Satellite firm aims to bring the world’s most remote farmland online

Inmarsat is partnering with big agri to boost margins at institutional-scale properties in LatAm and Asia.

Inmarsat’s raison d’être has long been to keep safety problems at bay. Founded in 1979, the UK satellite firm’s original purpose was to allow ships to maintain constant contact with the shore, should they need to call for help in case of emergency.

Nearly 40 years later, however, Inmarsat’s preoccupations have become much more grounded. In addition to the services it provides to governmental organizations, the firm also caters for the need of businesses in various sectors – and agriculture features prominently among them.

Its aim is ambitious, yet straightforward to explain. “There are huge agribusinesses in Latin America, Asia and Africa that have no connectivity. They can’t take advantage of precision systems to improve productivity and reduce costs,” Chris Harry-Thomas, the company’s director of agriculture, tells Agri Investor. “But now we are able to connect 100 percent of farms over the world.”

That could in turn make them more attractive to institutional buyers, which of late have grown a solid appetite for farmland, Harry-Thomas notes. “It’s a buzzword. It’s a big focus.” He remembers attending the World Bank Summit in California last year and witnessing great attendance by land funds and blue-chip agribusiness.

Inmarsat, however, has yet to make its name widely known within the farming industry. As James Grisbrook, its enterprise communications manager, explains, the company has long been “an indirect business,” providing connectivity to third-parties without taking part in wider initiatives.

It wants this to change. Last year, Inmarsat sealed a partnership with Pessl Instruments, a tech business that informs farmers on weather, pests, crop growth and diseases, to allow it to reach places lacking connectivity. It is now speaking with “very big household names,” which Harry-Thomas declines to disclose, to help them bring their services to large clients in remote places.

In Latin America, its efforts are centered on Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru, where it focuses on maize, soya beans and sugarcane. In Australia, activities covered also include livestock and broadacre crops, while in Asia it’s mostly about sugarcane, rubber and palm oil.

Harry-Thomas is certain most agtech solutions will soon reach a breakthrough, allowing them to cover the whole planet. “But it’s also about making sure that you’re providing a solution that’s cost-effective,” he says. Not every solution actually answers a problem. “You need to see an effect on the bottom line.”