How agriculture adapts in the digital age

Digital transformation is ingrained in the food and ag systems. During the Women in Agribusiness Summit 2020, leaders from four ag businesses discuss the changes agriculture has experienced and what to expect in the future.

Panelists include:

  • Asha Lundal, principal at EY (Ernst & Young)
  • Faith Larson, chief financial officer at GrainBridge
  • Kristine Swan, head of IT business partnering - digital farming at Bayer
  • Holly Clifton, head of strategy - Corteva Digital Business at Corteva Agriscience

How Digital Has Transformed Businesses

Lundal says that central to EY’s work is the way technology improves all business operations – from customer experience to the development of new business models. “We work with clients to reimagine what the food system looks like, innovate faster with exponentially more transparency, and collaborate to address the pressure points in our ag and food systems.”

For Corteva Agriscience, digital transformation is at the core of the company and its history.

“When we think about digital ag, we keep the customer at the center of everything,” explains Clifton. Digital solutions allow Corteva Agriscience to find efficient and effective ways for growers to run their operations, depending on the scale and complexity. That may be by increasing the number of acres in production or doing more with less.

“Applying digital to those opportunities helps the grower customer refine their operations and become more successful and more sustainable for years to come,” Clifton says.

GrainBridge has been in business for over a decade as a digital marketplace connecting grain buyers with growers.

ADM and Cargill launched GrainBridge as a joint venture in March of 2019. Their goal is to provide customers the right tools for their data to make better decisions on the right prices to sell grain.

“We started using digital technology and software to help farmers organize the financial picture of their operation,” Larson explains. “In the past, farmers kept information like input costs together on invoices or spreadsheets or on paper. To help the grower make a better decision on how to sell their grain, they need this information in one spot.”

Larson says with the popularity of the Amazons and eBays of the world, it is now more easier than ever to access marketplaces digitally to buy and sell goods. “While agriculture has been an industry that hasn’t moved as quickly as others, we think now the time is ripe for the adoption of this kind of marketplace.”

Bayer has a leading portfolio of inputs across crop protection, seed, and biologicals, but also offers digital platforms.

“For Bayer, being a digital company is not about a side project or an activity or transformation; it is about business,” Swan says. “Agriculture today is increasing the amount of data that is produced. We are focused on ways to parse data already collected, organize it, and then leverage it.”

Swan says digital ag enables Bayer to manage data and turn it into insights and capabilities that support both growers and the business.

Future of Data

The future of ag in the digital age remains strong but requires partnership and trust. Being a good steward goes beyond care of land, particularly in regard to data.

“At Corteva Agriscience, we believe that growers own their data,” Clifton says. “We have to make sure we’re collecting data in a very sound practice, that we’re using it the way we have expressed in our data privacy policy, and we adhere with all local and federal data compliance requirements. In this way, we can ensure our digital systems are able to respond accurately.”

“Having intelligence and information may help you in making decisions, but we have to ensure that the farmer has our trust, that we’re keeping the farmers’ best interests in mind,” Larson adds.

Data is a powerful tool and Swan says in the last few years, their customers have found great benefit in how data is used.

“If farmers see the value, they’re willing and happy to share data,” Swan says. “We have found over 95% of farmers we’ve approached are more than willing to agree to a data consent because they see the benefit and the opportunity.

Swan continues, “It is also part of our overall care of farmers’ data to make sure they understand how their data is being used and that they have a stake in that, and that the benefits outweigh the risks.”

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