Agriculture is going digital - but some questions remain unanswered for many farmers

Updated: Jan 20

What does going digital actually mean?

As great as that sounds to the digital natives and big-wig investors in San Francisco, the majority of farmers making a living off of selling produce and hemp probably don't know much about any of it. So rather than talking about software and technology and diving into the newest innovations in AgTech and Farm Management Software, our goal is to help bring you up to speed on what any of this even means to move into the digital world of agriculture - and we'll be linking to more complex descriptions if you're curious for more!

Why should I bother making the shift?

The most important questions of the day: Why should I care? Innovation sounds cool, but what are the tangible results of making the shift to digital? Here are some statistics to help illustrate the power of smart agriculture - and the widening gap between farms who adopt, and those who do not:

  • Since 1948, these innovations have increased U.S. agricultural growth by 170% while input costs have decreased by 24%

  • Goldmann Sachs estimates new precision technologies have the potential to allow for 70% higher yields on existing agricultural land by 2050

  • Tools like yield mapping and GPS soil mapping have decreased production costs per acre as low as $13

All these figures are just a subset of the monumental changes happening in the industry because of the digital revolution - do you want to be a farmer left behind? If not, let us move into the first question we must answer...

What is digital agriculture?

We promised not to get overly technical, and we'll stick to our word. To explain it simply, digital agriculture is the use of digital tools - primarily software - to manage, optimize, and track your grows. Think of it as a dynamic stat sheet, with metrics around inventory, germination, and yield being updated as they happen (what we'll call real-time updates from now on), rather than whenever you or a manager gets around to recording it.

This has been such a revelation for the industry & a must-have for modern-day farmers, as it's offered insights into information like comparisons in germination percentages across numerous seed suppliers, product-tracing from supplier to eventual customer, and even getting customer feedback from those end customers on your products! The benefits go beyond the product, however: Farms that have implemented digital agriculture tools have seen improvements in team productivity, a greater understanding of their financials, and increased profitability from the dozens of hours & dollars in labor saved!

Without question, these are powerful tools that could make any farmer's life easier. But let's continue to peel back the layers of this onion: We talked about digital agriculture, software, some of the benefits, but how does any of this work - is it mystical witchcraft from the city folk?

Well not necessarily, though it does seem like that for someone with no experience with digital tools. One of the most beneficial elements of these tools is their availability & real-time updates, facilitated through cloud computing. And trust me, we know what you're thinking...

What is cloud computing?

Great question! This is one that's easy to get into the weeds with, so let's keep it simple: Cloud computing is the delivery of services through the internet. These services can vary depending on what you're using & what you're using it for, but for the typical farm, this comes in the form of real-time inventory number-crunching, accessing data on your farm, storing customer information, among countless others! The best part: it gives you and your team access to the same data - unless you choose otherwise - and saves you the hassle of securely storing the information yourself. Instead of having a paper ledger of all transaction or a running excel sheet you need an employee to constantly update, the cloud can connect to all of this and handle it for you behind the scenes, giving you and your team times to focus on making your farm the best it can be!

P.S. If you're worried about the safety of the cloud, don't: almost all of the cloud storage system are run and protected by the likes of Google (Google Cloud) and Amazon (AWS) so it'll probably be safer in their hands than yours!

Congrats, you're now an expert on the cloud - sort of. But now you may have another question...

Where is the cloud and how do I access it?

Another great question and the answer is not 30,000 feet in the air outside of an airplane. The cloud's kinda like the Force in Star Wars: it's all around us and can be pulled from anyone with access. In fact, if you're reading this, you're on the cloud right now.

The cloud can be accessed through applications, or software programs that perform specific tasks. These are usually broken up into two categories: Web applications, which are the platforms you find on browsers like Google Chrome & Internet Explorer; and mobile applications (more commonly referred to as apps), which are the platforms typically found on your mobile smart devices. Among those mobile applications, we have two branches: iOS, which are apps made for the iPhone, and Android, which are made for non-apple smart devices.

While similar & offering benefits, they have some major differences. Keeping it simple & focused on a farmer's experience, the mobile application provides more pros than web applications. They bring many of the benefits mentioned above, while also giving you the mobility of being able to walk around your farm vs being stationed in front of a desktop.

So now what?

All jokes aside, this is as surface-level as the digital agriculture industry gets. To learn more, we suggest looking into more resources on the topic, such as this collection of case studies presented by the US. Global Development Lab and the Bureau of Food Security. We also highly suggest looking into different digital tools around farm management like AgSquared, FarmRoad, and of course, us at NativeAG!

We'll continue to bring you more content on how digital tools like the aforementioned are changing the industry - and how they can change your farm & business forever - and we want to know what it is you want to know more about. Leave a comment below, I'd love to chat and answer your questions!