Establishing an ISA presence in AgTech

Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) checkoff program representatives capitalized on opportunities for visibility, engagement and thought leadership at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit held in mid-March in San Francisco. ISA sponsorship of the event is part of a focused effort to develop and promote a broad AgTech ecosystem within the state of Illinois, leading to more opportunities for ISA producers.

There are billions of dollars at stake. AgFunder, in their 2018 Agrifood Tech Investing report, found that $18.9 billion were invested in the segment globally, with $7.9 billion invested in the U.S. Illinois ranked seventh among U.S. states for attracting investments, at $182 million, but there is upside opportunity as AgTech focus broadens to include row crop farming for increased technology transformation.

Being on-site and advocating for ISA producers was huge. There were 1,300 people in attendance to talk about AgTech, and one percent or less of the participants were actual farmers targeted to adopt new ideas. Ag venture capitalists and owners of technology start-ups need access and connections to growers for product insight, trials, pilots and adoption, and ISA is well positioned to broker those connections.

ISA board member Steve Pitstick was featured on the sole farmer panel at the Summit and also led a discussion at one of the roundtables. In his words, “During the farmer roundtable, I almost felt like an attraction because this was the first time a lot of the people at the table had ever interacted with a real farmer.” 

Overarching themes from the event:

  • Big organizations need fresh ideas and the entrepreneurial spirit coming out of startups. Startups, in turn, need bigger organizations as partners to overcome the “access to farmer” barrier.
  • AgTech developers/investors need to talk to farmers about farmer pain points instead of staying in the investor/start up feed-back loop.
  • There is opportunity. Startup companies see agriculture as one of the last major businesses in the U.S. to be transformed by technology. They have many ideas on how things can change.

There is work to be done to ensure producers capture value from the coming AgTech surge. First, farmers need to be represented, and that only happens when farmers and farm groups participate in this type of event. Second, clear communication is required around the producer point of view. Technology is nice, but how will it provide a positive return for the farmer. Third, producers themselves need additional encouragement to be open to new ideas and products coming from AgTech companies. And, finally, producers need to engage with investors and entrepreneurs to provide guidance around development of the solutions being offered.

ISA is sponsoring an upcoming engagement opportunity for producers, businesses and other influencers by bringing AgTech Nexus, the premier global AgTech investing event, to Chicago July 22 and 23, Get involved to help build out a strong AgTech ecosystem for the state of Illinois.