Agtech Advancements: A New View

By Jonah Kolb

If we think about ag technologies emerging in the marketplace today, the vast majority focus on efficiency gain:  more yield with fewer inputs. When we listen to farmers, we hear that agtech has a lot of stand-alone tools that don’t connect and systems don’t “talk” to each other. Sometimes that seems a far-cry from the “disruptive technology” that will “change the future of agriculture” that the media loves to talk about.

True disruption happens when new entrants to an industry bring about rapid change.

If we think about ag technologies emerging in the marketplace today, the vast majority focus on efficiency gain:  more yield with fewer inputs. When we listen to farmers, we hear that agtech has a lot of stand-alone tools that don’t connect and systems don’t “talk” to each other. Sometimes that seems a far-cry from the “disruptive technology” that will “change the future of agriculture” that the media loves to talk about.  True disruption happens when new entrants to an industry bring about rapid change.

What will it take for us to move faster and to have truly disruptive and connected technology? It takes three basic things: technological efficacy (it has to work), a compelling value proposition (value needs to be created and then shared with the farmer), and behavioral change (not just farmers, but the industry as a whole).

But at the same time, we have to rethink the farmer adoption path from the typical efficiency-minded “field view” approach of yield and input, and start incorporating a “counterparty view” where farmers’ broader business relationships with other business partners are incorporated. We need to see farmers as high-functioning business owners who require high-performing peers operating under similar norms and expectations.

Agtech Advancements: A New View

Instead of thinking about optimizing the 4Rs through AI-enabled software (that’s happening), or improving machinery and labor costs with automous vehicles (that’s happening too), agtech needs to consider broader applications and value for farmers through these business partners.

When agtech unlocks a banking relationship and lower interest rate by demonstrating in-field profitability, a farmer wins.

When agtech lowers an insurance premium by demonstrating yields and practices better than the rest, a farmer wins.

When agtech verifies the stewardship of a farm operation to a landowner considering a new tenant, a farmer wins.

Yes, yield and input efficiency are and should be focuses of agtech, but the value of improving relationships with a farmer’s business partners, his “counterparties,” should not be overlooked.  That too, is the future of ag.

Jonah Kolb is a partner at Moore & Warner Ag Group in Clinton, Illinois, where he works in farmland investing, management and consulting on agribusiness and agtech. From 2018 – 2019, he served as an advisor and consultant to the Illinois Soybean Association.