To farmer or not to farmer, that is the question

February 12, 2022

A digitally native approach to agriculture allows you to disrupt existing channels and go direct to the farmer

Traditional advice and retail networks exist largely to support the incumbent suppliers of farm inputs and machinery. The advice farmers get is inevitably influenced by the products the advisors sell and the margins they receive. Speaking directly to farmers will remove the intermediaries and deliver more value.

Oh, the billions of dollars that have been burned as a result of this line of reasoning.

Advice is cheap, reputation is expensive

Agtech founders, their advisors, and their investors also confuse attention with reputation in designing go-to-market.

It is true that you can likely get the attention of a farmer if you’re talking about how to improve yield, save time, save money or improve prices. What you can’t get easily is a reputation or their trust. That must be earned. It is tempting to look at retail and advice networks and see the economic elements — margins and supply. The far more important aspects are the psychological ones — incentives and reputation.

There is a set of well-designed incentives and hard-won trust that underpin these networks and you ignore them at your peril (and great cost).

The road less traveled

It is not that it can’t be done. In fact, the landscape of advice and influence in retail networks is constantly in flux as Shane Thomas outlines here in great detail.

The erosion or dismantling of one network does not happen in isolation and will be replaced by another. There are great examples of models like Farmers Business Network that are doing things very differently.

The mistake you must avoid is simply to ignore what has gone before and assume a straight line is the shortest path.

Understand who is the user and who is the beneficiary. A go-to-market without clarity here is a path to destruction.

Disruption is not the same as innovation. Incumbents have a lot to lose and will invest heavily to protect their position. Innovation that creates new revenue streams for incumbents can be powerful and valuable innovation.

Know what battle you are fighting. If you are intent on major disruption then you best be prepared for a long, expensive, and well-planned passage through the messy middle.

As Einstein apparently said, make it as simple as possible but no simpler.

Thinking you can go directly to farmers risks being far too simple a business plan.

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