Farmers who use precision agriculture technologies achieve greater yields than their counterparts who do not. This is according to the US Department of Agriculture and begs the question – if agtech tools are revolutionizing how farmers farm, why has the uptake been so slow?
A survey by McKinsey of US farmers found less than half were using farm management software. Only 25% had implemented precision agriculture hardware and/or remote sensing, and a paltry 3% indicated they have plans on adopting AI-enabled software moving forward.
Many of the developed world’s farmers already went through the first generation of digital farming tools. They were clunky, complex, a pain to manage, and the uptake was poor. Over the past couple of years Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have jumped into the arena, tailoring their artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-computing to the larger industry. Bayer (now owner of Monsanto) has partnered with Microsoft and is rolling out what promises to be the most user-friendly service tying agribusiness to a cloud provider.
Venture capital funding for sensing, Internet-of-Things, and farm management software increased by 35% last year. Relying on GPS, sensors, and AI, precision agriculture is posited to be the next big wave in farm innovation. Yet, high implementation costs, uncooperative weather, disease, and an aging demographic of farmers are proving to be the prickly thorns hindering uptake.
American farmers are older than the average in most professions. At 58 years of age, a slower shift to technology is understandable. Most farmers rely on the guidance of agronomists and advisers as opposed to apps. The other concern of this demographic is data privacy. With age comes an increased reluctance to share farm-specific data. Compared to younger farmers, this is an area that significantly divides the two cohorts.
Large farms and farming operations have been gobbling up market share over the past two decades. Bigger players use technology more efficiently and also pay the upfront costs necessary to implement efficiency-saving tools. Farmers who have opted for precision agriculture technologies with corn, cotton, soybeans, and winter wheat reap impressive yields compared to those who choose to remain with the status quo.
A deluge of data is something that is certainly hindering widespread adoption. Yet, this generation’s apps are infinitely more user-friendly than the clunky options first rolled out two decades ago. Memories of unpleasant, first-generation technologies should not keep wide swaths of America’s farmers stuck in the past.