Steve Cubbage: Is Your Farm Working Toward Digitizing Data?

09:48PM Jan 21, 2018
Steve Cubbage
( Farm Journal Media )

Farmers are used to wearing many hats. Throughout a typical day, week, month or year they might assume the role of biologist, economist, heavy-equipment operator, systems engineer and other titles all part of “simply being a farmer.”

But the hat farmers need to get most comfortable wearing real quick is a “technologist.”

When someone asks you, “what do you do?” and your response is you’re an ag retailer, crop consultant or a farmer, John Ellis says that answer is simply wrong. “You are a technologist who has chosen to deliver farm products,” Ellis told attendees at Farm Journal’s recent AgTech Expo.

With a background in the mobile phones and automotive industries, Ellis contends technology is infiltrating all business sectors at lightning speed, and agriculture is no exception. To make his point, he says it took 60 years for the telephone to be widely adopted in the U.S., but it took only 10 months for the iPad to reach a similar critical mass.

To appreciate the disruptive scope of what technology could do to a traditional industry such as agriculture, Ellis suggests looking at today’s automobile industry. For a brief period in 2017, the most valuable car manufacturer was a young whippersnapper named Tesla.

A 21st century technology company, Tesla builds the coolest and smartest vehicles on the planet. By the way, they’re electric—there’s not an internal combustion engine to be found under any hood.

The point Ellis was driving home is that right now most farms don’t look, think and operate like Tesla. That’s a huge concern for individual farmers as well as the industry as a whole. We’re basically an analog-era industry trying to operate in the digital world of the future, and time is not on our side. We don’t have 60 years to make this transition and not even six for that matter.

Why should we be worried now? I mean, precision agriculture has been around for 25-plus years, and while many farming practices have been enhanced nothing has changed much with all this “technology.” Well, it’s not “old” technology that will do the disrupting this time, Ellis says.

Instead, it will be big data, the cloud and the Internet of Things deployed all over your farm. It is going to be about adopting, understanding and exploiting your digital footprint within a digital, information-driven marketplace. If you wonder whether this is all for real or not, consider Bitcoin and Blockchain.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the hottest speculative investment is digital currency, the biggest name of which is Bitcoin. Most people consider it to be about as real as Monopoly money, but don’t discount its future impact on financial and agricultural markets.

Then there is this little-known thing called Blockchain. The Silicon Valley crowd calls it a digital ledger that could ultimately track every process and transaction involved with getting food from farm to table. I call it the Carfax report that comes with your box of Wheaties at Walmart. The marketplace is demanding transparency and greater efficiency and to achieve that everyone must record everything digitally. Unfortunately, the weakest link in Blockchain for agriculture is at the farm level itself, which Ellis points out.

To link up with Blockchain and the next generation of consumers, growers must start digitizing data at the farm level en masse. Every field operation, every input and every transaction needs to be correctly documented digitally. The future is here now. Are you ready? Maybe the better question is, which hat are you wearing? Farmer or technologist?