Why connecting AgTech systems is so hard

Unless there is substance and actual data being connected then we just get into this whole other pile of hype the AgTech industry can’t seem to rid itself of.

After my travels to Agritechnica last November in Hannover, Germany and through other conversations, meetings, and press releases throughout 2019, I figured it was time to take hold of a large elephant in the room. That is the whole notion of connecting data in this Precision Ag and AgTech world we live in.

Dirty secrets

There are many claiming, touting, and making it happen to some extent and while it’s great, there are some dirty secrets to the entire mix and plenty of hype. In all sense of the word, it’s tough to do actually.

Now in all disclosure, I work for one of those companies called AgIntegrated helping to tackle this issue. That is not to say we’ve figured it all out yet and we may have our own criticism from time to time. This issue isn’t that it can’t be done or isn’t, but that it’s just not as simple as saying “Hey, we both have data we both want to share, let’s do it!”

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One reason why it is hard to connect all kinds of different players is because of the growing regional issues in how farming actually takes place. - Photo: Peter Roek
One reason why it is hard to connect all kinds of different players is because of the growing regional issues in how farming actually takes place. - Photo: Peter Roek

Pile of hype

Some seem to approach it this way by either claiming they will connect or say they are in some sort of partnership. That is great and sometimes true, but unless there is substance and actual data being connected then we just get into this whole other pile of hype the AgTech industry can’t seem to rid itself of. Let us look at the top issues here that make it hard. I’ll even make a little list since that seems to perk up the crowd. Here we go:

  • Competition – Well yeah, pretty big problem here in the first place. Just because a grower or service provider uses FMIS A, B, and C doesn’t mean those FMIS companies want to share data together. This naturally complicates things legally, but also morally. They basically can’t in order to keep their business to an extent. What happens though is if they do integrate, they only half *ss connect and promote it and nothing works out well.
  • Proprietary Formats – Nothing new here either. Even though things like ADAPT from AgGateway and formats like ISOxml exist doesn’t mean everything works perfectly. What about older controllers and systems? Most don’t deal with that and plus a funny thing is happening, major groups are manipulating the ADAPT plugin and ISOxml into their own specific way so nothing is really changing. It’s not a two-way street, it’s a 20 lane round-about. Sure, things can be translated but that’s tough and most just ignore it until they are forced to, which just wastes everyone’s time.
  • No APIs yet – This one is getting better but there are plenty that just don’t have systems that can transfer data yet efficiently or through APIs which are the common way. This has happened for a variety of reasons, but really comes down to integration being a lower priority because each system needs to focus their roadmap on their core business. Many are getting around to it, but it can take a lot of time and resources. Let’s just say if any group wants to stay in the game they are going to have to get this done sooner than later in most cases.
  • Promises/Hype – Well what is new here…. Unfortunately, many are starting to say they “will” connect or say they are, but actually haven’t done much of anything. They say they are part of this or that and are pushing eventually to do it, but because of number 1, 2, and 3 above just aren’t doing it. So lying about it is good enough since it’s not affecting their bottom line yet. They have to say it to be kosher, but really have no substance behind it. Whether it’s to help raise their next round or just to not be left out in the field who knows. Regardless though, do your homework and make sure connecting is a real thing.
  • Complacency – This might be the worst one out of them all. It ties in with number 4 but the issue really just comes down to they don’t care. It also has to do with number 1 in that they are afraid of losing customers so while they say they could connect data, they just don’t really.
    This is starting to change, but even if it’s because they don’t want to, it’s usually more complicated than that. Maybe they are too proud or scared or actually have no idea how to do it. If you really look at Ag as a whole, we’ve always had this problem and most other industries are light years ahead of us in terms of data integration.
    If others really want to make this industry become the so called “Ag 2.0” or the next big thing since tractors replaced horses, then we need to get off our butts and do something about it.

Growing regional issues

So, there is a start to the complex issues of why it’s hard to connect data in the agriculture industry, but that is really the surface issue that is fairly apparent. The next biggest reason why it is hard to connect all these players is because of the growing regional issues in how farming actually takes place.

For example, here in the States we farm quite differently than say Europe. While we have similar challenges, we have different sizes, types, equipment, regulations, etc. which makes it harder to do or agree on how to do it.

We are having to build clouds within clouds within clouds to connect it all

I’ll be frank, the way AgIntegrated handles these connection issues is different yet similar compared with say how others are trying to deal with it via standards such as AgGateway’s ADAPT and ISOxml or other groups getting into the mix like Europe’s AgriRouter.

Creating more cloud “islands”

Even companies are starting to do their own thing in how they are approaching it via agreements like the recent ones with DataConnect that includes Claas, JD, CNH, and 365FarmNet. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we are just creating more cloud “islands” per say. We are having to build clouds within clouds within clouds to connect it all. Tongue twister isn’t it?

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Even companies are starting to do their own thing in how they are approaching it via agreements like the recent ones with DataConnect that includes Claas, JD, CNH, and 365FarmNet. - Photo: CNH Industrial
Even companies are starting to do their own thing in how they are approaching it via agreements like the recent ones with DataConnect that includes Claas, JD, CNH, and 365FarmNet. - Photo: CNH Industrial

We don’t solve connecting everything and everyone through a common method really. Well, the reality is they we can’t connect via a common method because of what I originally stated. Each area of the world has different issues and systems in place that don’t always work together in the same way. The thing is we try to work with all and we hope the same of all the others since that is what needs to be done, but it takes time.

More than one way to connect

Basically, we are dealing with a plethora of issues into why connecting is hard. Some want to just connect to those that deal with their issues and not others. Some just don’t have the skills, time, or money. Others just want to do it a different way. I mean there is more than one way to farm and so I guess there is more than one way to connect.

My biggest gripe I think though is that while these issues are real, some still are just too stubborn to change and work together. I get it but come on? It’s just going to hold us back in the long run and not help those at the center of it all, the farmer.

It is okay to be different and while I don’t blame others for how they are doing it, it’s kind of frustrating

In the end, my main point is that not only should you do your homework into who is doing what and how they are actually connecting, but try to understand why. It is okay to be different and while I don’t blame others for how they are doing it, it’s kind of frustrating.

You know, maybe it’s harder than most want to admit and maybe most don’t really care how they do it, but at the end of the day it could be the one thing that actually helps this entire industry grow into the next stage of Agriculture.

Ag Atmosphere

I’m sure eventually this will all get straightened out and everyone’s clouds will connect to everyone else’s clouds, but maybe the whole idea of clouds is a bad way we look at connecting everything. Maybe we should start thinking of it as an Ag Atmosphere.

Sure, many clouds exist within and under it, but it’s all held within a larger atmosphere that while very big is generally made up of fairly simple properties. It doesn’t have to be the same everywhere, but we do need to be better at it and stop making it so complicated. That is my two cents anyway.

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