Agtech is one of the newer breeds of industries that have been cropping up in the last decade. This new era of anything + tech (even, yes, madtech) has seen people come together with the goal of making change happen, and it’s clear no corner of society will be unaffected.
Collaboration has always been a driving force behind innovation; other sectors from fintech, edtech and healthtech have all long been on board, while agtech has been a little slower to come to the table.
But that is now changing.
There was no better place to see this transformation in action than the recent World Agritech Innovation Summit in San Francisco. With our Founder Ros Harvey on the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Agriculture panel, we were among leading global voices keen to accelerate the commercialisation of agtech solutions. And with over 1300 attendees - almost doubling the list from last year – the air of change was palpable.
Ag and tech have been slow to come together
We're starting to see that in order to develop good agtech solutions, both ag and tech need to come wholly and enthusiastically together.
There is still a prevailing narrative that growers are averse to technology, but this is contrary to the conversations we have with growers every single day. By nature of their business, growers need to be ahead of the curve in order to overcome whatever the climate or economy throws at them. It’s the tech side that often fails to provide real-world value or prove return on investment under real-world conditions.
Additionally, agriculture and its complexities are often completely foreign to tech people first getting into the space. And for growers, it’s a huge shift to start looking at their phone to make decisions instead of trusting decades of on-farm experience.
There are some great signs of progress though as we saw in San Francisco, where there was a real culture of collaboration between growers, tech providers and industry that wasn’t there before.
Cooperation is key to maturity
Some agtech events mostly consist of tech companies pitching to each other in an echo chamber – but the World Agritech Innovation Summit finally brought something different to the table.
Even last year, there was an element of protectionism; of businesses wanting to learn what was out there but not wanting to share details about their own technology.
However, in 2019, attendees seemed to take the theme of ‘partnership and collaboration’ to heart, recognising that diversifying skills, resources and seeking innovation outside their sphere is the only way forward.
It was an attitude shown by even the largest players, with the Head of R&D of Crop Science at Bayer saying, “...we can’t afford a ‘not invented here’ mentality.”
“We need to let innovation happen outside our walls and use it. We don’t have to bring everything inside and own it,” stated James Weed, the Digital Lead at Cargill.
Partnership is now the name of the game, with a number of collaborations announced in the last year. This includes of large tech and ag businesses coming together along the agrifood supply chain with great success.
Everyone from Mars and PepsiCo to universities and not-for-profits are getting involved and looking into how they can be a part of agtech innovation.
Building active agtech communities
Back home, there are several initiatives that are seeking to build the kinds of communities that accelerate cooperation.
Reports like this one from Ernst and Young and the Federal Government highlight the key role partnerships have when it comes to innovation in agriculture.
Importantly, more growers’ voices are being heard in online community hubs like Farm Table and the Ag Innovators Network, which aim to exchange knowledge and inspire the next generation of farming. And initiatives like Austrade’s Agriculture 4.0 taskforce want to see Australia become the heart of agtech innovation – and building connections is the way they want to make it happen.
With both ag and tech now on the same page and joining forces, the next year should bring a wave of fresh innovation. It’s an exciting time to be a part of it.