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Farmers: Are You Tired of Tech?

Paul Overby chuckles when he reads the claims of the new apps and software solutions. “These products can only do what is being promised if someone gets the base information into the program in the first place so reports can be generated!” says the North Dakota farmer. 

According to Ag Funder’s Agrifood Tech Investing Report: Mid-Year Review 2017, start-ups focused on farm-management software, sensing, and IoT were the most numerous, with 46 raising $213 million in funding. With so many vying for your attention, it’s no surprise fatigue may be setting in. 

“Farmers are tired of receiving visits from people who claim they have miracle technologies,” says Aidan Connolly, chief innovation officer and vice president, corporate accounts at Alltech. “It has become extremely difficult for them to be enthusiastic about a new product or service.” 

the shark tank effect

While you may be feeling overwhelmed, you do still have real problems that need solutions and you probably want to be supportive of innovators coming out with new technologies, says Rob Trice, founder of Mixing Bowl. 

“However, a lot of the solutions being brought to market may not be fully baked or may not live up to the bill of goods that was sold to you, which creates frustration,” he says. “You also have a number of people who don’t understand the realities of agriculture and think they can simply drop a solution from another sector into agriculture without understanding some of the unique challenges in agriculture.”

The reality, adds Trice, is that this growing bubble of ag tech companies will eventually burst and only a few will actually be successful. 

While accelerators and incubators are popping up to help resolve issues like funding and viability, Trice is concerned at the trends he believes are taking shape.

“Fifteen years ago, there were fewer than 10 incubators and only one accelerator in the U.S.,” he says. “Today, there are over 1,400 combined. This overabundance of incubators and accelerators is creating an overabundance of start-ups. I am also starting to see some start-ups living incubator to incubator, which makes me wonder why it didn’t successfully incubate the first time.”

His other concern is that these competitions are becoming entertainment. “I call it the Shark Tank effect,” says Trice. “One competition had start-ups make presentations to funders while they jumped out of an airplane. I don’t want to see start-up funding become a sport.”

repair needed

For Trice, the whole innovation model is broken. Yet, the fact remains innovation must take place in ag. 

“Agriculture should not want to lose the attention of the best technologists nor does it want to scare away funders from backing ag tech,” he says. “Cleantech became a four-letter word among funders years back. How can we avoid the same fate with ag tech? We need to create conditions for start-ups to thrive and get success stories we can point to.”

We also need to give technologists realistic expectations and a clear understanding of constraints we face in adopting technologies, Trice says. For instance, we need to understand that robots will not be in the field unless we have large data sets for machines to learn against. 

“Big data won’t work unless there are data transfer solutions to take data from the field to the cloud,” he says. “We need multiple growers to develop the conditions for ag tech success, like adopting cross-device data sharing schema such as AgGateway and codeveloping solutions with start-ups in shared risk/reward models. We need to crawl before we can walk – and we need to do so together.” 

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