Opinion: Are We in a Precision L-Ag Moment?

Yes, you read that headline right. I said Precision Lag, as in I have this feeling we are in the waning phase of the excitement and craziness of this industry in this time frame. If you think this is the first time, you haven’t been in this industry long enough. I’ve personally seen it about three or four times in the last 20 years, but it is more apparent for some than for others. I don’t plan to go into when and what the past lags were all about, but being on the imagery side of this industry, I think I’ve seen the most. The current lag is due to drones being, well, drones, and people getting back to reality, but still kind of scared to be excited again. I see it passing slowly as a whole, so I want to dig into why this happens and what it means.

After attending InfoAg last week, the one thing that was very apparent is that all the pomp and circumstance has died down and the “outsiders” were not there in droves. It seemed like the good old days where everyone kind of knew their place and seemed content. No one was really putting out the next great tool or system and most were trying to build their relationships between each other. Also, consolidation was clearly in the air. That is a pure sign, but also the effect of the lag in precision ag. One main positive so far is that I didn’t see and haven’t seen as much lately what I call the Oprah paradox. YOU GET ____! YOU GET ____! EVERYONE GETS ____! Fill in the blank with yield, efficiency, more money, savings, etc. I’m actually getting excited for this new era, maybe.

When I say lag, I don’t mean we are falling behind either. It means we are getting tired and beat down by all the ideas, newcomers, possibilities, and just plain old crap. When I say we, I mean everyone in ag, too. All industries need a time like this. Heck, if it wasn’t for past lag times my dad wouldn’t have re-shifted his goals for our satellite imagery company and would’ve circled into some product no one wanted nor could use potentially. Instead, we would find new clients, new opportunities, and new partnerships that would give us a better understanding of our product. During these times, we also focused on building the right tools and fixing internal technical problems so that when the time was right, we could attack and scale our services. We hunkered down, became more efficient, and this made us stay in the game, especially in lower commodity times and/or industry hiccups like today.

These lag times also can bring a negative effect in that you are less likely to build things you want and talk to clients you would like. I’ve seen this as well with our past decisions and there really is no perfect answer. If you try to hunt down the next big thing now you very well could go down a rabbit hole and become MAD. If you try to reinvent yourself you might run out of gas. Your new clients and partnerships can turn in an instance since the economy is less reliable. Another person or company in the same position can burn you and steal the show from you. I’ve literally experienced this all. It is a big bag full of suck, but it has taught us some good lessons. Hence, I don’t really know the answer, just be careful and smart.

One of the issues and reasons this happens is either the game of farming isn’t all that great during a time frame, or that some part of your industry hyped up everything and ruined it for a time frame. Unfortunately, we are dealing with both of these realities to certain extents. What is positive still is that the precision ag industry is broader than it was before. We are not all a bunch of small companies with small ideas. There is established practices, hardware, software, and goals in precision ag. There are schools and colleges teaching precision ag and we have major outside industries and professions interested in it. General technology development is easier than ever. You don’t have to buy $100k worth of servers every two years (we have a few, they are great paper weights). Of course, now it costs the same to “cloud” it up, programmers want more than ever, and tech changes really fast. Heck, maybe it’s worse, but I digress. All in all, it still is a great time to be involved in precision ag, but I have several key points to go over to get through the lag:

  1. Stop saying what you have is better than everyone else.
    a. No one cares anymore. Take the stick out….
    b. Sell you, your experience, your people, not your ego.
  2. Develop something new, interesting, valuable
    a. Stop copying everyone else.
    b. Create actionable items and ROI.
  3. Don’t tell your clients they are not doing good enough or the right thing.
    a. They write the check my friend.
    b. They all have heard or tried it before in some form.
  4. Meet new clients and ask questions.
    a. Talk to your most unlikely potential clients and learn from them.
    b. Get to know a new territory or area (sorry, but it’s not just all corn and beans)
  5. Stop trying to change the world or feed it.
    a. You can’t do it all, you can only do your best with what you have.
    b. Stop following the ultimate answer or solve every problem.
  6. Live in the present.
    a. No need to blame the past, learn from it and do better.
    b. The future can screw you over, sell what you have and do it well.
  7. Be a Shark, not a Sheep.
    a. Trust your gut and go for it. Sharks don’t have necks so they don’t look back.
    b. Stop following the latest trend or topic, do what you believe in.

Naturally, I could go on and on, but these are some things I think all need to strive towards to get out of precision lag. It will subside. It will be better for some than others. It will take some groups out and open the doors for others. It will separate the best from the rest. It will drive you insane. It will challenge you. It will become the newest trendy word in the industry….ok, probably not. What it will do is make you think if it is real or not and where you fit in. Both are good and bad, just like the rest of everything so focus on what you know and don’t stop. Come to think of it, I believe Shark Week was during InfoAg this year. So, I guess that answers that. Hopefully, this all will help and I can be the proud Shepard of this herd of Sharks. Time will tell…

Leave a Reply to Kim Retzlaff Cancel reply

2 comments on “Opinion: Are We in a Precision L-Ag Moment?

  1. Yes, we are in a Precision Agriculture Lag and will remain in it until agronomists really figure out which technology brings answers to their questions, rather than all using the same technology to answer all questions.
    Of course, first they have to ask the good questions and make hypotheses about which data is likely to provide answers, this is the basics of an innovation program.
    For example, everyone is using NDVI and related vegetation indices (currrent sensors are all limited to these VIs, … be it satellites, planes, drones carrying the sensor), but the problem is that they use this data as an answer to all of their questions : yield, quality, pests … , sometimes they claim that their analytics allows for detection of specific characters (ex : pathogen). Obviously it does not work well enough, else ROIs would be here. If you do not use the correct data, you end up with bad, partially working solutions, this is true everywhere and especially true in biology/agronomy. Back to the NDVI example : NDVI is simply like the weight of a body, no more; would you trust a physician who guesses your illness on your weight only ? This is basically what most (all?) imagery providers do. NDVI is an interesting data but does not correspond to all of crops adaptations to the environment (biotic and abiotic).
    Imagery can bring answers but it requires to understand how the plant responds to its environment and to integrate several well chosen data layers.
    So why don’t you try to prove what you say, may you reply ? I would love to, but you very well know that incremental improvements (this is what we have right now) is better accepted than disruptive innovation despite its lowest ROI. Mainly the reason for this is that true innovation requires original/different processes. Obtaining funding for this is truly hard and there can be no innovation developed in precision agriculture without proper funding.

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