By Jacob Bunge

Monsanto Co. agreed to purchase a European farm data company, hastening the seed giant's overseas expansion of its nascent data-science unit.

Purchasing VitalFields, an Estonian software business that helps European farmers track their pesticide and fertilizer use to keep compliant with European Union environmental laws, also broadens Monsanto's business in Europe, which has largely blocked the genetically engineered seeds that generate most of the company's $13.5 billion in annual sales.

Terms of the deal, which followed an earlier investment by Monsanto's venture capital arm,weren't disclosed.

St. Louis-based Monsanto has plowed more than $1 billion into acquisitions building up its data science division, called Climate Corp. The unit sells hardware and software that help farmers track their use of seeds and agricultural chemicals, monitor the weather, and recommend planting strategies to maximize harvests. About 95 million acres of U.S. farm fields were enrolled in Climate's services this year, with farms representing about 14 million of those acres paying for services.

Though the division isn't yet profitable, Monsanto executives have said the technology can transform farming by using data-crunching techniques honed in Silicon Valley to maximize yields on good soil and avoid wasting unneeded resources on more poorly performing fields.

Executives of Bayer AG, the German chemical conglomerate that agreed in September to buy Monsanto for $57 billion, have praised Monsanto's investments in the technology.

In Europe, VitalFields has sought to automate farmers' past practices of logging their crop chemical use in notebooks and spreadsheets, developing software that lets farmers log, track and report seed, chemical and fertilizer use.

Monsanto said it plans to incorporate Climate's hardware and software into VitalFields' systems, enabling data to flow more directly from tractors to online databases where farmers can manage it, said Mike Stern, chief executive of the Climate unit.

Farmers in seven European countries use VitalFields' services on about 500,000 acres, raising crops like corn, wheat and canola. Compliance with EU environmental requirements is critical for farmers to be eligible for subsidies, Mr. Stern said. The company charges farmers 1 euro per hectare a year.

Write to Jacob Bunge at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 21, 2016 03:14 ET (08:14 GMT)

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