Disruption is a dangerous word for agtech

As I ponder how the 2019 season is starting to kick into high gear I find myself continually hearing about how someone is about to “disrupt” the agricultural world.

I get how the want and need to do that sounds enticing, but the reality is “disrupting” something like agriculture can really lead to a dangerous mind set. It says to many that we’ve been doing something wrong or bad even. While in some cases that is true, in many ways it is not.

The importance of tradition

Being from a small farming community and growing up on a farm, I learned the importance of tradition and time tested practices related to growing a crop. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t change things and adapt, it means just like the crop, a person needs to grow their mind to explore new things that help while keeping to some of those time tested practices.

Basic “disrupting” claims

When you here someone chatter around “disrupting” something, it leads to feel that someone is saying what you’ve been doing is bad. With agtech or precision ag, this is an ever growing statement and one which I know is starting to piss some people off. Let’s start with some of the basic “disrupting” claims I seem to hear all the time below:

  • X group is planning to disrupt agriculture by making a drone that does “something” special
  • Robots will disrupt agriculture replacing labourers and reducing dependence on chemicals
  • Growing food indoors will Disrupt how food is grown by taking land out of production.
  • This company will disrupt agriculture by providing AI/ML to decide what to do on a farm
  • Blah blah blah disrupt ag by blah blah blah to save money blah blah blah...

Disrupting agriculture a delicate thing

You get the picture I think. While each one of those basic claims have some point to them, they are usually so broad and specific to some test case that was done that they hardly are completely scalable and/or doable in a majority of farming operations. It’s not to say they can’t help, but disrupting something like agriculture is a delicate thing. It is how we grow food and survive pretty much.

Instead of telling the agriculture industry that you are going to “disrupt” it, maybe try a little different tactic that is actually true

Changing the way someone handles their finances and what kind of car they drive is easier to disrupt since it inherently doesn’t affect really whether you live or die. Growing food and how its managed though is, well a little different.

Random attention

I suppose my main issue with the term “disrupt” is the fact that it is used by so many new groups and people trying to get into the ag space and by just saying agtech and disrupt in the same pitch line you seem to get some random attention easier to help raise money or press. Once again, I get it but it is getting old.

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A young farmer in France is connecting his tablet to a high-speed internetwork (THD) before he starts working the field. "I’ll guarantee you that the people that actual do the work are always trying though to disrupt their own process, we just don’t say it that way." - Photos: AFP
A young farmer in France is connecting his tablet to a high-speed internetwork (THD) before he starts working the field. "I’ll guarantee you that the people that actual do the work are always trying though to disrupt their own process, we just don’t say it that way." - Photos: AFP

Instead of telling the agriculture industry that you are going to “disrupt” it, maybe try a little different tactic that is actually true. Here is an example: We at “X group/company” are developing methods that can help agriculture beyond some of the great techniques and technological processes that have been at the forefront of the industry for decades by doing “this or that” process and using “x technology” to add efficiencies beyond what others are capable of doing today.

Something like that. As you see you don’t need to use the word disrupt, but instead my main point is stating that agriculture has already been at the forefront of technological advances and it evolves “although at a slower pace” just like any other industry.

Tradition keeps people in ag passionate

Agriculture doesn’t need to be disrupted. It needs to be understood better because every decision made in every process of ag has different consequences and realities. I’ll guarantee you though that the people that actual do the work are always trying though to disrupt their own process, we just don’t say it that way. That or some parts just don’t need to be changed necessarily. Tradition is one of the main things that keep people in ag so passionate about what they do. Just because it can be changed doesn’t mean it should.

Chaos

All in all, everyone that is involved or wants to be involved in agriculture needs to learn that nothing is simple about it and it takes time to test processes to make it all work. Disrupting something can often lead to chaos and when we are talking about how we grow food, chaos is not something most want.

If you really want to disrupt this industry, try talking about it in a different way and also try understanding it better because changing just one method dramatically doesn’t always work or sound good. You might just disrupt things enough that others in ag decide to disrupt your little plan. Just food for thought.

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