Ag’s Digital Revolution: What’s Holding Us Back?

Data is undeniably a valuable asset. Yet, in the ag ecosystem, who’s seeing the value from it?


A recent article on highlights how growers aren’t seeing value from data since, “The yield map book usually serves as a coaster more than a decision tool.” It’s 2018 and we’re still hearing stories of how growers have thumb drives full of yield data sitting on their shelves — or, at best, visualized on maps.

The notion of data as a valuable asset has led to emotions of fear and distrust when it comes to sharing that information — both among the grower and agtech communities. But here’s the reality: the idea of data possessing intrinsic value is precisely what’s holding back ag’s digital revolution.

Overcoming Ag Obstacles to Unlock Data’s True Value

What’s truly valuable about data? The insights that can be gained from it. As an industry, we need to stop thinking that data in and of itself is valuable since its raw form isn’t solving larger ag problems. In fact, the boots-on-the-ground approach used by forward-thinking companies is based on the very principle that subject matter experts are needed to gather, interpret, and provide insights off of data.


The situation is complicated by the lack of trust that’s prevalent in our industry when it comes to agtech companies — many of which want to own the data, charge per data transaction, and use key learnings from that data to build and market new products back to growers.

In order to harvest insights from data using this approach, agtech companies must ingest and cleanse the data, secure dozens of APIs from different sources, store the data in their own format, and then tackle machine learning and data science to derive actual value. Meanwhile, growers who want to leverage all of the data being generated about their fields must do the same, contacting several different companies just to extract their data.

What our industry needs is a more viable solution for ingesting, cleansing, standardizing, securing, and returning meaningful intelligence from any ag data at large scale. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the key to solving this challenge.

Industrial AI is Paying Dividends for First Movers

At Uptake, we believe the winning formula is for purpose-built software companies to create industrial AI software, and for industrial companies to deploy and leverage that software to make their businesses more productive, reliable, safe, and secure.

And there are competitive advantages for those who act first. According to McKinsey, “Digital means that strategies developed solely in the context of a company’s industry are likely to face severe challenges. Traditional approaches such as tracking rivals’ moves closely and using that knowledge to fine-tune overall direction or optimize value chains are increasingly perilous.” Here’s how McKinsey visualizes the obstacles and opportunities presented by digital journeys:


Where is ag on the climber journey? Many may say that companies are failing to respond to the current digital challenge. It’s a potential reason why many larger ag companies are buying startups in an attempt to solve a particular digital challenge. Yet, when it comes to true partnerships, many continue to choose to conquer the agtech digital landscape alone.

From agtech companies to growers, our industry needs to embrace digitization by remaining focused, realizing that help needs to come from the outside and taking quick action. This is what’ll sustain the next phase of the ag data revolution.

We cannot keep pursuing digital strategies from solely within the ag silo — if we do, we’ll face the fate of plummeting growth rates. The same goes for growers who have yet to start their own digital strategies. Agtech companies and growers must work together closely to address larger issues by identifying and solving critical problems that’ll move the needle from a productivity standpoint.

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Avatar for Jake Allen Jake Allen says:

Having worked in the AgTech industry side as well as having a large established family farm, I believe that no grower or company has it completely figured out. Some growers and companies obviously do it better than others, but we are still far from doing it perfectly. You can see and feel the difference between the growers and companies that fully embrace data and use that data to make actionable decisions.

I think AgTech companies need to do a better job at showing the raw value, meaning how can we justify this change. We have been doing this for agronomic decisions for a long time. Side by side trials, year over year testing, from the grower stand point, they can see the difference in better technology in agronomy when it comes to ROI/Yield. Even in precision equipment technology with gps, yield maps, autosteer, VR prescriptions, etc. We can visually see the change in the field.

The worst feeling is getting the grower or our farm, to buy into the technology and to make decisions based on data but then never showing the true value of the ___ service. So they feel like they have been burned by the company or that they didn’t see the actual/monetary value, so they stop using it, and that journey back into AgTech is a rocky one.

No doubt, culture changes need to happen on both sides of the isle. AgTech companies have to do a better job at not telling the farmer how to farm, but showing the value of doing things differently. I remember sitting down one day and thinking how many times I’ve heard the word “help” from companies in Agriculture, this technology, service, data, etc. will help you farm better. I remember thinking I don’t need help farming, I want help making better decisions. So how can we get growers and companies to show, prove, utilize this information to make our growers more profitable. Collaboration and communication across the entire year is key to successful adoption. Software and data is a powerful asset and will be even more powerful every year going forward but, it still doesn’t give you that warm and fuzzy feeling from driving the planter across the field in the spring.

I have much more to day on the topic but I will leave it to this long post, just my 2 cents.