2017 Vision Conference: At the Crossroads of Integration, and Other Thoughts

An agronomist on the pre-show tour at Ak-Chin Farms in Maricopa, AZ.

Now about a week removed from our second annual PrecisionAg Vision Conference in Phoenix, AZ, it’s glaringly clear that ag tech as an industry sits at a bit of a crossroads.

Forced to give that crossroads a name, I’d have to go with “Integration.”

Allow me to explain, or at least attempt to explain:

The integration of ag tech innovation into every level of the food production ecosystem remains this industries’ greatest opportunity, as well as its greatest challenge. And while we all tend to get wrapped up salivating over the possibilities — in our defense the potential payoff does appear to be quite abundant if we get it right — it seems that the inherent risk we face in possibly getting this whole thing wrong weighs quite heavily on the minds of all involved, as well.

Yet, for the moment there’s no generic “adoption playbook” on right-sizing ag tech integration, from a grower, service provider, or food production industry standpoint; no “Ag Tech Integration for Dummies” manual that we can plunk down $19.95 for at the local bookrack, read in a couple days, and feel like the second coming of Jim Cramer.

On top of that, once that nasty little bug known as Uncertainty enters the mind, his obnoxious little adoption-stalling buddies Doubt and Apathy tend to creep into the picture as well.

What fights against the rhythmic slog of those three innovation-choking buzzwords? Ground truthed, rooted-in-experience-knowledge dissemination, or transfer, among those looking to alleviate such burdens.

And that’s exactly what took place in Phoenix back in October, at least in this author’s opinion. We gathered a bunch of people interested in the future of ag tech and what that will look like, and we brought in a bunch of people from the industry that are actively looking at solving the various issues around advanced technology adoption in food production, stuck them in a room together for a couple days and said “Here’s some examples of people doing it the right way, now please behave and talk amongst yourselves, AND OH YEAH WOULD YOU GUYS PLEASE FIGURE THIS WHOLE PRECISION AG THING OUT WHILE YOU’RE HERE TOO? K, THANKS!”

Well, don’t shoot the messenger or anything, but as of press time I’m dismayed to report that we didn’t solve all of ag tech’s problems over a couple days in a Phoenix hotel conference room. Bummer, I know.

But we did come away from the meeting with a few interesting tidbits, at least in our minds, of what transpired out in the desert.

  1. New Techs Imminent: A few innovations presented at Vision that could hit farm fields in the next five to ten years are worth keeping an eye on as we go into the winter months. Blockchain, which takes data ownership principles from the world of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and applies them to large aggregated data sets, could have vast application in farming circles. Another is CRISPR gene editing, and there were some very pleased rural-broadband access advocates in attendance after hearing Microsoft’s Ranveer Chandra discuss initially promising R&D the company is undertaking on transmitting WiFi signals across wide geogrpahies over the old VHF/UHF radio operating frequencies. Our plan (what’s that saying about men and their plans?) for now is to follow up with Chandra on the progress of that project in the coming months, as well as some interesting R&D Microsoft is doing on drones and drone battery systems around flight time. Stay tuned!
  2. All About the Recommendation: Multiple speakers stressed that having all of the data in the world is great, but without being able to make a good recommendation to the grower, that data’s value and usefulness is often negligible at best. Or, as our returning keynote speaker Bill Schmarzo from Dell EMC and author of “The Big Data MBA” so succinctly put it: “You want to be relevant to a business? Help them make better decisions!”
  3. Remove Emotion from Farm Decisions: R.D. Offutt Co. is a large vertically integrated potato growing operation headquartered in Fargo, ND, that stretches across much of the Upper Prairie. M. Vincent Restucci, Director of Procurement & Business Technology for the operation, had a wide-ranging hour discussion with CropLife® Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf that touched on a number of issues and key strategies the company embraces, one of which is advocating that service providers take the emotion out of recommendations. “If we can take the emotion out of farming by using data and information that really changes the discussion, then we see a lot more buy-in.”
  4. Alltech Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) and VP of Corporate Accounts Aidan Connolly.

    Artificial Intelligence Could Potentially Disrupt Agronomy: Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) might be your friend now – it’s so nice when we upload those Facebook pictures and the AI engine automatically recognizes and tags our friends – but that could change in the near future. “We could see A.I. allowing retailers to get away from their current heavy reliance on knowledge and experience,” Aidan Connolly, Chief Innovation Officer, Alltech, argued. His example? Heavy equipment giant Caterpillar has a mobile app where if a customer experiences a mechanical issue, they open the app and use the mobile device’s camera to scan the area of the equipment that is malfunctioning. The app uses augmented reality to pinpoint and display the exact problem, tells the user what parts to order and even how to fix the machine once those parts arrive. Something similar for growers would be a huge blow to an industry where recommendations are still mostly delivered by a sales agronomist with a smile and a handshake.

  5. Retail Itself is Changing: Schmarzo had another thought for crop input retailers to ponder in that the traditional brick and mortar retail business model itself is under attack. What the “Big Data Professor” was referring to is the way future generations view the shopping experience. “This younger generation is changing the face of retail, from that of large footprint super stores to smaller stores that are more focused on providing a ‘social experience’ around brands, with less inventory on-hand and more products being delivered direct by things like drones or crowd-sourced delivery vehicles (think Uber Eats). Is your operation ready for this shift in how the next generation demands to shop?
  6. Danny Royer, VP of Technology, Bowles Farming Company, Los Banos, CA.

    Change In Farm Hierarchy: Retailers should also be aware that Ag Tech has the potential to change how farming operations themselves are structured, according to Danny Royer, VP of Technology, Bowles Farming Co. With data sharing tools, benchmarking, and visualization becoming easier to use and more mobile, we could soon see a shift away from the current model of an experienced, often well-seasoned farm manager holding much of the intricate knowledge of the operation, to a greater level of knowledge transfer to lower levels of the organization. “Tech will disrupt retail culture, and there’s no doubt that it will also disrupt farm culture,” Royer said. “I think we’ll see much more collaboration from top to bottom (in the future).”

Leave a Reply

Events Stories
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More
Robotic-Field-Scanner
Specialty CropsOpinion: Agriculture’s Big Data is Coming to You
October 20, 2017
If you think your world is changing at a dizzying pace, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. That’s my takeaway from Read More
Naio Technologies FIRA
EventsRise of Agricultural Automation Drives Innovative Event
September 26, 2017
Ready or not, farming as we know it is changing – out of necessity. Lack of adequate labor, along with Read More
Robotics Specialty Crops
EventsPrecision in Specialty Crops Gains Momentum
September 20, 2017
When John Deere acquired Blue River Technologies (BRT) recently, BRT’s See & Spray technology received plenty of play. Yet many Read More
Trending Articles
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season Maintenance Goes A Long Way
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More
Farmer and computer
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team in 2018
December 10, 2017
About The Opportunity: PrecisionAg.com is looking for people to join our team in 2018 and submit original content to our Read More
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More
Latest News
Lee_Brittany
Specialty CropsFlorida Blue Farms Digging Data for Savings and Profit
January 17, 2018
Brittany Lee is no stranger to land management, writes Frank Giles on GrowingProduce.com. She grew up around it, observing her parents Read More
AmericasPrecision Farming Companies to Watch in 2018 (OPINION)
January 17, 2018
My friends, as many of you told me repeatedly throughout the last 12 months, 2017 was an interesting year in Read More
farmer-tractor-ipad
Data ManagementThe Era of Digital Agriculture: Opportunities and Chall…
January 17, 2018
The digital revolution is changing the way agriculture is done. Rapid population growth, changes in market demands, depleting agricultural land, Read More
Data ManagementBlockchain: Making Data Cleaner, More Secure
January 16, 2018
Probably most professionals who deal with business data have at least heard the term “blockchain” bantered about as potentially the Read More
Soybean-field-clouds-Photo-courtesy-of-Earl-R-Shumaker
Data ManagementBetting on Rain? The Accuracy and Reliability of Precip…
January 16, 2018
For you sports junkies out there, if I could prove to you that I can correctly predict winners and losers Read More
center-pivot-irrigation-drop-sprinklers-on-corn
Precision IrrigationFinding Your Precision Ag Mindset
January 15, 2018
A precision mindset is the most important requirement for successful precision ag technology adoption. One of my first VRI (variable Read More
Drone-and-operator-Photo-courtesy-of-Kray-Technologies
DronesCrop Protection Application by Drone: A Q&A with Kr…
January 15, 2018
January is a busy month for agricultural companies. It’s a month that strong sales can set the mood for the Read More
Data ManagementAgGateway Grain Traceability Proof-of-Concept Seeks Ind…
January 15, 2018
AgGateway’s Precision Agriculture and Grain & Feed councils have issued a call for participation for a proof-of-concept initiative in AgGateway’s Read More
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season…
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Corn-Planter
Grower Services & SolutionsCorn Planter: The Train of Consequences
January 11, 2018
It’s always planter season in our shop but now that harvest is done the corn planter is the next piece Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversSmart Ag Announces Driverless Tractor Automation Platfo…
January 11, 2018
An Iowa technology company has unlocked the tremendous potential for automation in agriculture by developing the first cloud-based platform for Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrible
Grower Services & SolutionsAgrible to Launch Retailer Services in 2018
January 9, 2018
It’s a new year, which means new market challenges. Full service retailers are searching for ways to differentiate themselves and Read More
jeremy-speaking
Grower Services & SolutionsGrower and Precision Ag Services: Opportunities Lost
January 9, 2018
I often spend time with growers, talking about their operations, and the processes they go through each season to do Read More
Winters-Farming-farm-manager-Alex-Bergwerff-and-Ranch-Systems-marketing-and-business-development-manager-Hylon-Kaufmann
Precision IrrigationInside California Irrigation: Winters Farming
January 9, 2018
As many of us already know, almonds tend to get a bad rap for their water-use efficiency — or some Read More
Sentera software
DronesSentera Offering Elevation Data Mapping Via AgVault
January 9, 2018
Sentera announces the availability of elevation maps within the Sentera AgVault platform, offering agronomists, crop consultants, and growers additional field Read More
Industry NewsRaven, South Dakota State University Link Up: What You …
January 9, 2018
On Tuesday afternoon Raven and South Dakota State University (SDSU) held a press conference on the SDSU campus in Sioux Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More