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Innovation advancing the future of agriculture

Innovation advancing the future of agriculture
Dec 10, 2020
By Denise Faguy
Assistant Editor, North American Content,

Big tech showing more interest in agriculture

John Harnett, Founder and CEO of accelerator THRIVE, joined the Virtual Precision Agriculture Conference from Silicon Valley in California.  He explained that the worlds of agriculture, technology and innovation were not all naturally connecting together, the industry was very fragmented, which is why he created Thrive.

Hartnett believes controlled environments or vertical farming will be an important area for agriculture in the future, he does not believe it will replace traditional farming, but feels that it will likely incrementally solve some agriculture problems in the future.  Solving labor issues in some cases.

Why is there an ag tech revolution happening? Hartnett says because, “We must produce more with less.”  Also, he says there are greater challenges to the ag community:  water, cost of labor, arable land shortages, feed safety issues.  “All are significant issues the industry is facing.”

According to Harnett, another important factor is changing demographics.  50% of the global population is Generation Y and Z; where 42 % of that demographic say they will stop relationships with business that negatively impact the environment.  They are very aware of health and nutrition, and their top concern is climate and the environment. 

Harnett says consumers want to know where their food is coming from, they are looking for trust, quality, health, and sustainability when they make their food purchases.

COVID has accelerated key areas such as digital marketplaces and online buying. It also uncovered many challenges in the food supply chain. 

How can Innovation solve some of these problems?  Harnett says, “We can’t keep doing the same thing, we have to innovate. It has to be transformative.”

What are the top investments being made in the agri-food industry?  Harnett shared his research that large investments have been made in Biotechnology ($3.6B US), Next Gen Foods ($1.9B US), Data Analytics & Internet of Things ($1.7B US), Controlled Environment Ag ($1.1B US), and $0.5 billion in Robotics and Automation.

He also suggested that technology companies will show more interest in the agriculture industry in the next decade.  In the next ten years, Hartnett predicts that the top five companies in agriculture may not be Bayer, BASF, John Deere, Nutrien, or Corteva, but rather Amazon, Google, Beyond Meat, Indigo, and Plenty.

During the presentation, Harnett was asked what trends became more accelerated during the pandemic.  “Looking through the supply chain, I think the heighted awareness in terms of food safety and some of the areas companies that got exposed, you are starting to see companies now look at digital transformations and robotics automation,” Harnett suggested.

Conference attendee voices heard

During Harnett’s presentation, attendees were asked to participate in two poll questions.  In response to the first poll, 42% of poll respondents said they believe the biggest challenge preventing farms from adopting technology was the learning curve (training, practice, implementation, etc.), followed a distant second by 5G connections.

“I am not surprised by the results,” said Harnett.  “Farmers are overwhelmed with the different solutions that are out there.  Every big company has an IT department to support them.”  He suggested farmers needs some sort of support as well.  A place for farmers to go to see information such as “what are the top ten solutions for my type of farm.”

In response to the second poll, what will be the largest driver for farms to embrace innovation, 56% of respondents said profitability (yield and quality improvement) would be the biggest driver. 

“Farms are a business,” said Harnett.  “They have to make money.”  Ultimately if a farmer is going to adopt technology into their business, the technology needs to have a positive impact on the bottom line.     

For a related article on the Thrive challenge, visit:


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