AgTech: The Role of Tech in a New Green World
November 9, 2021
On Tuesday, November 9th, Bloomberg hosted a virtual roundtable to discuss how decision-makers in the AgTech industry are utilizing technology to give business and society new tools to tackle the world’s most perplexing issues. Through the lens of emerging technologies, we’ll examine how local economies can utilize technology to become more self-sufficient in agriculture, strengthen the global food supply and combat world hunger.
Jocelyn Boudreau, Chief Executive Officer, Hortau
Lais Braido, Chief Financial Officer, Solinftec
Mitch Frazier, Chief Executive Officer, AgriNovus Indiana
Erik Josefsson, Chief Executive Officer, R-evolution (a subsidiary of Hexagon)
Allison Kopf, Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Data Products, iUNU
Lindsay Suddon, Chief Strategy Officer, Proagrica
Cécile Tartarin, Vice President of Products and Solutions at Geosys
Host: Michael Hirtzer, Bloomberg News Agriculture Reporter
Click here to view the video of the full discussion.
Here’s what they had to say:
To lead off our roundtable, Mitch Frazier, Chief Executive Officer, AgriNovus Indiana, set an optimistic tone for the discussion saying, “I am confident that, together, we can identify opportunities to work together, to collaborate, to innovate,and to ensure the food system we rely on every day is sustainable and meets the needs of populations around the world.”
Host Michael Hirtzer, Bloomberg News Agriculture Reporter, kicked off the wider discussion by asking our panelists how the industry is managing consumers’ continuously evolving demands given the current state of supply chains.
Lindsay Suddon, Chief Strategy Officer, Proagrica, explained the complexity of supply chains in the Agri-food industry and how, although this makes seamless data exchanges challenging, it poses an exciting opportunity for collaboration and innovation.
“If we can get the data in motion, if we are getting out 10 or even 100 times more data, we should be able to be 10 or even 100 times more efficient,” Erik Josefsson, Chief Executive Officer, R-evolution (a subsidiary of Hexagon), added. “We want to continue to have our GDP growth and have our population growth, but we need to get that in a sustainable way.”
Allison Kopf, Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Data Products, iUNU, discussed how current dynamics in the industry, such as growers who are responsible for an increasing square footage of land with fewer resources, create a unique opportunity for automation and technology. Kopf agreed that collaboration in AgTech is essential saying, “Now is the opportunity for companies to work together, to partner, to find ways to connect these technologies to get a fully integrated solution.”
Collaboration also enables traceability, which Cécile Tartarin, Vice President of Products and Solutions at Geosys, highlighted as a growing expectation of consumers. “To interconnect the different parts of the chain through traceability systems is a real opportunity for people to have more visibility into how the crops are grown.”
“Here in Brazil, we do not have 3G or 4G infrastructure, so it was a huge challenge to collect real-time data,” said Lais Braido, Chief Financial Officer, Solinftec, speaking to data infrastructure and connectivity challenges facing the Agri-food industry in Brazil. She stressed that “without real-time data, we cannot deliver meaningful results to farmers…Partnerships are really important to be able to deliver meaningful results.”
Jocelyn Boudreau, Chief Executive Officer, Hortau, wrapped up the discussion by stating, “Integration is important, but providing specific solutions to specific issues one at a time is very important as well. The big picture is super important, but we’ll get there one step at a time.”
Next, our panelists discussed the ways in which technology is integrating into workflows to address issues facing Agri-food businesses.
“Farming is a really analog industry. We haven’t had a digital record of everything that is happening on the farm to date”, Kopf pointed out. By digitizing data and leveraging AI technologies, growers can maximize the yield and quality of crops coming out of a facility. “When you start to get that optimized picture of one individual farm, you can then zoom out to systemic change.”
Our panelists emphasized the importance of trust when integrating new technologies into workflows. Boudreau explained that combining the understanding of a farmer’s day-to-day reality with better quality data creates tangible value for growers and the environment.
Kopf agreed but added that standardization is needed to understand how data will move along the supply chain and who will have access to it. “To farmers, at the end of the day, trust is earned through action. We need to show what we’re doing with the information and show the value that we are creating.” AgTech companies can also earn the trust of growers by leveraging SaaS and showing benefit flows across the entire system.
Tartarin spoke to the challenge of fragmentation of AgTech solutions available to the industry stating, “Agtech can be very fragmented and that is where collaboration and connectivity has to happen between the different solution providers.” She proposed the idea of collaborating through APIs in order to integrate technology and provide one comprehensive solution to farmers.
Our panelists then discussed how climate change is exacerbating the food crisis and the ways in which AgTech can be leveraged to help address the issue.
Food crises can often be balanced with global availability, although there is still a need for early warning systems so action can be taken proactively. Prediction systems are crucial to mitigate risk, especially given the increasing amount of volatility in crises. Supply chains will also have to be nimbler and more intelligent in order to uphold quality, regardless of volatility and supply.
Braido countered that the adaptation needed to create resilience may not be affordable for smaller farmers. Kopf continued that it can be challenging to push adoption of new technologies with an aging farmer population. The question of who is responsible for paying for these changes across the supply chain is still one that the industry needs to address.
Finally, our panelists weighed in on COP26 and how decisions made could potentially impact the AgTech and Agri-food industries.
“Time will make the decision for us if we do not act now, and I think that is what COP26 will be a reminder of,” Josefsson stated. The role of AgTech in addressing the climate crisis will be crucial. There has been a shift in mindset from seeing farmers as emitters of carbon to now seeing them as a solution to climate change.
The government will also need to work in tandem with AgTech to support farmer adoption of new tools and technologies, Suddon added. “If we have these agricultural-specific targets that governments have helped to set, then it’s against these targets that we can start coming up with the KPIs and answer some of these questions.”
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