A Clearer Vision In Precision Ag

by: Paul Schrimpf

When our team conceived of the PrecisionAg Vision Conference more than a year ago, we had a few essential ideas about its mission and purpose. First, the ag technology market is in a state of rapid evolution and significant investment that has continued despite the fact that we are in the midst of a market trough.

Second, folks like you are trying to figure out what emerging technologies such as sensors, robotics, and the Internet of things are likely to impact the work we do.

Third, there’s the belief that ag technology is going to impact every segment of agriculture, from food processing and retailing upstream to crop protection, seed, equipment and fertilizer manufacturers, and retailers downstream. It will impact every segment in a unique way, and we need to be ready.

Finally, there are many entities outside of agriculture with staggeringly powerful and complex technologies trying to figure out if what they do translates to the agriculture industry. Conference contributions from IBM, Bosch, and Dell from the podium, and many other tech companies in attendance, served as testimony to this trend.

So, while we had a specific audience in mind, the attendee profile was more expansive than we imagined. We had nearly 200 attendees, with representation from 12 countries and 30 states. The quest to understand where precision agriculture and ag technology is headed is without boundaries.

There were many highlights throughout the event, but a few come immediately to mind:

Bill Schmarzo, Chief Technology Officer at Dell/EMC and creator of the Big Data MBA course that is increasingly offered at universities across the country, took the conference by storm with his message on data. My key takeaway was don’t be afraid of the cycle of trying, failing, learning, and trying again. Giving employees “permission to fail” — when it leads to greater understanding and a clearer path forward — can be a powerful business tool.

Second, as someone with a deep fascination for technology, I really enjoyed Steve Whalley and Rob O’Reilly, who talked about the wide waterfront of sensor technology. From biodegradable printed sensors that could be spread on a field like fertilizer and provide in-season environmental information to a project called the “Internet of Tomatoes,” which used sensors to learn more about the impact of New England field and weather conditions on tomato quality and taste, the potential seemed endless.

Finally, as the editorial team lead, I was thrilled to hear so many speakers talk about the importance of the retailer and precision consultant in making technology work effectively for growers. Despite all the talk of automation and sensing, over and over again we heard speakers and experts in attendance stress the need for “boots on the ground” to implement and maintain these emerging technological wonders.

We’ve said it over and over, and will keep saying it: There’s a bright future for service-focused retail, and technology is key. And we’ll be demonstrating that conviction and commitment in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned …