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As businesses in the ag sector, we have an opportunity—frankly an obligation—to make a difference working with our farm clients. In my role as a founder of what’s grown to be a leading farm management software company, I’ve spent a lot of time on ag operations, talking with farmers about how they do things and what could help.
What does it look like to bring technology to the farm in a way that truly serves? Our farmer partners have told us. No matter where we go, what crop, what size operation, or which generation (x y z) we’re spending time with, I can’t help but notice three universal themes regarding the rise of digital agriculture and the solutions being offered to the farm.
1. Does this solve a problem I care about?
Whenever you bring something new—tech or not—into the already-complex system of a farm operation, you’re going to feel the pain of adjustment. Tech solutions exist for many parts of the farm. The question that matters: Is the juice worth the squeeze? In other words, is the end result worth the effort it takes to learn, implement, and manage this new solution? Is the problem getting solved meaningful enough to withstand the discomfort of change?
2. Can I do it?
Implementation of tech solutions happens in a specific, human environment. Ideas are great, but what matters is success on the ground. Farmers want to know: Can this work with the flow I’ve already got? Is it easy enough, friendly enough, that I can get my family/team/partners to use it? Though there’s always some pain with change, the tech should adapt to the user, not the other way around.
3. Are you a company I want to work with?
This is the trust factor. Growers wonder: What are you doing with my data? Do you have my best interests at heart? Are you going to be here tomorrow? Many promises have been made to the farm, and many have not been fulfilled. A skeptical farmer is one who’s paying attention. Trust has to be earned.
Tech for tech’s sake can’t be what we’re after. These days it’s amazing that sensors can talk to tractors that can talk to smartphone apps that can talk to the computer in the office, but the IoT (Internet of Things) cannot replace the IoP (Internet of People). Technology is a tool, and the human experience should always be at the forefront.
Ten years ago we were just beginning to digitize parts of the farm. Nothing happens overnight: we’ve spent years listening and building, listening and building. If we were trying to start today, we’d be too late: there’s no easy way to learn, design, and build in the seasonal ag cycle and create a system that’s really able to meet a farmer’s needs. Now it’s 2020, and so much groundwork for digital ag has been laid.
To borrow from Winston Churchill, we’re at the end of the beginning. The concrete for the foundation is poured and curing, and what we build on top of it will transform agriculture for generations to come. The future—a digital food and ag supply chain—is inevitable. Are you ready?