Move Over, Farmer's Almanac: Data Predicts Crop Growth

One of the US Department of Agriculture's jobs is to predict crop yields. To do so, they survey a sample of farmers, a method that doesn't appear to be the most effective.

It's no surprise that agricultural consultancy company Lanworth is beating them at their own game. Wired reports that Lanworth, a small Illinois-based company, gets its information from satellite images, digital soil maps, and weather forecasts, allowing them to estimate harvests on an individual field scale. So far, these projections are proving to be spot-on.

Last October, agricultural consultancy Lanworth not only correctly projected that the US Department of Agriculture had overestimated the nation's corn crop, it nailed the margin: roughly 200 million bushels. That's just 1.5 percent fewer kernels but still a significant shortfall for tight markets, causing a 13 percent price hike and jitters in the emerging ethanol industry.

Lanworth got their start back in 2000, mapping forests for land managers and timber interests. These days, the firm makes sense of 100 gigabytes of information each day and aims to grow globally—they already have their eye on wheat fields in Kazakhstan and soy crops in Argentina.