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"Big Data" Climate Change Thoughts

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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One of the top items in agri-business in 2013--certainly in terms of pure dollars involved--was the sale of the "Big Data" weather insurance and analysis firm, the Climate Corporation, to Monsanto for almost $1 Billion. Climate Corporation chief executive officer, David Friedberg, was profiled in the November, 2013 issue of The New Yorker magazine by New Yorker reporter Michael Specter--and made some provocative comments regarding his company's findings on climate change impact after mining the I-don't-know-how-many terrabytes of data the company has done since it began about ten years ago.

Following are some excerpts from the Michel Specter article, titled "Climate By Numbers".


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In 2012, drought struck nearly eighty per cent of the nation's farmland, and the growing season was the hottest and driest in decades. Perhaps worse, over the past half century there has been a sharp, sustained increase in the number of what farmers call "toad stranglers"--days with more than three inches of rain. That kind of weather is death to corn and soybeans, the country's biggest crops...

(David) Friedberg is convinced that climate change has the potential to alter land values dramatically, and soon. "We had this economic bubble because of a major housing crisis," he said. "Residential real-estate values dropped, and the debt-equity ratio was so high that there were massive economic consequences for the nation. There is almost certainly a much more significant devaluation that needs to occur with land affected by climate change." In Kansas, he noted, real estate trades at prices that make sense only if a farmer gets the kind of yield on an acre of corn that is now rare. "In parts of Kansas, farmers should simply not be growing corn," Friedberg said. "Historically, you would have a heat wave every twenty years there. Now it happens every three years or so, and in those years the crops die." ...

The Climate Corporation charges roughly forty dollars an acre to insure crops, and its customers farm more than ten million acres. Many of them give little credence to terms like "climate change" and "global warming." That doesn't bother Friedberg. "You don't need to talk about climate change per se," he told me. "Statistically, you are looking at a series of numbers. If it were a roulette wheel, you could say 'It's coming up black more and more frequently.' Can I attribute that to black being overweighted by the croupier? Or to the pit boss, or the machine broken? It doesn't matter. Some people will argue that ice ages have waxed and waned for tens of millennia and that this is part of a natural cycle. That doesn't change the fact that black is coming up more frequently and you will get less out of an acre of corn than you used to. The price for that land simply cannot be justified by the income it can generate." ...

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1/17/2014 | 5:09 PM CST
It seems like the global warming people keep predicting drought and disaster and yet at the end of the year we have more corn then ever. This is in part the result of better farming practices and genetics but our climate hasn't changed that much.