Cervest – Crop Forecasting Using AI For The Greater Good

A few weeks ago, I met up with Peter Wortsman, who is Chief Commercial Officer of Cervest, a genuinely interesting and unique new business, which is developing a “crop yield predictions platform” that is “automated, predictive and self-learning”. Wortsman himself has an interesting background, combining eight years at Tesco in procurement and supply chain roles with a consulting background and a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard.

Back to the product; this is not an area many of us consider in our day-to-day lives, yet crop yields, both in terms of long-term trends and year-to-year variations, is a huge issue for humankind. In 2018, the hottest year ever in the northern hemisphere, more of us are considering the implications if global warming is really beginning to bite, and one of its major effects will be in the area of crop selection, management and future farmland productivity.

So Cervest is looking at both in season and future season yields, aiming to have an impact on both the accuracy of short-term forecasts and to help business decision makers and policy makers think about issues such as long-term soil degradation. That is becoming a major issue in some parts of the world, even more critical when linked to questions around how growers, processors and consumers may have to change their approach to land use and crop choice in the light of climate change.

Cervest says its ultimate purpose is to ensure the sustainable use of natural capital in an increasingly volatile world.  By predicting the productivity of every hectare of farmland on the planet, they empower enterprises and farmers to make climate-smart decisions. The firm does this through combining agronomics, climate science, remote sensing and statistical science in its platform, which uses artificial intelligence and pioneering machine learning techniques to drive its customised output and predictions. It connects to over 100 “climatic, scientific, satellite, biophysical, and other datasets from ‘Sky-2-Earth’. It also integrates key datasets from internal client databases and all data is updated in real-time”.

Wortsman claims that Cervest is providing “90% accuracy on crop forecasts half way through the growing season”. Now this isn’t a new concept; when I worked for Mars over 30 years, that business went to extraordinary lengths to obtain key information and data that would help to predict the size of the forthcoming cocoa crop. But obviously, the sort of technology Cervest is using is what makes their offering leading-edge now, and the business will stand or fall on the accuracy of their output.

Cervest is also committed to wider social value, being a “B-Corporation” which means “businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy”.

Wortsman says that Cervest has successfully delivered a series of betas with major food and crop science companies looking, for example, at security of supply issues for a major cereal crop. These issues are not only important in the whole “future of humanity” sense of course, but are also live supply chain risk issues for thousands of businesses around the world. So there seems plenty of scope for Cervest, and we will watch their progress with great interest.


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