A Conversation with Bill Kirk

By Matanat Rashid

Wed, 17 Oct 2018

As Ag 4.0 edges closer, we spoke to Bill Kirk- the co-founder and the CEO of Weather Trends International. Bill highlighted the role of his company in Agtech, and provided his expert opinion on ROI in Agtech sector.

 
Can you tell us about the creation of Weather Trends International? What made you invest in this sector?  

I founded the company in 2002 to help Fortune 500 companies in retail, seasonal merchandise, financial services become proactive vs reactive to the weather a year-ahead everywhere on earth with specific intelligence on how weather would influence their businesses.  The weather industry is too focused on Physics based weather modelling which doesn’t work well beyond a couple weeks so we attacked the science from a maths based statistical 24 climate cycle approach which is much more accurate and reliable for year-ahead planning. 

 

What are your thoughts on precision agriculture ROI for small-scale farmers? 

In 2010 we started working with local farmers and some bigger Ag partners to help farmers better prepare for the year-ahead with a very low cost FarmCast product offering to assist with seed variety, frost/freeze dates, planting timing, fertilizer/herbicide/insecticide demand and application timing, yield estimations and harvesting.  Getting just a couple of these things in sync with the weather can have huge impacts to a farmer’s financial success or failure in a very competitive over supplied world market. Unfortunately, the majority of farmers don’t take advantage of all the rapid technological advances being made on all fronts from hybrid seed varieties, high-tech farm variable rate planting equipment, soil mapping technologies and of course year-ahead weather forecasting technology.  Most simply leave the most critical piece of a farmer’s success – the weather – to chance.  

 

Do you think farmers in California are ready to invest in modern farming? Why? 

 California has a great climate with a lot of sun, very long growing seasons, low humidity in key growing areas, few pests but at the mercy of mother nature and the government for critical water resources.   Putting an Ag industry in a semi-arid desert environment with 43 million people susceptible to frequent long-term droughts presents a lot of challenges for farmers.  Some Ag industries in California like vineyards, fruit and vegetables have embraced technology. Vineyards as an example have completely automated equipment to do pruning, picking/harvesting, destemming of grapes dramatically reducing labour costs.  They’ve embraced science advances to put a better American made root stock on different grape varieties that can better handle salt content in the soil due to the ocean influence and higher salt content in irrigated and waste water applications.  They too are embracing drone greenness technology to determine specific vines that need more or less fertilizer, water, etc.  They have all sorts of frost protection devices as well so clearly an industry that micro manages the crop on every level.   This is much harder to do when you have millions of plants (i.e. corn, soy, wheat) across thousands of acres in a Midwest environment where there are so many more issues due to disease, humidity, pests, etc.

 

How do you overcome the competition and challenges you currently face from foreign markets?  

When it comes to year-ahead weather forecasting for temperatures, growing degree days, rainfall, snowfall by week by mile everywhere on earth. We have very few competitors!  We’ve embraced a totally different approach to weather forecasting technology that few academics or weather firms have even considered.  They are maybe too focused on computer modelling and physics-based approaches that just aren’t reliable and typically fall apart just 2 weeks out.   I give the example that if you just had one drop in a smooth pond it would be easy to predict that storm but reality is we have millions of drops interacting with each other both at the surface and up 100,000 feet in the atmosphere so predicting all those interactions perfectly is impossible and pure chaos.  If one ripple is bigger than expected, it impacts all the other ripples in the atmosphere and that results in big errors in weather forecasting. Statistics and 24 oceanic climate cycles are a much more stable and reliable way to approach long term forecasting with the benefit of once we issue a forecast it won’t change – a better way to plan with confidence.  Traditional meteorology will change the forecast 2 to 4 times a day, so it is not a stable way to plan weeks, months or year ahead.

 

What are you most looking forward to at Ag 4.0? 

Meeting farmers and Ag industry leaders that aren’t afraid to consider a better way when it comes to a very critical piece of precision agriculture – The Weather!

 

You will be part of the ROI in Precision Ag panel – what topics are you excited to discuss?  

Farmers can do everything right with the right hybrids for their soil type, perfect variable rate planting, perfect amount of perfectly timed nitrogen, perfectly timed pest applications, perfectly timed weed controls, perfectly timed disease products only to have the weather dramatically alter those best laid plans.  Ignoring the weather has huge impacts to the success or failure for any farmer, leaving it to chance is not a proactive strategy. Why spend the huge amount of money required on land, equipment, seeds, chemicals, insurance, labour, etc. and then ignore much lower cost weather resources to help insure those plans result in the highest possible ROI with low risk weather intelligence. 

 

Are there any upcoming projects at Weather Trends you would like to share? 

Awareness that year-ahead forecasting is not only possible but a valuable resource for farmers everywhere in the world.  We have recently partnered with Rural Farm TV (RFD-TV) to showcase our technology every Thursday at 1:30pm EDT where we discuss our longer-term outlooks across the world. They reach over 50 million Ag households in the U.S. and Canada, so this is a start to help bringing greater awareness on how year-ahead weather forecasting via FarmCast can be a valuable resource for farmers not only in North America but worldwide. You can watch our showcase here.

What distinguishes Weather Trends from the rest of the companies working in the same sector?  

None of our competitors have the ability to accurately predict the weather (temperature, rainfall and snowfall) a year-ahead by week, by mile everywhere on Earth with accuracy comparable to a week 2 short range forecast.  Short range 1-2-week weather forecasting brings some value to farmers but year-ahead forecasting is critical for substantial ROIs and crop yield gains in the Ag industry.  Farmers have a lot of competition on a global scale and with low commodity prices it’s very important they look for every possible avenue to maximize their yields and efficiencies.  We can help.

 

Connect with the Weather Trends International

Website: www.weathertrends360.com

Facebook: @Weathertrends360

Twitter: @WeatherTrends

 

Ag 4.0 Workshop

Join Bill Kirk and leading industry experts at Ag 4.0, a workshop aimed at improving the understanding of modern agriculture practices and creating interoperable solutions. Bill will be speaking on the panel: ROI in Precision Agriculture.

Be part of a workshop where farmers will be given the opportunity to tell AgTech companies what they need, rather than the other way around. If you are a farmer or grower – secure your FREE ticket here.


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Matanat Rashid

matanat59@gmail.com

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