November 12, 2019

Entira and SwitchPoint Ventures bring artificial intelligence innovations to help ag businesses achieve their highest potential

By Barney Bernstein, Senior Associate


Technology today allows us to collect trillions of data points in mere seconds. But, what good is that data if we can’t decode it? 

Vast troves of data represent a gold mine of insights. If harnessed correctly, these insights will enhance efficiencies and inform ag businesses on strategic decision-making about people, processes and products.

We talked in a recent article about how all of us in ag are in the same big data quandary—the data is easy to access, but how do we process it to extract those valuable insights, and what do we do with it once it’s processed?

It pays off in the long run to invest in people and technologies with the ability and, most importantly, the experience to mine the data effectively and thoroughly.

Entira is thrilled to announce its new partnership with SwitchPoint Ventures, an industry-leading developer of artificial intelligence solutions, and Nelson Byrd, a progressive, seventh-generation farmer and big data advocate. Together, we aim to bring sophisticated AI capabilities to our clients in agriculture. Through this new venture we will seek to address big questions involving large data sets that can’t be handled effectively by humans or traditional statistical techniques. 

SwitchPoint Ventures has demonstrated success in bringing breakthrough innovations to market in the healthcare, retail, hospitality, and real estate industries. The team, which is based in Nashville and has worked together since 2010, has created hundreds of AI solutions and aspires to become the most admired company advancing business through artificial intelligence. 

Nelson Byrd oversees production of corn, soy, wheat, and grain sorghum in Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, in addition to raising grass-fed beef. A staunch advocate of soil health, Mr. Byrd seeks to apply principles of regenerative agriculture to his family farm. 

We’re excited to see what we can do together for agriculture!

Perfect Match

Data science allows us to solve complex business problems using machine learning algorithms that identify, interpret, and predict patterns in large data sets. As important as these algorithms are, they will wilt if left untended by data science “practitioners.” Practitioners not only bring the algorithms into existence, but also operationalize them in their setting and evolve them as facts on the ground change. 

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, wrote, “Everything flows.” The most skilled data science practitioners have the requisite knowledge and tools to build algorithms that learn over time and, in so doing, maintain relevancy and value as life continues to “flow.”

By creating this partnership, Entira, SwitchPoint, and Nelson Byrd will pool expertise within their respective domains. As a successful and highly experienced data science practitioner, SwitchPoint knows precisely how to mine data for insight and use cutting-edge tools to build resilient algorithms. Entira, with its deep knowledge of agriculture, provides direction around industry opportunities, context around the data, as well as relevant data sets. Mr. Byrd brings a practical and very valuable “grower” perspective to the team. Assimilating these complementary skills and disciplines creates a winning combination.

Here are several examples of areas where we see significant opportunity to make an impact in our industry:

Prescriptive Analytics

You may have heard the term “predictive analytics” tied to artificial intelligence. But, in numerous cases, SwitchPoint has taken that even further by creating “prescriptive analytics” applications. “Prediction” refers to what you believe might happen. “Prescription,” on the other hand, allows you to make an optimal decision based upon the underlying prediction.

We see great promise for prescriptive approaches in agriculture. For example, combining transactional data with predictive weather analytics would allow a company to improve logistics and manufacturing—it could, for instance, enable it to pinpoint how much fertilizer will be needed at precise locations, and when. Plus, knowing weather patterns could enable it to predict logistical barriers, such as river freezes or river closures due to excessive rainfall. All of this data is often too much for conventional computer modeling. But with machine learning, we can pinpoint optimal windows of time to get fertilizer to storage and ready for distribution. We could even tie in pricing scenarios—project future pricing, along with weather, to plan availability. The same holds true for crop protection chemicals. Prescriptive analytical models allow us to improve manufacturing, logistics planning and demand forecasting, AND determine which customers should be prioritized based on their immediate needs.

Locating New Facilities

Sometimes, what looks good “on paper” doesn’t align with reality. That can be a real impediment to ag businesses planning new sites.

How do we take what the locals know so you don’t have to be a local to know it? Artificial intelligence offers solutions. Tools that access thousands of data sets—utilities, logistical information, drive times, etc.—and then tie them all together, are highly useful for deciding where to situate new facilities.

SwitchPoint recently performed a project for an addiction recovery company seeking guidance on where to situate new locations, so that they might replicate the success of their top-performing locations. Using only the addresses of the top-performing locations, they brought together hundreds of data sets, and analyzed a host of features, like demographics, socioeconomic conditions, and relevant healthcare statistics. After learning the “signature” of a successful location, they looked across the entire country and helped their client discover locations with substantially similar conditions.

Likewise, Entira has worked with ag retailers to help them identify optimal locations for greenfield fertilizer hubs. Using our proprietary database of retail locations and digital infrastructure maps, we have been able to identify areas of high market value potential and a low competitive index score. This has allowed our clients to spend their capital on sites with an inherently higher sales potential.

Genomics and Plant Systems

There are promising applications for the breeding and chemical fronts as well. Given SwitchPoint’s experience in genomics, AI could be employed to look for new pathways or regulatory mechanisms to modify or stop pests, and moreover do so in a very targeted fashion. Such applications would be very valuable to clients in the breeding and ag chemical spaces.

One of the recent trends in agricultural revolves around sustainability and regenerative agriculture. Many questions need to be resolved about regenerative systems: How much carbon capture can actually be achieved? What is the natural loss of carbon dioxide in no-till/regenerative systems? How long does it take to get to a steady state? Scientists will need to apply AI to large data sets in order to confirm all the claims made for regenerative agriculture. Only when the benefits are validated will we have the large-scale adoption that many seek for agriculture.

Answers to Big Questions

All of these “what if” scenarios will now be possible with this partnership. We’re most excited for how this collaboration can help our clients more deeply understand their markets, customer base, and logistics, and how to leverage data from past successes to continue growing their business.

If you have big questions that need answers and would like to learn more about how this partnership could benefit your business, contact Barney Bernstein at bbernstein@entira.net or 919.830.6527.