There’s a lot of farming in Georgia. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of farming in a lot of places. Agriculture is the oldest industry on the planet. People need to eat. Eating is delicious. And necessary for life. There are predictions that our population will grow from our current 7 billion to over 11 billion by 2100, and my assumption is that those people are going to need to eat, too. So, agriculture will continue to be at the center of human life.
This week on CEO Exclusive, I’m happy to welcome Ben Worley and Mark Moore of Agrisource Data. Agrisource Data is focused on providing hypervisibility into the food supply chain, using multiple layers of data to identify trends and make predictions. Their aim is to feed the world. Period. They are doing this by reducing the waste and loss that happens along the food supply chain – from planting through processing, distributing and marketing.
I was delighted to talk with Ben and Mark about the difference their work is making, and how to handle the business surrounding it.
Invest Long Term
Like lots of tech today, investing in agriculture technology can be a slow burn. As we discussed in last week’s article, it’s not uncommon in tech for the metaphorical cart to get ahead of the metaphorical horse. There’s a lot possible in tech that can be very exciting, but doesn’t have a practical use yet.
Agriculture, explains Ben, is slower to adapt than many other industries. “You look at finance technology, and to a lesser degree healthcare, and some of the others. Technology trends can be adopted fairly quickly, or at least when they are adopted, it’s adopted on a large scale, across the users. Agriculture is so fragmented that that’s not the case.”
The hype cycle is longer for agriculture than other industries, and investors in agriculture need to be aware of that. A hype cycle has to do with the way technology is integrated into the market. Says Ben, “It raises very quickly in excitement, and everybody thinks it’s going to be the next big thing. And then you have this large dip in expectations, when technology hits reality. And then, there’s a little bit slower growth curve, as people start adopting it. And then, once it becomes accepted, and technology is mature enough, then it really takes off, and starts to achieve its potential. ”
Ben says, “That’s one of the things that, in our industry, we have to be cautious about is understanding that while we can get very excited about things like drones and artificial intelligence, and IoT, there’s a pattern to it, and we have to be investing into it for the long haul. So, finding out not only what’s going to help the farmers the most five years from now, and developing that, but what do they really need right now. And what are the incremental steps to get them there.”
For Mark, it’s an investment in Ben – and it’s a balance. “We do have to make short term goals, we’ve got to make the money. We’ve got to make some sales, so we keep him focused on those things. But I think it’s sort of a longer cycle for us, and looking for a return ten years from now, and it not being short term.”
Ben says, “Finding that balance I think is very tricky as a business, and of course, if you don’t find the balance, you’re not going to make any money, and it’s difficult to stay in business that way.”
Don’t Get Ahead of Your Skis
Says Ben, “Especially when you start looking out at Silicon Valley, and some of the large VCs, and what they’re investing in. They’re investing very much in the hype cycle, what’s exciting, what’s the next new thing. And not necessarily looking as much at what are the immediate needs.”
Make sure you are in touch with your customers. What’s possible might not be what’s necessary (or marketable) at present. Ben says, “I think that there is an imbalance between this supply of technology and the demand for it, because frankly, the stuff that they need right now is not nearly as sexy as what we see the possibility being, of what they can do. And there’s only so much you can take from a disruptive stance in advance.”
Balance the Old with the New
As midlevel CEOs, finding the right cultural balance can be a challenge. Bridging the cultural gap between an industry that’s thousands of years old with bleeding edge technology can present an unique challenge.
But, as Ben explains, while the agriculture market is more fragmented, technology is no new addition to the industry overall. Says Ben, “Farmers had self-driving cars long before Tesla, or Uber, or anyone else even dreamed of it. Self-guided tractors, GPS guided tractors, have been around for more than a decade, and they’ve gained widespread adoption because the benefits are just obvious. So, when the benefits are there, and the ROI is there, technology doesn’t scare the average farmer. They get it.”
Stay Focused on the End Result
Finding the balance, according to Ben, can cause a bit of crushing of your hopes and dreams. Staying focused on your end goal can help balance that out a bit. And for Ben and Mark, that end goal is feeding the world.
They are committed to combating the inefficiency in the food supply chain, allowing more food to make it to the mouths of the world. There’s currently not a lack of data, but not all of it is useful. Ben says, “We try and make data actionable information, and provide some certainty about what’s going to be coming down the line, so that at every step, if you’re the farmer, I know how many people I need to harvest. I know where I need to put my equipment, I know when to harvest what part of the field, so I don’t have all of that waste out in the field. If I’m a processor, I know what’s coming in for my different suppliers, so that I can optimize the run time. I know I have enough storage, I know I have enough transportation, and all the way to the store shelf.”
For the team at Agrisource, it’s about making the food supply chain more effective, and about feeding people on earth now, as well as those who will be joining us in the future. Explains Ben, “Being able to do that for the billions of people who maybe don’t have access to that food; that’s a big deal for us.”