Food's Future

Digitizing Agriculture: It all starts with the farmer

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Shane Thomas: What are the main challenges for the Ag industry as it tries to go digital?

Ryan Risdal: Let’s start with the grower. You have a grower who’s generating a lot of data, as they modernize their farm equipment and as the younger and more tech savvy generation comes in. The philosophy has always been that the farmer's data is worth a lot. But the problem is that the data is scattered throughout their operation and the industry in different buckets, whether it's in a basic manufacturing bucket, a retailer's bucket, or their banker's bucket. If you look at the broad perspective of what they generate, it’s everywhere. 

ST: What does the industry need to do to fix that?

RR: The opportunity that's not being captured is frustrating, and for us, it's about value transfer within the supply chain. Until our market, our tax base, our ag industry really buckles down and creates, supports, accepts and adopts a value exchange model that makes that data accessible, we won’t get the real “value” in the future. We need a place where people can extract and find common value and standardization in a manner that's flexible enough to be usable, without becoming a barrier.

ST: How important is it that the farmer be the focus of the data platform?

RR: If you don't start with the farmer, you're just going to build something that nobody's going to use. A good friend of mine farms a good chunk of acres. "I start every year with eight apps,” he says, “Sitting at home in the winter time, I have all kinds of time and I download all these new apps that are nice and shiny. By the end of the season, I'm only using one, because that's the one that tells my banker the information they need to renew my operating loan for the next year."

ST: I talked to a farmer the other day, and he was saying he just has more stress because of how many apps are coming out.

RR: There are gaps. A grower’s trusted advisor has, for example, 50 things to do in a day. If your product is number 51, it's not going to get used. If that new feature or that new product isn't integrated into what they're already using, or doesn't significantly ease the pain of change, it's not going to get adopted.

ST: We need to start, to your point, by asking how the product actually benefits the farmer. 

RR: That shift in mentality is what's going to get us over those barriers. It's about sharing data between platforms with common standards.

Ninety percent of the agronomy across the world is very similar. The world has very similar wants and needs out of agriculture. People want to know what the agronomics are to grow the crop, select the crop, care for the crop, and then what you do with the crop afterwards. It's a very similar base workflow. It's just the simple tweaks, the 10 percent tweaks within and between each of those workflows that really sets each market apart.  

ST: What happens if the industry doesn’t successfully digitize? 

RR: You’re slowly dying.

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Shane and Ryan will be opening our third episode of Food’s Future: Building a Digital Food Chain on Dec 14, with a fireside chat. Register here.


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