c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Big Data’s push to remake the industrial economy took a big step forward Wednesday, when Monsanto announced it would buy the Climate Corp.

Monsanto, which also on Wednesday reported worse-than-expected losses, said it was paying $930 million in cash for the company, which looks at data like historical rainfall and soil quality to help farmers predict crop yields. Monsanto hopes to apply Climate Corp.’s data analysis insight across the company, to create what a Monsanto executive called “the next level of agriculture.”

“A farmer should be able to grow on farmland square meter by square meter, for lots more yield, planting seeds at different rates for each meter,” said Kerry J. Preete, Monsanto’s executive vice president for strategy. “We’re a data company at heart, breeding seeds and helping farmers optimize yields and manage risk.”

Monsanto also plans to extend overseas the crop insurance products that Climate Corp. bases on a wealth of public data on rainfall, temperature and soil types around the United States. It is not clear how well or how quickly this can be deployed internationally.

In effect, Monsanto hopes to do for about one billion acres of worldwide farmland what General Electric hopes to do for the electrical grid and the aviation industry: gain unprecedented insights into the interaction of products as they work in the world, make them work more efficiently and possibly sell new services based on the insights.

For Climate Corp., which started life as Weatherbill and hoped to insure miniature golf courses against unexpected showers, the purchase was both a payday and a chance to build an even bigger business inside Monsanto.

“Monsanto already has more research data than anyone else in agriculture,” said David Friedberg, a founder and the chief executive of the Climate Corp. “Data itself is going to be nearly worthless — you have to sell insights from the data and suggestions of what to do.”

Monsanto’s acquisition news came as it reported on Wednesday worse-than-expected losses for its fiscal fourth quarter, with lower sales of its genetically engineered seeds. The company recorded a loss of $249 million, or 47 cents a share, for the quarter ending Aug. 31. That was wider than its loss of $229 million, or 42 cents a share, in the 2012 fourth quarter. Shares of Monsanto fell $1.01, or 0.96 percent, to $104.04 on Wednesday.