Upstream Ag Insights - June 13th 2021

Essential news and analysis for agribusiness leaders

Welcome to the 70th edition of Upstream Ag Insights!

Thank-you to the ~550 readers that filled out the Upstream Ag Insights survey! There was a lot of excellent learnings for me, many of which I will summarize in the July 4th Editions where I go through some of the highlights of the 1st half of 2021.

For anyone that didn’t fill it out, I am always open to feedback and suggestions. I cannot promise all of them will happen, but I will do my best to consider the ones that I believe will make Upstream Ag Insights a more useful resource, especially as I look to invest more into a stand alone site, enhanced proprietary reports and an actual editor!

Index for the week:

  • The Future of Seed

  • e-commerce Alone Won’t Cut it for Ag Retailers

  • Remote Sensing and Satellite Imagery in Agriculture

  • Further Nutrien and Yara Carbon Announcements

  • A great thread on marketing in agriculture!

  • Gingko Bioworks Collaboration with Sumitomo

  • Sentera closes $25m Series C Round to Scale its Digital Ag Platform

  • Farm Inputs Index Fund

  • Syngenta Beginning IPO Process

Have an excellent week!

Stay informed on the future of agribusiness by joining thousands from around the world and subscribe to Upstream Ag Insights!

The Future of Seed - Upstream Ag Insights

I was inspired this week after reading this article on quantum computing:

The Quest For The Ultimate Seed Begins with Quantum Computing - Oilseed and Grain News

It got me thinking about the future of varietal decision making and bundling. Quantum computing has a lot of potential, but is still a ways out from influencing seed. With that said, there is still a lot of computing and analytics influence coming into farming and this changes the way we sell and bundle seed.

I put some thoughts together to start a conversation around seed; starting with where seed technology has came from and discussing where it may go from a selling and decision perspective (not specifically into traits, genetics etc).

I left a comments section in the article for you to leave thoughts about the future of seed as well!


This weeks edition of Upstream Ag Insights was sponsored by AGvisorPRO!

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eCommerce Alone Won’t Cut It for Ag Retailers - Crop Life

eCommerce is one piece of a much broader online grower experience. What is required is a digital engagement platform. This offering connects commerce with personalized information and communication tools that make it easier for growers to do business with their preferred ag retailer.

An integrated online platform opens new avenues for engaging customers. AgVend Partner Retailers find that 95% of their portal use has nothing to do with eCommerce. Instead, usage is centered around making it easier for growers to do business on their terms.

This is spot on. This is the message that so often gets overlooked. It is the area I have been emphasizing: it is not just about transacting, but about the customer experience. How is the farmer being engaged with, managing the in-between (between transactions) aspects of relationship building and selling. This is consistent with the area I want to further break out in the coming months around ambient ag commerce.

The topic itself (e-commerce and digital engaging farmers) topic reminds me of an interview with Jeff Bezos where the interviewer continues to emphasize the need for Bezos to differentiate between being an “internet” company or a physical retail company (encourage you to watch the whole video, but to get to the point I reference skip to the 2:45 minute mark and listen until roughly 3:30):

He states it doesn’t matter whether they are an internet company or have physical assets, it’s about investing in what is best for the customer.

The alignment for us in ag is this: it isn’t about being e-commerce focused, or digital or physical or anything; it is about providing value to the farm customer. To me this includes both physical and digital foot prints with a way of coherently integrating them.

The author (Alexander Reichert, CEO of AgVend*) referenced the recent Mckinsey study that I referenced in the ambient ag commerce link, with a consistent perspective:

While necessary for any comprehensive solution, eCommerce should not be the primary focus of your digital customer experience. What’s most important is that your platform makes it easier to do business by providing one central place for a grower to manage their account, engage, and purchase on their terms across your business units.

This is a great article worth giving a read.

*Disclosure: I am an advisor to AgVend (so the aligned view point on this is no surprise!)

Margin Pressures in Ag Retail: The Increasing Cost to Serve Growers - Proagrica

Last week Proagrica held their first of three webinars talking about the generational gap in ag retail. There were some great take aways around the generational gap and attracting talent from outside the industry.

Here were two actionable insights from the webinar:

  • Mentorship Approach - Pairing new staff with an experienced individual as their go-to person for questions and guidance can be powerful. This helps speed up knowledge transfer, provides a consistent avenue to ask questions for new staff and ensures farm customers do not suffer in any transition.

  • Historically, ag retail has had a mantra of “sink or swim” for new staff. But now, younger individuals tend to learn more effectively through collaboration and team work. Organizations adapting to this new approach to learning and driving the culture is not just good for the individual, but the organization. This accelerates the learning process for staff and a major source of competitive differentiation in ag retail, and all business, is learning faster than your competitors. If you can understand what the customers want and need and deliver on that, you will win out more often than not, especially if it’s already known by others on your team!

This weeks webinar topic goes hand in hand with dynamic knowledge transfer across your organization: margin erosion.

Margin erosion has continued to be a challenge in the crop input space. This stems from an inability to differentiate and add unique value to farmers. What underlies that are other challenges: talent constraints, supplier relationships, farm and manufacturer consolidation, increased information access and more. While it can be easy to sit back and feel defeated, what interests me is what is being done about it by leading retailers.

In my mind there are two major ways to influence margin erosion directly:

  1. Augment product and service offerings

  2. Enhance staff through training, culture, tools etc to enable better customer relationships, experience and loyalty.

There are numerous approaches to executing both of these. In the Proagrica webinar on June 16th I look forward to hearing insights from Nic McCarthy, Senior Vice President of Agronomy at Central Valley Ag and Ryan Risdal of Proagrica who will discuss some of the approaches to successfully navigating margin erosion.

To be able to learn from this discussion, sign up at the above link and join the June 16th webinar at 2:00pm ET!

*Sponsored content

Satellite Imagery Applications in Agriculture

Demystifying Earth Observation: The Multi-Billion Market* in Space Tech - Terrawatch

The business of satellite imagery in agriculture has fascinated me for years, but it has never been an area I understand well. In doing more research on the subject lately I stumbled on this newsletter where the author does an exceptional job of breaking down the layers, and players, within the space.

This image is a very useful framework:

In this article the author gets into “insights”, which are specific take aways for an industry. The author sees these companies verticalizing and focusing on a specific industry aka go deeper into understanding what’s occurring via satellite imagery.

Agriculture is one specific industry. And an example of what that could be for agriculture is stress identification for certain crops, or identifying specific nitrogen content of crops in season. This data is always going to be more valuable with additional layers of information - from soil, from weather etc.

That leads to an article from Planet Labs:

Monitoring Crop Nitrogen Status with Satellite Data - Planet Labs

At Planet, we’re excited that recent research is showing how satellite data can provide a reliable estimation of the crop nitrogen content. Those estimations are a vital piece of intelligence that can serve as the basis for nutrient management programs.

This is beneficial for sure. Nitrogen is important. Imagery, or plant tissue diagnostics are a snap shot in time impacted by the soils ability to supply nitrogen to the crop in a given area. But it still very much lacks a “so what?” that can be proactively managed or precriptive.

The fact other nutrient information is missing mitigates some of the value derived from this offering too. There is still a need to test for other nutrients, so a tissue test will still be required in many instances. With that said, I don’t want to take away the potential this has and the fact this is just a starting point and will evolve over time:

Several researchers have shown that the red-edge band can be used to determine nitrogen content for a range of major crops, including potatoes, soybean, corn and wheat.

If you can continuously acquire data and combine it with soil information, NDVI, weather information and yield/quality information there is a better capability to understand future application needs for nitrogen and better predict yield. This is where organizations like Regrow, Farmers Edge or a Croptimistic for example are better positioned to leverage this nitrogen measurement capability than some other platforms. They have a soil understanding that integrates with the imagery to give a more robust, useable layer to inform decisions.

The red-edge band in Planet’s SuperDove constellation will enable agronomists and farmers to receive a daily update on the crop nitrogen status of their crops. This technology provides a better diagnostic tool, reduces costs associated with physical sampling, and facilitates corrective nutrient applications, especially important given that application windows are narrowing. 

I don’t think any farmer wants a daily update of the nitrogen status. What farmers and agronomists want is an alert that cuts through the noise; when to apply nitrogen based on a deficiency or an opportunity to enhance yield. The variation of day to day nitrogen levels in plant tissues is caused by too many factors including stress related fluctuations from moisture or heat, accounting for yield variation between areas of a field and the conditions and and understanding of at what point action is needed. The opportunity is really to combine this with layers of other data and create better models or real alerts where action is deemed necessary.

The really exciting part of this capability is what will come next, when other pieces are used in conjunction to complete the puzzle.

Farmers Edge Extends Relationship with Aerospace and Data Analytics Company Planet - Farmers Edge

This was a bit peculiar to me at first. Farmers Edge had a relationship with Planet previously, but that ended at the end of 2020.

In Farmers Edge IPO prospectus they stated this:

During the fourth quarter of 2020, the Company signed new multi-year contracts for satellite imagery and cloud hosting services. The new supplier of satellite imagery will reduce the annual imagery costs by approximately 60%.

The new supplier was stated as AirBus. Also from their prospectus:

During the fourth quarter of 2020, the Company entered into a new multi-year satellite imagery contract with Airbus at a significantly lower cost than the current contract that ended December 31, 2020 with another supplier.

Planet Labs has great imagery (high resolution, high frequency) that I think is an asset to Farmers Edge, or any ag organization that uses it. What stood out to me at the end of the new press release was this:

Farmers Edge will meet its cloud and imagery cost savings guidance provided during the IPO process by adding this new contract in combination with other contractual commitments.

I am making an assumption here, but it seems to me like Planet Labs was having some challenges attaining other ag related imagery contracts and came back to Farmers Edge with an extremely compelling offer. This contract will allow Planet to continue gain experience, and data, in agriculture to hopefully feed future agricultural contracts and show a lack of churn to their investors.

Given the statements from Planet in the previously cited article surrounding remote nitrogen measurement, there likely is an initiative within Farmers Edge to leverage this capability as part of their Smart Carbon program (probably for variable rate product use cases too), though the nitrogen specific imagery from Planet is via their “Super Dove” constellation (8 band imagery), not their traditional Dove constellation (~3m resolution). I could see Farmers Edge working to task these higher resolution satellites to better support their Smart Carbon customers along with enhancing their own nitrogen modelling capability in conjunction with their soil expertise.

CubeSats Deliver New Insights Into Agricultural Water Use at Daily and 3 m Resolutions - Nature

We produced the first cloud-free 3 m daily evaporation product ever retrieved from space, leveraging recently launched nano-satellite constellations to showcase this emerging potential. Focusing on three agricultural fields located in Nebraska, USA, high-resolution crop water use estimates are delivered via CubeSat-based evaporation modeling. Results indicate good model agreement (r2 of 0.86–0.89; mean absolute error between 0.06 and 0.08 mm/h) when evaluated against corrected flux tower data.

I was sent this interesting news by my friend Matt Pryor at Tenacious Ventures. There are a lot of similarities with this announcement to the article on planet measuring nitrogen use, except this is regarding water use (evapotranspiration).

Matt also had a great twitter thread that he posted as well:

Global Launch of Agoro Carbon Alliance Recording - AgWired

Yara announced the launch of Agoro Carbon Alliance this week. Their new stand alone carbon venture focused on driving adoption of carbon sequestration practices by farmers in order to access carbon offsets.

The “alliance” part indicates they aren’t doing it alone and on the call they talked about companies that are apart of the Alliance, like Sentera, Cloud Agronomics and Pivotal Rating a new venture for them focused on measurement capabilities.

I have talked about Yara’s initiatives before along with some of the uphill battles they will have in the carbon space in North America.

The spin out of Agoro as a stand alone approach is interesting to me. I think there are pro’s and con’s to it. The are challenges with being fluent in carbon programs for the average individual, especially when layering it in with other roles like selling fertilizer and having strong soil fertility knowledge. So having specialists focused on the carbon explicitly has benefits. However, the need for alignment across the traditional business unit that sells bulk nitrogen and specialty fertilizers with the Agoro team could be a recipe for challenges. I actually think if anything tighter integration of carbon with their core business would benefit both sides: talking soil fertility is the baseline for carbon discussions. How you apply your nitrogen, when you apply it, crops being grown, digital tools and so on are natural conversations for both fertility, digital initiatives and carbon. Breaking that up seems like it increases overhead, increases chances for confusion within the organization and with customers.

Nutrien Unveils Portfolio Approach to Carbon Program - Nutrien

Nutrien also announced more on their carbon program this week:

Nutrien Ltd. today unveiled a portfolio approach to its 2021 North American carbon pilots to identify the best path to successfully scale its carbon program introduced in 2020. The portfolio leverages Nutrien’s unique end-to-end capabilities while engaging a broad base of key industry partners and supply chain stakeholders across Canada and the U.S. including American Farmland Trust, BASF, Corteva Agriscience, Ingredion, Maple Leaf Foods, PepsiCo and Syngenta.

Bayer is missing, while the other three of the big four are participating with Nutrien. Based on Bayer being the largest seed and chemistry manufacturer in agriculture it leads me to assume Bayer is their largest supplier of products making their absence notable.

Nutrien will be using these groups, all big players in the carbon protocol space:

Leveraging established protocols from government programs and standard bodies – Climate Action Reserve, Verra and Gold Standard – the pilots will also include execution partners Soil and Water Outcomes Fund and the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), of which Nutrien is a founding circle member.

Nutrien is looking to run numerous pilots in the USA and Canada this year and learn from them for 2022, actually doubling their pilot acres for 2021 than originally planned. What I think is smart, and we haven’t seen this targeted as much in the carbon space (they tend to prioritize reduced tillage and cover crops first) is a starting point surrounding nitrogen:

Growers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba will work with Nutrien to improve carbon performance through nitrogen management and conservation tillage practices to generate carbon assets.

This is right in the Nutrien wheel house and will ultimately support their core business as well and fits nicely because of 300x warming capabilties of nitrous oxide emissons versus the often referenced CO2

. I’ve referenced this emphasis being a good fit before in my highlights of their 2020 Annual Report Overview,

Worth noting: When looking at two of the largest players working to deploy a carbon offset program focusing in on collaboration and partnerships, it makes you wonder how smaller organizations as stand alone players will be able to execute effectively. Farmers Edge for example has announced alignment with Radicle Balance, but no one else.

Marketing in Agriculture

I found this great Twitter thread this week from Steve Kozel of Osborn Barr Paramore highlighting the differences between legacy ag companies and their marketing approach vs. start-up’s and their approach. He also highlights some of the opportunities from both groups:

If you are interested in marketing there are a lot of keen insights within it, many of which align closely with my experience being involved in marketing at both smaller and larger organizations.

One quote from a tweet that stood out to me was this:

BOTH legacy ag brands AND ag startups tend to... Misunderstand how to align brand strategy with market position/growth stage (e.g., disruptor, challenger, leader)

A lack of cohesive strategy has been something I have noticed frequently, often coming through as simply a desire for “more content”.

Ginkgo Bioworks Announces Collaboration with Sumitomo - AgFunder News

Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc. ("Ginkgo") today announced the signing of a program in a partnership with the Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd. ("Sumitomo Chemical"), one of Japan's leading chemical companies. Ginkgo is building the leading horizontal platform for cell programming, to serve customers across industries seeking to develop better products. Sumitomo Chemical seeks to leverage Ginkgo's long-established expertise in organism engineering to significantly increase the production efficiency and sustainability of a key bio-based commercial product.

Gingko Bioworks is a synthetic biology company that recently announced they were going public via SPAC.

Sumitomo is the 3rd ag chemistry driven company to partner with Gingko, following the recent announcement from Corteva and the joint venture between Bayer Crop Science and Gingko, Joyn Bio.

As cell programming has evolved to become faster, more precise and cost-effective, companies across industries have been able to replace petroleum-based products, or optimize existing biology mediated manufacturing processes, through engineering microbial strains.

Sumitomo is looking to expose themselves to biological based products through partnership and collaboration.

To me Gingko, and synthetic biology companies like them will be large drivers in agriculture in the future because of their capabilities to design DNA.

We will continue to see organizations like them, along with organizations like Novozymes, will continue to be looked to by agriculture organizations.

For more on Gingko, I covered a bit on their SPAC announcement here.

BASF introduces Ideltis™ as Seed Brand Name for its Future Hybrid Wheat - BASF

BASF’s hybrid wheat is intended to provide farmers with higher and more stable performance in yield and quality to advance one of the world’s most important crops. “Ideltis stands for our commitment to hybrid wheat and the transition of the wheat crop system in the longterm,” said Vincent Gros, President BASF Agricultural Solutions. “With Ideltis, we are unlocking the full potential of wheat. Through our global research platform, we provide growers and the entire value chain hybrid wheat that is tailored to their local needs and consistently delivers better, more stable yield.

Ideltis is supposed to be available in the middle of the decade, initially for farmers in key wheat growing regions in Europe and North America.

I still remember my first ever agronomy conference in 2012 listening to a wheat expert talking about a 2020 launch of hybrid wheat in North America.

One reason for this delay is that the economics have been challenged. Meaning the yield bump gained through hybrid wheat has not meant enough increased revenue to offset the incremental costs associated with accessing the hybrid wheat, specifically in lower wheat yielding regions (Northern Great Plains, western Canada). This also stems from the realities of re-planting hybrid wheat (you shouldn’t/can’t) and the seed proliferation challenges in producing hybrid wheat seed.

My assumption is those are a few of the functions BASF is looking to alleviate consistently before going to market later this decade.

Sentera Closes $25m Series C Round to Scale its Digital Ag Platform - AgFunder News

Sentera today announced a $25 million Series C financing co-led by Canadian pension fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and US agrifoodtech VC S2G Ventures.

Also joining the round were new investors Baltimore-based Akroyd LLC and Mexico City-based KuE Capital, as well as existing investors Continental Grain Company, iSelect Fund, and Middleland Capital, all from the US.

Sentera has been around for a while and continues to grow. The number of countries they operate in is impressive:

With product-market fit figured out, Sentera has set its sights on scaling. The startup is steadily building its global user base, and claims its platform covers “millions of acres” in more than 70 countries and is also in use at nearly 100 universities and research institutes.

I also like their focused approach:

Instead of trying to provide an entire marketplace for something like carbon credits, for example, Sentera is looking at how its existing technology can add value to players already in the space. This includes calculating carbon sequestration and integrating industry-standard sustainability models into its analytics.

Specifically on the carbon front I noticed during the Yara Agoro Carbon Alliance launch event this past week that Sentera was joining the “alliance” to support areas like verification.

Do Farmers Want Apps from Ag Brands? - WS

I used to think every one should have an app. I was wrong. There needs to be a specific use case that integrates with your business and products.

Consider how adoption of your proposed app will contribute to your overall business objectives and marketing outcomes. Will it drive product purchase, offer customer support, or be a communication tool to help you stay connected to your customers? What will success look like? Beyond metrics like downloads and app opens, make sure you have a vision for how your app fits into your customer’s experience – and then don’t waver. 

I first started looking at apps for farmers in 2012 and while the complexity to build them has seemingly come down, the bar for going forward with an app is actually higher. This article is a great starting point to look at.

Farm Inputs Index Fund - Carl Lippert

Carl is one of the most interesting forward thinkers I talk to in the ag industry. He puts forward an interesting concept in his most recent post that’s worth looking at further:

A farmer signs up to a specific nutrient portfolio ( or fertilizer portfolio etc ) and an entity aggregates / contracts / curates supply in such a way that the farmer no longer has to become a non emotional sophisticated trader to get the benefits of risk reduced access to controlled cost, predictably delivered inputs.

Syngenta Taps Banks for Shanghai IPO at $60 Billion Valuation - BNN Bloomberg

Syngenta Group Co., the agriculture giant owned by China National Chemical Corp., has picked banks for an initial public offering on Shanghai’s Nasdaq-style STAR board, according to people familiar with the matter. An IPO would turn a new page for Syngenta, which went through a reorganization after ChemChina acquired the company for $43 billion in 2017, clinching China’s biggest foreign takeover to date. Syngenta Group incorporated other ChemChina agricultural units including Adama Ltd. and the agriculture business of Chinese conglomerate Sinochem Corp. last year.

I recently covered the Syngenta AG business here.

Non Ag Article

Inside IKEA’s Digital Transformation - Harvard Business Review

I believe agriculture can learn a lot from other industries. While imperfect because of the nuance between consumer businesses and farm business, there are nuggets of learnings that can support more seamless change management in agriculture when it comes to various digital technologies.

Some of my favourite quotes:

We are revamping customer interactions both digitally and, in the store, and we’re connecting them…You might start planning your new kitchen at home on ikea.com, and then you come to the store or connect with a remote customer meeting point…we should be able to meet you where you are. 

We are focusing more on what we should do with data, rather than what we could do with data.

The DNA of IKEA doesn’t change, and it’s important that it doesn’t. Operating model wise, it means we’re adding data, increasing speed, using analytics in all our decision-making. Also, the skills we’re using are changing. I recall when I started at IKEA, my boss, Jesper Brodin said, “We’re changing everything — almost.” To me, this means we’re changing how we do things, but the soul of the company stays the same

Other Ag Articles

FarmQA Adds Map Layers to Expand Suite of Digital Tools for Agronomists - Crop Life

xarvio Launches “Connect” - xarvio

Semios Acquires Altrac to Deliver More Value to Growers Through Control and Automation - Semios

Grand River Ag Society & RH Accelerator make an Impact Investment in IntelliCulture - Grand River Ag Society

John Deere Execs Forecast a Stronger Ag Equipment Industry Upswing Than 2013 - Ag Equipment Intelligence

Climate-conscious sovereign wealth funds opt for energy, transport investments over agrifood: study - AgFunder News

FMC Corporation's Fluindapyr Fungicide Receives U.S. EPA Registration - PR Newswire

CommoditAg Expands Its Suppliers with the Addition of Soil Technologies - The Daily Scoop

The Future of Seed

While the earliest known naturally selected organisms with human influence were dogs 30,000 years ago, crops are some of the most affected by human influence today. This has been driven by the desire to sustainably grow crops that are high in caloric density, high in yield and increasingly higher in specific qualities, like nutrient density, visual appearance and protein for example.


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A (very) brief history

We haven’t always been extremely efficient at selecting for the best seed. The earliest estimation of hand selected crops for agricultural activities was around ~8000BC. A time intensive approach to seeing the change you want.

A major break through was with the mainstream adoption of hybrization of corn in the 1940’s.

When potential really started to take off was from a break through in 1973, when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen worked together to engineer the first successful genetically engineered organism. The two scientists developed a method to very specifically cut out a gene from one organism and paste it into another. 

This was the breakthrough that eventually enabled genetically modified seed. Since then we have seen improvements with the ability to have more efficient hybridization, more precise genetic engineering and now we are seeing data and computing power support the biological capabilities even farther.

Seed is one of the most sought after sales of the year by the industry. It also is one of the most frequently focused on inputs by farmers. Many varieties have varying characteristics today to help support very specific needs of many farmers, such as standing capabilities, vigor and maturity needs. And for industry, it presents a starting point for conversations, planning and always goes in the ground whereas products like fungicides or herbicides can be changed or forgone. Seed also tends to be a building block for programs and influences other inputs needed, such as growth regulators, fungicides or insecticides depending on the characteristics of any given variety.

In 2018 alone the total seed business was almost $42 billion, with over 50% being genetically modified :

Corn and soybean being the largest contributor to that:

The focus on seed remains for manufacturers, passing chemistry R&D spend in ~2008:

There is a dip, but it is still getting significant focus. And with the computing capabilities, we are are likely to see better outcomes per R&D dollar than in the past. What’s more, the focus on the real estate of the seed will continue to be a battle zone for biological, fertilizer and crop protection companies.


For more on seed companies and their profitability, see this FOA Report: ANALYSIS OF SALES AND PROFITABILITY WITHIN THE SEED SECTOR


I was reading an article on quantum computing in seed and it got me thinking about where seed is going in the future. We have had all of these great scientific drivers in biology and genomics and now it appears that computing will deliver significant value to agriculture moving ahead.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing has fascinated me, especially when it comes to areas of agriculture like seed genetics and fertilizer.

Quantum computing is essentially the ability to process data at exceptional speeds, and massive, massive amount of data, in seconds that would take typical computers days, weeks or years.

How fast?

A report came out in 2019 about Google running test on its 53-qubit quantum computer. In the tests, the quantum computer was given a task that would take the world’s most powerful supercomputer, Summit, 10,000 years to complete.

The quantum computer finished in three minutes and 20 seconds.

I first talked about quantum computing in the September 6th, 2020 Edition of Upstream.

The potential for this technology is unique in and of itself, but what really is exciting is this capability in conjunction with technology like genome sequencing or CRISPR for example.

Identifying the precise combination of genes, or better, singular gene that makes a plant 4x more water efficient through the computing power and then being able to use CRISPR to edit that gene could rapidly increase yields OR (and) work to increase quality or nutrient density. This would be massive for the potential to produce food effectively, that is high quality, or to a very specific quality, all over the world. It doesn’t stop at CRISPR either, the potential with RNAi and synthetic biology with quantum computing will be a game changer for agriculture. This will speed up the rate at which we see new capabilities from varieties. A long way from 8000BC hand selecting.

The quantum application to ag is still a ways out (> 10 years), but it shows the shifts it could bring to numerous areas of ag and farming prior to 2050.

Computing Today

We do still have computing power to deliver value to farming today.

Corteva for example uses predictive analytics based on genomics and digital insights that enable them to manage a larger breeding pipeline than ever before, all while increasing efficiency of products brought to market. They can predict the performance of new products prior to field testing. In corn alone they have nearly 20 times the candidates in the pipeline compared to 10 years ago, far more than they could ever do a trial. This is a great thing for farmers and the industry.

Within this though, we still have opportunity to better select varieties that are brought to market. Today in order to select varieties, we see brochure’s of characteristics and traits, view trials and trust gut and experience. It’s worked good, but can be improved.

A growing number of companies are already advancing the seed selection through analytics. Organizations like Climate Corp. are creating tools that can make a seed recommendation based on a specific farmers fields, zones in fields, geography etc and optimize the performance of that variety given the conditions. Nutrien, Corteva, Syngenta and Winfield all have their own tools as well. Combine this with capabilities like long term, highly accurate forecasting from a company like Climate Ai and the potential for accurate recommendations is even more likely.

This will begin to change the way organizations sell seed and how farmers decide on what seed to purchase. The data will inform the decision.

Challenges

A lot of the analytics power being applied to better predict or be prescriptive when it comes to seed selection is machine learning.

For those that hear this term and want a clearer definition:

Machine learning is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building. It is a branch of artificial intelligence based on the idea that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention.

Essentially the data inform a better idea of what will happen given the specific constraints. Machine learning is essentially a technical way of saying the data set will inform a prediction.

Machine learning isn’t perfect. It can run into very common challenges. Two of them specifically for ag include dimensionality and class imbalance.

Dimensionality

there are often too many factors on the basis of which the final classification is done. These factors are basically variables called features. The higher the number of features, the harder it gets to visualize the training set and then work on it

The implication for seed selection shows up loud and clear in corn in the USA, where there are a THOUSANDS of varieties. That means there are too many dimensions for the machine learning algorithm to effectively learn and deliver an highly accurate output (make a recommendation) because there simply isn’t enough data for each variety, meaning it can difficult to make an effective recommendation in every instance.

Class Imbalance

“a common problem in machine learning classification where there are a disproportionate ratio of observations in each class”

Think of each “class” as a different variety, BASF’s Invigor L233P canola variety being one class and L230 variety being another for example. When there is an imbalance there is sufficient data for one class (variety), while insufficient for another. In Canada Invigor has 60+% market share in canola and specific varieties have significant market share within that. This means there is TONS of data for some varieties, and too small of data set for others. This can make it challenging to train the machine learning algorithm and make the appropriate recommendation.

These are just a couple of the challenges with successfully implementing data tools like seed advisors.

I’m not a data scientist, but from my research it appears there are ways to overcome and I’d guarantee organizations are working on this.

Seed has traditionally been the foundation of the marketing program for organizations. So how might an analytics approach to seed recommendations change seed selling?

The Future of Selling Seed

Seed selling is likely to shift in the future based on the access to data. Better genetics, better traits, better understanding of outcomes all makes everything more competitive. In the shorter term, this will differentiate the companies that are accessing and using data and analytics the best, providing unbiased views. But over the longer term it becomes table stakes. Commoditized, but necessary to have just to play the game.

And while seed is about performance characteristics, seed is also one of the most bundled products in the market. We see it bundled with herbicides by manufacturers, bundled with specific seed treatments in the bag, both biological and synthetic in nature. In retail we see it bundled with fuel or grain or service.

What technology has done in many instances is enabled unbundling, but in the case of seed I think we will continue to see more bundling, not less. Once data is in play, it can be tougher to hide behind traditional marketing tactics and trial data. Companies like FBN are working diligently to remove the marketing. However, seed is ultimately a driver of the entirety of business for retailers, seed sellers and manufacturers. The starting point for success in many farmers and ag professionals eyes. This means bundling that can disproportionately influence decisions and ultimately profitability tied to the bag of seed.

Three opportunities to differentiate:

  1. Carbon support integrated into seed aka additional revenue source - While I think many organizations are looking to disassociate the product from the carbon program, I think there will be groups that look to associate it closer to the bag of seed. This might not be offsets specifically, but insetting or low carbon grain itself.

  2. Insurance bundled with the seed aka risk reduction - With new, data driven types of insurance such as parametric or variations of outcome based programs, I think we will see risk reduction products tied to the seed to differentiate the bag, and support profitability. (See this write up here on parametric insurance for more)

  3. Grain marketing capabilities accessed aka increased revenue on traditional products - I talked with a company recently working to be the “WealthSimple” of grain trading, or essentially roboadvisors for selling grain commodities. Tying access to this support can make the acre the seed is grown on more profitable. That ultimately gets associated with the seed and is a win for the farmer.

There are arguments to be made that we will not see more bundling to seed. After all, one could argue the differentiator and focus becomes the algorithms and digital tools, not the physical products themselves. And this could be true once digital adoption rises.

While we will see growth in analytics to recommend seed varieties, the way to differentiate will be through unique bundling to influence profitability in other ways beyond just the seed itself. Today the emphasis is yield. That will change. Companies will be looking for ways to improve profitability ancillary to the bag of seed that can further differentiate beyond analytics.

What do you think?

Leave a comment

Final Thoughts

Seed has progressed more than any other input in the past 100 years, accounting for 70% of the yield improvements. And it remains one of the top of mind inputs for farmers and industry.

What we see in pesticides is a shift towards environmentally friendly and more efficient delivery via precision agriculture and improved surfactants, these are not necessarily step changes in terms of outcomes. They achieve the same outcome (eliminate pests) more efficiently.

What we will see in seed is more strategy tied to the bundling of on seed inputs, as well as ancillary bundling of de risking and tools to increase revenue to improve outcomes through not only better varietal selection when it comes to yield, quality and nutrition characteristics but overall profitability.

Lots of potential lies within the plants. It will be exciting to be apart of the seed space in the coming decades.

Upstream Ag Insights - June 6th 2021

Essential news and analysis for agribusiness leaders

Welcome back to Upstream Ag Insights!

On Wednesday I sent out a survey. Thank-you to every one who took the time to fill it out and share their opinions.

For those wondering, the survey is purely a discovery mechanism. Upstream remains free and will always have a free aspect to it. However, in my conversations with organizations through my consulting business there has been significant interest in “more” so I wanted to explore some ideas of what that could look like for agribusinesses and individuals at a macro level.

There are numerous ways I think Upstream can be evolved and I am looking forward to progressing many of those forward in the coming months. Check out Upstream every Sunday for more!

If you haven’t filled out the survey yet, you can do so at the link below until Tuesday, June 8th at 12:00pm MST:

Upstream Ag Insights Survey

Index for the week:

  • Technology Quotients and Resourcefulness: Catalysts for Agribusiness Success

  • Landus Launches Grow Solutions Centre

  • Sustainable Formulation Technology

  • Croptimistic raises $5.2M in Series A funding led by Forage Capital

  • Scoular Launches New Emerging Businesses Division

  • ICL Launches Start-up Hub

  • Corteva Agriscience Collaborates with Elemental Enzymes

  • The Carbon Credits Game: What Role Do Ag Retailers Play?

  • Future of Agrian as Part of Telus Agriculture

Have a wonderful week!


Technology Quotients and Resourcefulness: Catalysts for Agribusiness Success - Upstream Ag Insights

As humans what has made us exceptional is our ability to use tools, allowing us to overcome our physical and mental limitations.

Whether going back hundreds of thousands of years to using sticks and stones to create weapons all the way to creating the steam engines and printing presses. All of these tools can be regarded as technology. These tools provide points of leverage for those who harness them, making those people disproportionately effective and efficient at achieving the outcome that the tool was designed to accomplish: in the case of hunter-gatherer sticks and stones, hunting. In the case of the printing press, scaling information distribution.

This is where technology as we know it comes in today to drive agribusiness professionals and organizations.

Check out my newest post on why this is important for the industry in the coming decade.


This weeks edition of Upstream Ag Insights was sponsored by AGvisorPRO!

Have you noticed an increase in sales calls and emails over the past couple of years? It’s hard to deny that the old way of doing business is evolving, and competition is tough! Relationships are becoming increasingly harder to establish and the upcoming generation thrives in the online environment. 

We all know this, but do you have a plan to truly engage with this new trend? 

At AGvisorPRO, we have taken an innovative approach to connecting the Agriculture community; considering all the limitations of the existing infrastructure. Like you, we care about relationships and understand that the future looks a little different.

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Landus Launches Grow Solutions Centre - Landus

Landus has launched GROW Solutions Center, a virtual hub of specialists for farmer-owners and its internal team to provide expertise for grain, agronomy, and precision ag questions. In addition, GROW Solutions Center Specialists will be focused on simplifying the collection, analysis, and fulfillment of grower data to achieve greater profitability and sustainability. 

I think this is a compelling announcement and evolution in support to retail customers from Landus.

I have talked about ambient ag commerce and this fits right into that. Supporting the farmer whenever and wherever they need.

A virtual hub isn’t unique in and of itself - manufacturers have had 1-800 lines for years. However, it’s unique for a retail and still brings local knowledge to the farm customers.

What I think differentiates this too is the fact that any of these conversations and the information relayed can now be recorded and become accessible. It’s an incremental data point for Landus for one, but also allows the farmer to not only get an answer to an agronomic question which could also be input into a digital hub becoming accessible via app or website for the farmer or emailed so they can have a record of tank mix instructions, product recommendations or anything of that nature.

Two final bullish points: This can make staff more efficient. Taking away some of the call traffic from staff on the ground can ensure they are focusing on higher value activities or less interactions with more transactional growers. One of the things we always see in the industry and in retail specifically is that the relationship is primarily with the staff member. This approach can reinforce doing business with Landus.

Because of the aforementioned emphasis on relationships with people there could be some skepticism around this approach. My assumption is that this will have a very focused message at the retail and will be used in an augmentative fashion to the established relationships and work to ensure timely, convenient answers are delivered to farmers that may have been missing during peak times or things like staff holidays.


Generational Gaps in Ag Retail and the Evolving Needs of Growers Webinar - Proagrica

One of my passions is ag retail and Proagrica is creating a webinar series that dives into specific topics that I think should be top of mind for retailers.

The first topic will focus on one of the most important topics in ag today: the generational gaps in agriculture.

The talent side of this conversation is most interesting to me.

We know a huge swath of knowledge is going to be retiring in the next 5-7 years and downloading that experience into the organization and to young, up and coming staff will be a priority.

In order to to download and deploy this knowledge within the business and to customers, there is a need for the holy trinity of talent management:

  • Attracting Talent

  • Developing Talent

  • Retaining Talent

They all feed into one another and often stem from culture, so it is important to focus on.

Within this though there is another opportunity: Being able to identify and utilize the unique strengths and skills that a younger generation has. This will be a differentiator for organizations. Interpersonal skills and agronomic insight are unlikely to fall out of favour, but the weight put on skills like tech savvyness (TQ) and/or social media prowess will be even more important in the next decade.

This is the area I will be looking forward to hearing insights from Mark Waschek of Ag1Source and Ryan Risdal of Proagrica on the first webinar June 9th.

If you are interested in the topic of overcoming challenges that come with the talent gap, hearing examples of best practices to manage talent and what to be thinking about as the industry rapidly moves forward, sign up for this webinar series today!

*Sponsored Content

China Agrochemical Insights: Glufosinate Focus - YouTube Video

This is a video highlighting the landscape of raw active ingredients, mostly out of China. There is a focus of glufosinate towards the end, but the beginning is more broad.

What I wanted to highlight was this image on sustainable crop protection products. These will continue to be points of emphasis in the future:

There has been an emphasis on biologicals and will continue to be from major manufacturers. However, when there are millions of Kg’s applied of synthetic products each year the simplest route to achieving friendlier products is not to all out replace every synthetic Kg. Instead, the opportunity is focusing on synthetic products that are more “sustainable” in their characteristics.

Here is FMC’s way of scoring their products/active ingredients:

FMC targets launching products that score well on this assessment.

This reinforces that there is opportunity in formulation technology as well. Things like drift reduction, release speed, binding capabilities, translocation efficiency through nanocarriers to the target site and then co-formulating with biostimulant elicitors or living organisms.

Even news from this week reinforces this focus:

ADAMA's Asorbital™ Formulation Technology

ADAMA's novel fungicide formulation based on the Company's own Asorbital™ Formulation Technology combines its unique mix of solvents and surfactants, creating a new and extraordinary carrier technology that increases efficacy to improve crop yield while reducing environmental impact. The new formulation with the built-in adjuvant moves the fungicide beyond the generic active ingredient by increasing its penetration efficiency and providing excellent systemic movement through the plant to speed up delivery from the point of contact on the leaf to the site of action within the fungal cell.

Related: FMC 2020 Sustainability Report - FMC

Croptimistic raises $5.2M in Series A funding led by Forage Capital - SWATMaps

Croptimistic Technology Inc. (Croptimistic) announces $3.5M in Series A investment from Forage Capital Partners (Forage) to complement an additional $1.7M in funding from the founders and institutional debt. This new capital will help accelerate the growth of Croptimistic’s SWAT MAPS technology. The SWAT technology ecosystem provides farmers and partners with high resolution soil foundation maps to execute variable rate fertilizer, seed, soil amendment, herbicide, and precision water management. Since the first year of operations in 2018, Croptimistic has grown to 18 staff across Canada, the USA and South Africa. It has nearly 100 partners spanning 4 countries and $2M in revenue in 2020.

Soil mapping technology and capabilities have received less attention in the last few years, but what is worth noting is that starting with the soil is pivotal. Specifically, when it comes to initiatives surrounding precision ag like variable rate fertility or seed. Everything starts with the soil.

With many variable rate approaches we see a starting point for mapping and zone creation with imagery (NDVI and other sources). Imagery however is simply showing the implications of what is going on with the crops due to what’s occurring with the soil and doesn’t always correlate highly to yield.

Croptimistic takes a different approach, starting with soil (texture, salinity, organic matter), water and topography (knolls, water movement etc) mapping via their SWAT Box. If you understand these parameters, you can better identify the challenges and opportunities in each area and create a prescriptions for varying inputs accordingly. Everything from seed to fertilizer and even too nitrogen stabilizer or soil applied herbicides, after all the effectiveness and breakdown of herbicides for example is influenced by what Croptimistic maps, OM, pH, texture.

Croptimistic doesn’t try to create platforms and compete with Climate Fieldview or others either (although they do have SWAT Records to house information). What it seems to me they are doing is working to become the go-to layer of data to inform precision agriculture globally, supporting agronomists and farmers to create useful maps for all facets of precision agriculture.

Their technology tends to have a higher cost associated with it per acre than NDVI driven VR programs, however utilizing poor mapping capabilities for precision agriculture just means you are precisely applying poor agronomy.

They are one of the rare companies that I have seen actually share their revenue in a press release regarding a round, coming in at $2 million. No small feat in the industry. They did also highlight they have 100 partners, which means they are doing about $20,000 in revenue per partner. The business model has a hardware and a software component. They sell SWAT Box sensors and then have a cost associated with unlocking precision functionality for agronomic advisors or farmers.

Scoular Launches New Emerging Businesses Division - World Grain

Scoular has launched a new division to focus on the early stages of business development and to serve as an incubator for strategic investment opportunities. Ed Prosser, senior vice president of Scoular, will lead the new division, Emerging Businesses.

The new division will include business activities focusing on biofuels, renewable energy, carbon markets, investments in agricultural technology, such as Roger LLC, and other future growth ventures.

Smart move from Scoular. I think these sorts of approaches to navigating the agribusiness waters will become more common. Many organizations do have them already, however there are still a lot that don’t have a focus nor the expertise or excess capacity to navigate incoming markets, technology and opportunities.

The ag space is moving too rapidly and for the majority of individuals out there doing day to day execution, it is not feasible to understand everything they need to.

I’ve even talked with smaller organizations who don’t go so far as to hire entire departments, but do have an individual focused on this sort of long term thinking as part of their leadership team. They become the go-to person evaluating new technology and listening to pitches from start-ups and listening to the needs and suggestions of on the ground staff leading to recommendations to decision makers on where to be focusing.

ICL Group Launches ICL Planet Startup Hub

ICL has set up a dual-track program and service envelope for all start-ups working under its umbrella. Through the program, they can leverage ICL’s broad business and infrastructural ecosystem, including, investment, co-working space, access to laboratories and analytical equipment, and R&D support, with options for field trials and new-product pilots.

Mature start-ups with market-ready products will benefit from ICL’s Market Runway Track program. It offers a business acceleration contract directed at growth through investment, business development, and strategic partnerships, including an opportunity for M&A. They will also potentially benefit from ICL’s well-established reputation in the global marketplace.

ICL is navigating the start-up and technology world in their own unique way, although it does have some resemblance to UPL’s Open Ag concept.

The ICL Planet Startup Hub is an extension of ICL’s existing external innovation activities. The program was initiated in 2014 for scouting breakthrough technologies emerging from universities, institutes and early-stage start-ups. ICL sponsors long-term R&D and proof-of-concept projects, in exchange for a royalty-bearing license. Since its inception, more than 45 projects have been nurtured under the program, with another 13 ongoing

As one would expect, they are focusing on the crop nutrition and biological space:

The first will focus on areas related to crop nutrition, such as organic fertilizers, nutrient use efficiency, biostimulants, micronutrients and nitrogen fixation. The second will focus on foodTech start-ups active in the areas of alternative proteins, natural ingredients, plant-based functional ingredients, and white biotechnology, that can demonstrate a measurable positive environmental impact.

ICL made a tech play last year acquiring Growers who I assume will be the group focused on the digital side of the business for them where as this initiative is emphasizing fertility, biologicals and downstream activities.

Corteva Agriscience Collaborates with Elemental Enzymes to Provide Farmers with Abiotic Stress Mitigation Technology - PR Web

Through the agreement, Corteva receives an exclusive license to Elemental Enzymes’s Waterflux® technology. The optimized osmoprotectant blend provides plants with small organic molecules that help crops overcome abiotic stressors such as soil salinity, drought, and extreme temperatures, helping keep them productive and healthy.

Corteva will offer this technology through a family of products to be branded under the name Sosdia™ Abiotic Stress Mitigator/Biostimulant. Two different products and formulations will be offered for a broad range of crops, including specialty and row crops, sugar cane, and turf and ornamental, as well as range and pasture. Pending appropriate registrations, Corteva will launch the products globally, excluding Australia and New Zealand territories.

Corteva continues to collaborate and sign licensing and partnership agreements with companies in the bio space. By my count this is 5th announcement with a non-synthetic driven organization in 2021 (Symborg, Gingko Bioworks, Simbiose Agro, Dadelos). This doesn’t include their announcement of success with other biological initiatives (ProFarm in Europe), or 2020 announcements such as M2i. In part this supports their 2030 Sustainability targets they set out.

On a deeper, more strategic level this helps them navigate and understand the biological space. To my knowledge they have not acquired a bio based organization. They have invested in one (Lavie Bio).

It’s difficult to know the specifics of all of these agreements which are really the key in determining the viability of this approach Corteva has taken (partnership and investment versus acquisition and internal R&D resources). But at a high level connecting themselves to numerous players, keeping their options open and exposing themselves across a wide swath of organizations could be very effective, especially from a capital expenditure perspective. Organizations like Syngenta have outright acquired companies (Valagro for almost $600 million USD) to access not only technology/IP around the products, but talent.

If Corteva has been negotiating exclusivities and further rights to specific technology in these collaborations/partnerships, they could be building a nice portfolio for a low cost/low commitment amount. This might allow them to access novel IP that is strong even without owning the IP/production capabilities. The challenge will always be building up the necessary organizational know-how and culture to market and sell these products. Organizations like Syngenta that acquire will have internal knowledge to pull from. However, the fact that a lot of these will be implemented as ancillary and augmentative to synthetic chemistry (formulated together) to begin with will help.

I talked about this challenge more in the January 31st 2021 Edition of Upstream Ag Insights (under OHM Biostimulant heading).

The Carbon Credits Game: What Role Do Ag Retailers Play? - CropLife

This is a great question and one I’m certain many are considering across the value chain.

While there is a lot to be figured out with carbon, to me there is an opportunity to become the integrator of carbon programs. These programs are fraught with complexity and as much as this isn’t 100% aligned with a retail core competency what it is aligned with is a retails (most of them anyways) agronomic and product competence. And what carbon (at the outset anyways) is is essentially agronomic practices/recommendations. There is still the data management and verification aspect, but there are tools out there to support that (eg: organizations like Regrow or Deveron as a couple examples).

If you believe the retailer is going to be a part of the future of supporting farmers (I talk a lot about how it will evolve, but in my mind they will be) then there is an opportunity for retails to be apart of this conversation. They can be the integrator and navigator.

I’ve written about how well Nutrien is positioned to support their business and farmers throughout the entirety of the carbon process:

  • in a position to more effectively navigate the new carbon waters for their customers having assets and experts (creating further retention and loyalty)

  • increase sales by selling growing product lines like cover crop seed 

  • sell higher value/margin nitrogen products (eg: ESN)

  • support their proprietary line up of biologicals and nutrients

  • create unique programs through integration with tools like credit

  • create further loyalty by getting farmers onto their Agrible and Echelon platforms and spinning the flywheel by learning rapidly

Or look at what Winfield is doing with Truterra. There could even be room for smaller retails to collaborate and create protocols themselves, or work explicitly with groups that have a protocol, but no route to market (however, this point may not be very lucrative for the retailer).

Again, the specifics of carbon need to play out but I think we will see retails play a part in carbon programs if they are successful. Im certain my thinking on this will evolve a bit as we learn more about the programs, but as of right now I can’t help but think they will play an important role.

Quick note: Carbon is actually just one example of why I think we may see titles like “sales agronomists” become less common; the retailer of the future will not purely focused on agronomics and products, but all the other aspects that are going into farming.

Related: Cover Crops Get Insurance Perk - DTN

Future of Agrian as Part of Telus Agriculture - The Daily Scoop

This is a good interview with Agrian CEO and Founder Nishan Majarian. Here were some of my favourite quotes:

Agrian had been approached by several different groups over the last several years and as a result our board of directors wanted us to hire a professional group to work though that process. That process resulted in 120 global companies expressing interest. From there, we narrowed the search to 34 and Telus was one of them. This was about January/February of last year. Then COVID hit. We thought the process would end. Then 11 companies made offers to acquire Agrian.

Massive interest in Agrian prior to selling to TELUS.

Don’t let brands and capabilities sit out there too long. For example, the user interface/user experience is being unified with a Telus ag platform. We’ve put together an effort to consolidate companies at a service level—and a software level. We don’t need five systems with grower management, four mapping tools and three fertility systems. We are able to assess the scalability, weed out the redundancies and pick the best of what we have in the toolbox. We have nearly 500 software engineers at Telus Agriculture.

TELUS has made numerous acquisitions in the ag space. Many of these have overlapping capabilities and to truly bring out the power of them they need to be integrated into one product, team and message.

Margy Eckelkamp asked this question: What will we see first as a product or service from Telus Agriculture? 

We will have an Ag Service Exchange and the Ag Data Exchange. These are enablers with three goals:

  1. build a better business faster

  2. accommodate customers today

  3. and future proof our operations and customer operations tomorrow. 

The exchange network will allow us and our customers to integrate information across platforms and have it move throughout an operation seamlessly. For example, you can take soil sample results from one part of the system and use them in a fertility equation in another part of the system, and share that equation with a third-party software tool that you may be experimenting with to develop a fertility recommendation.

For more on the TELUS acquisitions, see my write up here.

Should Your Brand Take a Stand On Social Issues? - WS

In a time where anyone and everyone can be called to take a stand, the actions taken by companies are not going unnoticed – and neither is a lack of action. While B2C brands have led the charge, B2B can’t ignore major issues, especially those that are important to customers (or your customer’s customers).

The Uses of Corn: Industries Affected by High Corn Prices - Visual Capitalist

Visual Capitalist always has interesting, visually appealing content. This is one where they focused on corn that I found interesting.

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Non Ag Article

Boxes, Trucks and Bikes - Benedict Evans

This article is focused on consumer e-commerce and while doesn’t relate directly to agriculture I found a couple of the quotes to be worth considering in the context of agriculture:

Part of the story of e-commerce for the last 25 years has been that there is literally no category that people will not buy online, but you need to work out the right experience. Amazon has spent the last 25 year adding categories to a unified commodity shopping model and a unified commodity logistics model, but companies like Net a Porter brought all sorts of other categories online by realising you needed a different shopping model.

If I buy online and then drive to the store to collect it, is that different to phoning and reserving it? We didn’t have a statistics category for ‘telephone ordering’. If I use an app to order pizza instead of phoning the restaurant, has that become ‘ecommerce’ or is it still pizza delivery? 30 years ago, if I drove to Walmart instead of walking to a neighbourhood store, or drove to Best Buy instead of going to a department store, we didn’t call that ‘car-based commerce’. So is this a tech question, or a retailing question, or an urbanism question?

I think this same logic should be applied to ag commerce.

Other Ag Articles

Tenacious Ventures Closes $35m Agritech Fund - AFR

Marrone Bio Innovations Partners with ATP Nutrition to Distribute Stargus® Biofungicide in Canada - Global Newswire

Agriculture 4.0: The Canadian Agtech Ecosystem - Angela Khakali

Bushel Fulfillment™ Launches to Improve Data Visibility to Grain Companies - Bushel

Inventory Management for Agworld Users - AgWorld

Why the Race for Ag Technology Adoption is a Marathon, Not a Sprint - Precision Ag

Who is the Ag Data Watchdog? - Precision Farming Dealer

Microsoft's Azure IoT Platform Helps Make Farming Greener as well as Smarter - Tech Republic

Barchart Accelerates Digitization of US Agriculture with eSign for Grain Contracts - BarChart

Why Israel is Leading Global Agricultural Technology - Future Farming

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Technology Quotients and Resourcefulness: Catalysts for Agribusiness Success

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Technology as a Bicycle for the Mind

As humans what has made us exceptional is our ability to use tools, allowing us to overcome our physical and mental limitations.

Whether going back hundreds of thousands of years to using sticks and stones to create weapons all the way to creating the steam engines and printing presses. All of these tools can be regarded as technology. These tools provide points of leverage for those who harness them, making those people disproportionately effective and efficient at achieving the output that the tool was designed for: in the case of hunter-gatherer sticks and stones, hunting. In the case of the printing press, scaling information distribution.

This is where technology as we know it comes in today. Steve Jobs famously referenced (between 5:00min and 7:15min mark) a Natural Geographic study showing the most efficient animals by energy use (which animals can go further/faster with less energy) in the animal kingdom. Humans weren’t overly impressive, showing up well down the list. But when they compared humans who were on a bike, our energy efficiency left every other animal in the dust. A tool created by us made us significantly more efficient than every other organism on the planet.

This study lead Steve Jobs to reference computers as a bicycle for our minds. Functionality like Excel, Word or Calculators for example significantly enhance what a human is capable of measuring, tracking, calculating, recording etc.

Expanding beyond the 1980 video of Steve Jobs to today, software and digital tools are a bicycle for our minds. This is especially the case in agribusiness.

Knowledge Work

The era we are at in agribusiness is the textbook definition of knowledge work. Unique knowledge, strategies and insights are the key to leading for individuals and organizations.

In knowledge work you can pull on two main levers to accomplish better outcomes:

  • More effective - be more creative, have a superior tactic or strategy that lead to better outcomes (eg: sales, cost reductions etc)

  • More efficient - accomplish more with less effort (eg: reach more customers with less resources)

In ag we like to talk about working hard and hours worked, but in knowledge work the emphasis should be on outcomes and results; this means the emphasis shouldn’t be on hours worked, but outcomes achieved.

This brings us to resourcefulness as a skillset.

Resourcefulness

In order to thrive in a knowledge driven environment we see better outcomes accruing to those who identify and use tools to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Nobody can know everything, but having the wherewithal to build up a resource base enables you to get better answers quicker than anyone else. In 2021 and beyond this will continue to be an advantage.

One simple example: Google. I have a good friend who jokes that the best skill he has is using Google better than the average person. While his success stems from more than that, there is some truth in there. If you default to using Google for discovering answers plus having more patience and ability to think critically through the results, that’s a significant advantage over those who don’t go past the first line of results. But then there is the aspect of understanding that there is increased functionality at your disposal such as Google Patents and Google Scholar which offer an even more robust depth of answers and information that 95% of people do not know about.

One more example: I often think back to a colleague I had early in my career that was exceptional with soil fertility and crop nutrition. He was capable of conveying the importance of foliar nutrition to farmers better than anyone I knew. When I asked him what his process was he had a one word answer: testing. Soil testing and tissue testing more specifically. He prioritized talking to farmers not about crop nutrition first, but the importance of testing first. From that testing foundation every other conversation could be built. Again, a great example of being resourceful and leveraging a tool.

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Growth Mindsets

Part of being resourceful stems from having a growth mindset. Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck defines a growth mindset as this:

Those who hold a growth mindset believe that they can get better at something by dedication of time, effort and energy. Working on one’s flaws, and the process—not the outcome—are the most important components. With time and practice, people with a growth mindset believe they can achieve what they want.

Acknowledging that your effectiveness and your efficiency are not fixed, but malleable is the key first step to progressing.

A key to enabling a growth mindset is the acknowledgement that you can leverage tools to become more effective and efficient. A person is never alone.

And while some poor mind sets can be a challenge to overcome, as a company, employer or leader, identifying the right resources for your staff and emphasizing them can help to push these individuals forward and light fires in those that are already in a growth mindset way of thinking.

Technology Quotient

The examples I referenced above in soil/tissue testing and Google have rapidly become table stakes in agribusiness. The next decade is going to belong to the companies and individuals that focus on effectiveness and efficiency with the new tools becoming available.

We are all familiar with IQ (intelligence quotient) and how it stems from a persons ability to process and make sense of information. Most are familiar with EQ (emotional intelligence) and its indication of our ability to empathize, read people and build sound relationships. These will remain important, but what will raise in importance is TQ or a persons technology quotient. Defined as:

TQ is the ability to assimilate or adapt to technology changes by developing and employing strategies to successfully include technology in ones work and life. A high TQ includes the right attitude, capabilities and decision making strategies to fully leverage technology.

The ability to leverage technology as part of being resourceful in 2021 and beyond is going to be a huge differentiator. There are continuously new tools coming out that will make on-the-ground ag sales people, technical staff and agronomists more effective and efficient. The key will be identifying them, integrating them and implementing them.

Integration of Technology and Tech Stacks

I have referenced the tech stack considerations of retail and agribusiness organizations in the past. But never explicitly for individual professionals.

The tech stack is defined as:

all the technology services used to build and run one single application or value proposition.

Essentially in the context of this post, what tools and technologies are used by a single individual to complete their day to day job to the best of their abilities. Essentially, what tools will take a person from the equivalent of a human walking to a human on a lightweight, 21 speed bike.

These are not limited to “agtech” either. Many of the tools that make people effective today go beyond agtech. If you are an agrimarketer for example, do you use copy.ai? Do you use canva for graphic design? Hootsuite for social media? Bots and automated messaging social media messaging? All of these in combination will make you more effective and efficient at your job. In fact, using them in combination can make you better than even the best CMO’s of the 80’s or 90’s!

Moulding your tech stack to optimize your efficiency and outcomes will be the biggest differentiator in this decade. Not to mention, give you more time home with your family each day!

Keys questions to ask to begin building your tech stack: What are day to day functions I spend more than 1 hour doing each week? What tasks do I dislike? What are KPI’s I have that I have not been able to achieve?

Starting here is a great spot to identify the beginning of your tech stack.

Organizational Example

There is the opportunity to think about this from the perspective of the organization and the perspective of the individual. I have highlighted primarily the individual examples until now.

I talk a lot about the future of ag retail so I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on this point from an organizational perspective.

Retails have limited agronomists and sales staff, and their agronomists and staff have limited time. Making their time and efforts go further is one point of consideration for many in ag retail leadership today. One way to do this is digitizing touch points.

We know ag retail is relationship driven, but there are ample opportunities to augment the relationship digitally. Not every conversation has to be physical.

One untapped area in much of ag retail is digital marketing via app notifications, text and/or email. This could be in the form of informative alerts (eg: pest alerts) or it could be an awareness campaign with very specific parameters.

AgVend* can do this for ag retailers in the market today.

For example, if one of the big four ag companies has a new fungicide that is highly relevant to customers in your retail area because of the current conditions you can put out an awareness campaign highlighting the product, what the problem is and why it is a fit specific to customers in that geography with ease.

This does 4 things:

  • new customer touch point - works to better inform customers of what’s relevant and does so in a highly scalable way.

  • increases product awareness - even if the farmer is unlikely to purchase after an email, one key to purchase action is familiarity. This approach can increase familiarity with a new product/brand before it gets brought up by an agronomist or sales person in physical conversation.

  • creates a data point - did they open? did they click? how long did they remain on the page? These are all data points to increase customer understanding. This data is all tied right into other business intelligence, CRM and purchase data building a more robust view of the customer.

  • new revenue stream - The manufacturer may pay for this promotional tactic.

Leveraging technology now not only augments your agronomy and sales team, but your marketing and customer experience team too. This can lead to enhanced customer relationships and sales on top. It also can increase the relationship with the manufacturers.

Tools like this in your tech stack will help achieve better outcomes. Specifically when it is all integrated into other technology you have been using for a long time, like ERP systems, credit offerings or agronomic platforms.

Final Words

The future belongs to the resourceful, high TQ professionals and organizations. For organizations, a focus on embedding this mindset in the culture is important starting now. For individuals, spending time thinking about opportunities for efficiency in your day to day and searching for tools that scratch that itch will be a differentiator in better supporting customers, increasing your career velocity or having more time with your family or doing your favourite personal activities.

Usain Bolt is fast, but if I give you a bike, I’ll bet on you 10/10 times. For agribusinesses and ag professionals, success in the next decade isn’t going to be about IQ and long hours worked, its going be about TQ and resourcefulness.

And guess what? Those skills can be built.


*Disclosure: I am an advisor to AgVend


If you want to begin reading more about how to think with a technology, computational, software and digital mindset, here are a few of my favourite books:

If you would like to read further on topics related to professional improvement, check out these blog posts:

21 Tips for 2021 Graduates

4 Essential Soft Skills For Success in the Ag Industry

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Agronomists

The 10% Rule for Professional Development

Cultivating a Better Understanding

The Real ABC's: Always Be Capturing

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