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Q&A: Nish Majarian, Agrian CEO
Walk into any store these days, and you’ll see products touting “sustainability.” Farmers selling into this market will need tools to show they grow crops under sustainable guidelines, such as those that enhance water optimization or that have low greenhouse gas emissions.
California vegetable and fruit growers have provided these types of records for years, says Nish Majarian, chief executive officer of Agrian. Traceability is coming to Midwestern farmers, too, he says.
“What we found is pain brings clarity,” he says. “There was pain with no records. Those growers found early on they were responsible for having good records. Now, they have to prove sustainability.”
SF: How did Agrian get into documenting traceability?
NM: We got into precision agriculture and had pretty good success with that. We have platforms for tasks like crop planning, soil and tissue sampling, and yield maps. But there was no system that unified them.
At Agrian, we believe liability mitigation, risk management, and sustainability record keeping are irreversible trends. These are not driven by local, state, and federal rules. Our clients are burdened by those, but they also have customer requirements and overlapping government regulatory requirements. So, they have two tracks to manage. Unfortunately, those tracks are not harmonized.
What was needed was a technology platform that covers all scenarios. It needed to cover liability, risk management, and sustainability. On the agronomy side, it needed to help growers minimize inputs and maximize yields.
We have built a broad platform that can accommodate all workflow in all crops in all markets. We have a program called Autoshare, in which field records can be automatically shared with a third party.
We work with 60-plus food companies. Companies who receive this information from our clients use it to manage internal food safety and their customer requirements. This is how business has been done for some time with specialty crops. We are now seeing it in the grains. Our customers can get started with a software platform that allows them to document what’s done on their own farms.
SF: How does your business plan differ from that ofcompetitors?
NM: Some are backed by venture capital. Venture and private equity companies invest on a time horizon (to reap their investment and exit their business).
Others focus on the adoption of technology for technology’s sake. They have no hope of being profitable.
Others charge (customers) for their data business and take that data to sell seed. Then they pivot and go into crop protection and then to grade trading.
Others try to put their own people on the ground and charge a large per-acre fee. We don’t do that. We make money off people paying for services. We work through retailers, large growers, in-house agronomists, and food companies. We have 25,000 growers in the U.S. with Agrian accounts. We are not trying to sell any (seed, fertilizer, or chemical) products. We control our own destiny.
SF: What’s the biggest mistake farmers make in production record keeping?
NM: There is way too much paper. Five years from now, Cargill or General Mills or Costco will not ask for a 28-page paper report. They will ask for electronic documentation. In the West, our customers have electronic reports going back a decade. This is a powerful capability that cannot be done with paper records.
SF: What are other ways farmers can benefit from electronic documentation?
NM: Drift (and other off-target movement from chemicals like dicamba) is a big issue. We cut our teeth on this early in California. In early days, growers did not want any information kept on this. What they found out is that they are responsible for (off-target movement) problems. We created software that can document everything done in the field – from the chemical applied to when it was applied.
Name: Nish Majarian, chief executive officer for Agrian
Background: Majarian started his career managing the central California office for Governor Pete Wilson (R-CA), concentrating mainly on agricultural issues. He then founded a firm that focused on compliance and reporting for campaign finance. He then cofounded Agrian in 2004. Founded as a a cloud-based record-keeping system, Agrian developed a digital platform for agronomists, farmers, retailers, and food processors to work collaboratively within a unified system.