Imagine managing a sprawling 50-square-mile farm, 30 roaming employees and a hectic and fluctuating growing season using Excel, Quickbooks and two-way radios. That’s how many of the top 30,000 to 40,000 farms in the U.S. — accounting for a third of the country’s farm land — still operate. But San Francisco-based startup Granular, which emerged on Thursday, has started trialling new software for farmers that offers the modern smartphone apps, cloud-based services and collaboration tools that many other industries have come to rely on as the backbone of their operations.
Granular launched out of the split of another startup, Solum, which was founded in 2009 with early backing from Khosla Ventures and had built up a business around onsite soil analysis. Farms have been using Solum’s data tech to test soil onsite and tightly manage and customize their fertilizer use. But as a young startup in the Bay Area, the company had a tough time convincing farmers in the middle of the U.S. to use an entirely new type of data science tool, and last year the company started looking for a partner to ramp that up.
That partner turned out to be ag giant Monsanto. On Thursday Monsanto announced that it plans to acquire the soil data business, which made up about half the company, from Solum. Monsanto will be folding the soil data business into the data team it acquired from Climate Corp last year and will be able to get the soil data tech the reach it needs.
The other half of the company, which has been developing the farming software tools over the last year, is being renamed Granula. To kick off the new company, Granular raised a Series A round of $4.2 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures and Google Ventures. Khosla Ventures and Google Ventures were also backers of Climate Corp.
Granular is now testing its software with seven Midwestern farmers who also helped the company design the software. The farmers will be trialling it for the Spring growing season. If all goes well, Granular will then launch the software commercially, Granular CEO Sid Gorham told me. (Gorham was previously a founding member of restaurant software company OpenTable.)
The farming business in the U.S. is changing as smaller farmers sell land and businesses to a smaller group of large farms. This group of 30,000 to 40,000 family-owned large farm businesses is also facing fluctuating growing seasons due to the changing climate and extreme weather, and is looking to make its farming processes as high-tech and efficient as possible.
Gorham tells me that he’s excited to help farmers produce food with the lowest environmental footprint possible, using mobile apps, the cloud and real-time collaboration to make farming more efficient. As the world’s population grows to 9 billion by 2050, farmers will have to produce more food using fewwer resources, and IT is just one way they’re going to do it.