Big Data, Ag Tech and What’s Coming Next

Grow North MN is on a mission to accelerate Minnesota’s ecosystem of food and agriculture entrepreneurs and innovators, and we’re proud to support their efforts. As recipients of our 2019 Seed to Succeed program, we worked with Grow North MN to help promote their annual Food, Ag, Ideas Week and gleaned insights from the sessions we attended.

Throughout the week, we explored the brewing industry at an inventive St. Paul taproom. We also talked food waste, food trends and food system challenges at sessions throughout the Twin Cities. One panel in particular provided a well-balanced exploration of innovation with diverse perspectives from farm technology developers and the farmers who use them. Here are a few key takeaways on big data, ag tech and what’s coming next.

Big Data, Big Opportunity

Current technologies are great at collecting data – which is quickly becoming one of the most valuable assets in the world – but there is still a long way to go in making this abundance of data usable and valuable for farmers.

Chakra Sankaraiah, director of technology innovation at Land O’ Lakes, said there are two critical pieces to tackling this challenge: “Getting data into a central place and generating insights that are actionable. Instead of thinking about how digital technology can expand, it’s important to think about how all the technology can work together.”

Importance of ROI

“It’s hard to get farmers to adopt technologies, but it’s not just because they don’t want to. It’s because they’re not showing true ROI for the farmer,” said Jake Joraanstad, CEO of ag software company Bushel.

Technology innovation shouldn’t be about creating something for the sake of creating something new. It needs to solve a problem and be proven profitable.

Farmers get one crack at growing crops each year,” added Joraanstad. “They’re not going to make huge changes without knowing it will work or pay off.

Tina May, senior director of sustainability at Land O’ Lakes, echoed his sentiments while sharing about the co-op’s TruterraTM platform, which helps farmers understand their environmental impact. “I’m excited about what we’re building because we’re focusing on how these tech tools have an impact on the grower’s ROI. If we don’t frame it up that way, we’re going to have a hard time getting users on any system.”

Farmers’ Deciding Factors

After listening to these leaders trade thoughts on ROI, Tim Kozojed, a sixth-generation farmer from Traill County, North Dakota, made his perspective plain and simple: “For me to justify spending money on a product, there are three things it needs. Its needs to be dependable. Most of our operation is dependent on weather and markets so we need something we can rely on. It needs to be affordable. We don’t have unlimited funds. There are boundaries on what we can spend. And it needs to be functional. It needs to serve a purpose beyond what I can accomplish with the notebook in my pocket.”

The Autonomous Future

Autonomous technologies are nothing new for agriculture. Autosteer has become commonplace, and other AI applications are used in daily operations. However, autonomy is a trend that will continue to grow on the farm.

Now we’re getting to the point where machines can only be so big, and one or two people on a farm can only do so much,” said Joraanstad. “The next layer coming is autonomy around robotics and machinery.

Improved broadband connectivity will be critical for success, as 30% of America is still without access. The panel agreed this is one of today’s biggest challenges, not only for the progression of modern agriculture, but for the growth of the rural communities that are key to the industry.