With technology an integral part of our lives, we have more resources at our fingertips to solve problems than ever before. As our tools evolve, so do some challenges. This is especially true for AgTech innovators.
Why growers aren’t adopting AgTech
Those challenges certainly pertain to AgTech, where the implementation of advanced technology met mixed reviews from those in the industry. According to McKinsey & Company Agriculture, most producers are open-minded to pushing new tech in agriculture, but a far smaller percentage are adopting and implementing it.
We sat to talk more about this with industry leader Dennis Donohue, director of Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology (CIT), which Western Growers created to help advance the industry by identifying industry priorities, discovering technologies to address them, setting up testing, and facilitating industry feedback.
When interviewed and polled, producers expressed concerns including but not limited to:
- Uncertain or undefined ROI.
- An aversion to high up-front costs.
- The need for more trust in tech performance.
Melinda Goodman at FullTilt Marketing recounted, “You can have all the great ideas in the world, but if you can’t implement them, how are they benefiting us?”
Will AgTech replace or create jobs?
Goodman addresses a distinct fear belonging to producers and many boots-on-the-ground laborers in agriculture. With technology moving into the industry rapidly, workers believe their jobs will become obsolete. Though the hesitation is understandable for people unfamiliar with technology, the truth is not so black and white. Melinda adds, “With AgTech, we don’t lose jobs. We can create new jobs and, in many cases, better jobs.”
Upskilling has become a hot topic in agriculture, mainly resulting from technology’s advances. Rather than letting go of previous workers and hiring new teams, thought leaders are saving time and money by leveraging the knowledge and expertise already on staff and investing in further education to upskill workers to new positions.
Implementing upskilling programs provides transparency to workers with clear career growth paths, something that has often been elusive in the industry. On this path is the potential for higher wages and more benefits, promoting longevity and job satisfaction. Implementing new technology also creates demand for new positions directly related to the technology.
Dennis recalls his own experiences with farming operations during the inception of AgTech and seeing the original disconnects between producers and engineers.
He expands on this to say, “Technologists presented growers with solutions to problems they didn’t have. CIT brings innovators and growers to the table together. Innovators get the information they need to identify real challenges and create solutions to tackle them.” He said, “Ag is the intersection of many folks’ agendas. If AgTech is going to work for everybody, co-development is the name of the game.”
Leaning in to AgTech to solve big challenges
Pros and cons of the marriage between agriculture and technology aside, the current state of the world calls for getting more creative, as well as more efficient, through growing food. Our population is growing, environmental crises are becoming more common, farmworkers are aging, and worker shortages are becoming the norm—all of these factors point to the need for a different approach.
Goodman addresses the market in North America, saying, “We have the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in the world. But at the same time, we know we need to make it more resilient to keep up with a growing population.”
Further incorporating tech into farming operations presents opportunities to alleviate these stressors in the industry, but this cannot happen without more accessible education and shared tech development goals. We can’t create solutions looking for a problem.
Prioritizing the resolution of actual challenges, improving the accessibility of upskilling, and establishing well-defined career growth paths for workers can significantly narrow the divide between dedicated producers and advanced tools. This approach facilitates a shift towards working smarter rather than harder, benefiting the entire workforce.
Listen to the podcast
For more insights and commentary, listen to the entire conversation in the player above or on the Tip of the Iceberg podcast by The Packer, published here.
We launched an informative and entertaining series talking all things ag tech, from new tech applied to organic fruit to cybersecurity, AI, robotics, and everything in between. A respected thought leader in the industry will join us each episode to share their knowledge and experiences with all of us. Join us as we uncover the revolutionary ways technology reshapes the agricultural landscape and drives farming practices.