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How the Future of Farming Is Changing With the Advances of Digital Agriculture
The countdown has begun for the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit, which will take place March 19-20, 2019, in San Francisco. Ahead of the Summit, Dan Burdett, global head of digital agriculture for Syngenta, talks about how the company is advancing digital agriculture solutions for farmers.
AB: Syngenta has been very quiet in the digital ag space. What is going on?
DB: From the market perspective, I believe it is fair to say we have been quiet, but below the surface I can guarantee you we have been extremely busy. We have a multitude of high-impact projects in the pipeline and over 30 pilots going on all over the world right now. We are actively collaborating with more than two dozen partners in this space. We acquired AgConnections four years ago and have had two more acquisitions in the last 10 months: Strider in Brazil and FarmShots in the U.S. Our digital tools are in the hands of tens of thousands of growers worldwide, which represents a rapidly growing footprint across the globe.
AB: With all the activity in this space, how will you remain competitive and differentiated?
DB: Our intent is to provide quality over quantity. There is just so much hype in this space and, honestly, we don’t believe a lot of the hype is translating to tangible value for farmers. Syngenta Digital Ag did not want to add to the noise before being certain we could overdeliver value to farmers and their stakeholders. We sympathize with farmers when they express frustration about digital technologies. Unless there’s a clear value proposition that farmers can easily integrate into their businesses and extract a reliable return on investment, the hype may be doing more harm than good. We’re just being very careful and intentional about what we bring to market.
AB: This is all very exciting. What kind of digital products should we expect to see then?
DB: We are focusing on real value to farmers and their stakeholders. When you look really closely, farmers and their advisers aren’t looking for ways to substitute their capabilities – they’re looking for ways to enhance them. It’s our belief that farmers are ultimately looking for technologies that create efficiency, give them a competitive advantage in a changing marketplace, and help them make unbiased decisions that maximize their bottom line. For example, solutions that improve scouting, seed selection, and application timing. Technologies that work, even when the user is offline. Tools that aid in avoiding problems, like mitigating weather risk and preventing human error on the operations side. Soon the market will start to see all of these great things I am talking about. 2019 will be an exciting year!
AB: You mentioned a changing competitive marketplace. In which ways is the landscape changing and how do you envision Digital Agriculture helping farmers adapt?
DB: The impact of society’s demand for food production transparency is only going to increase, and farmers who are caught off-guard are going to find it difficult to compete. Technology is the answer. From measuring and managing inputs to documenting and quantifying sustainability metrics, farmers who adopt digital tools will have the freedom to operate in a food economy that now demands visibility into the entire production cycle.
Digital Agriculture has the power to influence the other side of that equation, as well. For example, there aren’t clear industry standards for terms like sustainability and responsible farming, so it’s difficult (and costly) for farmers to hit a target that’s constantly moving. The data generated by digital solutions will help create industry benchmarks, and our hope is that the entire food production process, from the producers to retailers and consumers, will soon be speaking a common language with clearly defined and understood goals.
AB: You’re joining us at World Agri-Tech San Francisco. What new technologies or opportunities are you most excited about seeing?
DB: We’re really looking forward to joining the world’s foremost experts on ag technology and seeing solutions that are more than simply incremental improvements for farmers. We hear all the time the perception that agriculture is behind other industries when it comes to digital innovation, but that doesn’t mean our focus should be attempting to just play catch-up. If we use learnings from the digitization of other areas of the global economy, agriculture should be well-positioned to leapfrog other industries. And given that the world will soon have 10 billion mouths to feed, advancing agriculture to the forefront of the digital revolution has never been more important.
AB: What is your goal in the digital agriculture space?
DB: Our philosophy is that we have a duty to use science and technology to improve farming, and we believe digital tools have the ability to enhance agronomic knowledge and ultimately enable better decision making. In our view, the measure of success is not only yield maximization, but also resource use efficiency, with sound agronomics that deliver better results. We need to help farmers feed the world while also helping to protect our planet. Farmers have never been under as much pressure as they are today. Yet, with a growing population, society probably doesn’t truly appreciate how badly we need farmers to succeed. With Digital Agriculture, we have the potential to help farmers accomplish more than ever before, and if we can introduce technology that delivers on that promise, everybody wins.