Closing the ag/agtech divide

April 5, 2018

Despite huge- and growing- interest from tech companies, investors, governments, and entrepreneurs all over the world, there remains a disconnect between the agtech and agriculture industries. AgThentic was founded to help close this disconnect- utilizing the growing interest and financial support for agtech to bring more, and better, skills, technologies, and capital to an industry that we rely on daily. Technologies must solve real problems. Entrepreneurs and farmers must find ways to co-develop solutions. Investors and innovation models (e.g., accelerators) must understand the dynamics of the industry and where ag is (and isn’t) different from other sectors. And we must all appreciate that innovation and tech startups are not just a phenomenon of Silicon Valley.

It was with these issues in mind that Renée Vassilos, Ag Economist and AgThentic Collaborator, and I set out on a ten day, whirlwind trip through the midwest of the U.S. last month. Across Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas we spoke with over 60 farmers, agronomists, extension agents, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, co-ops, seed companies, equipment dealerships, and consultants all working at the intersection of ag and agtech. We weren’t sure what we’d find (or how willing people would be to talk to two women with no real agenda other than to learn), but we set up meetings by sharing our initial (somewhat controversial) hypotheses:

Thanks to the generosity of the people we spoke with who gave their time and honest opinions, despite most conversations starting with a healthy dose of skepticism, we found answers to many of our initial questions, and many we didn’t know we had.

We learned:

  • Selling a product or asking for a Letter of Intent (LOI) are two of many pathways for engagement between agtech startups/entrepreneurs and ag industry players
  • Industry players pay attention to the business models, investors, and capital raises of high-profile agtech startups, in addition to the pricing, value proposition, and features of their products
  • Previously trusted models of advice and services, such as extension, cooperatives, and magazines, are under pressure to stay relevant and retain trust in a world with Amazon and social media
  • The oft-cited “average age of farmers is pushing 60” statistic is missing key nuances, and this additional context has massive implications for the future of agriculture, agtech, and rural communities
  • Farm economics are driving a desire and need for diversification despite the extreme path dependence for corn and soybeans. Farmers, retailers, and distributors are looking for ways to grow their businesses and continue to add value to customers and their bottom-lines.
  • The rural/urban divide is not just on the coasts, but plagues the midwest as well

Our conversations ranged across topics and industries, providing insights as well as raising questions that we are validating. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to summarize our takeaways in a series of posts. We hope you find it as valuable as we have to dig into tough questions with the people and businesses at the intersection of ag and agtech. We’d love to hear your thoughts as we continue to unpack and share ours.