of the data for four years, which it will plug into its subscription-based precision agriculture platform that taps mountains of data to help farmers make farm management decisions.

Companies such as DuPont Pioneer and rival Monsanto have been investing aggressively in big data services, hoping to spin detailed weather or soil data into profit for farmers, but there are concerns about data privacy and security.

"This is the first time there's been this kind of collective group come together across such a wide geography to look at soils, crop modeling software and technology, and do an analysis," said DuPont Pioneer spokeswoman Jane Slusark.

The company has deals with equipment makers AGCO and Deere & Co. to wirelessly stream data from machines in real time. It also teamed up with the University of Missouri and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enhance its soil maps.

DuPont Pioneer says it expects the data services to generate $500 million annually over the next decade.

The participating land-grant universities are Iowa State, North Dakota State, Purdue, the University of Illinois-Urbana, the University of Minnesota, the University of Missouri, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"The idea is that if we get a lot of data over many years and across various sites then we can get better in managing nitrogen," said Emerson Nafziger, professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois and the school's principal investigator in the DuPont Pioneer collaboration.

Farmers often over-apply nitrogen fertilizers to guarantee crops have enough of the essential nutrient, but unused nitrogen is sometimes washed away by rain and ends up in rivers and lakes, he said. Massive dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico have been blamed on overuse of nitrogen on Midwest farms.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago, editing by Jo Winterbottom and Diane Craft)