How Uniting Farmers and AgTech Innovators Builds Success

by | Oct 10, 2023 | Business Process

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.

In the end, even the best ideas are useless if we can’t put them into action.

Will AgTech replace or create jobs?

A distinct fear common among producers and many boots-on-the-ground laborers in agriculture is that technology will make their jobs obsolete as it rapidly advances in the industry. Though this hesitation is understandable for those unfamiliar with technology, the reality is more nuanced. Rather than losing jobs with the advent of AgTech, there is potential to create new and often better job opportunities.

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.

America has 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.

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