Ever More Analyzed, Customized, and Connected: Three Trends In Agriculture Start-Ups

Written by Sarah Piccini a 2015-2016 Kirchner Food Fellow. She is currently pursuing a Masters at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Sarah is passionate about building food systems that are inclusive, healthy and sustainable from farm to fork.

February 10, 2016 – A farmer has always been a carpenter, veterinarian, mechanic and businessman all rolled into one. Today, they must also be a big data analyst, savvy marketer, and far-sighted strategist. At the Kirchner Food Fellowship, we support innovative, socially-minded enterprises with great ideas to help farmers meet these growing demands, while also doing right by their land, their teams and their customers.

Fortunately, the number of food and agriculture start-ups aimed at tackling these challenges is growing fast. Here are three trends we’re noticing out on the fields right now.

Data For All, Not Just The Big Commodities

“Big Data” has been a buzzword for several years and companies have been eager to collect as much of it as they can. But all that information means very little if it’s not the right data, and if it’s not put to work for the farmer at the local level.

Data analysis is moving past the big commodities and focusing more on specialty crops and smaller growers. Methods for collecting data are evolving too. The systems are increasingly passive (versus having to actively feed data into a system) and embedded in both software and hard machinery. Of course, there are risks involved in ubiquitous data collection. Farmers are protective of their proprietary information and enterprises must take care to respect privacy rights and only release data at the aggregate level.

However, the benefits have the potential to far outweigh the risks. With better information for growers of all sizes, service providers can deliver better and more targeted services to meet a farmer’s specific needs. “Virtual Field Manager” can give smart recommendations based on farm history, market trends, price information and labor availability. Farmers could obtain a bird’s eye view for strategic decision making on human and capital investments and marketing, among other important decisions.

Customized Tools and Recommendations For You

No one believes one size fits all anymore. Retailers and service providers will no longer be judged solely on price but also on whether the customized recommendations and the support they can give to farmers translates to real improvements in farm management and incomes.

Hard tools and machinery can be “smartly” designed to meet each grower’s specific terrain, growing conditions and challenges. Soft tools and advice will work to help farmers understand how weather, seed selection, inputs and practices interact and affect each other to determine product quality and market opportunities.

Start-ups are working to help farmers align each of these factors with their individual circumstances, growing conditions and goals.

Get Instantly Connected With Peers and Experts

Addressing the complexities that emerge from rapid changes and innovations requires greater access to peers and experts in all fields. As troubleshooting new machinery or getting the most out of management software becomes more complicated, there is enormous value from connecting immediately with experts without the downtime of rural travel.

New services are putting a digital spin on your local coffee shop and office water cooler by providing simple social platforms to connect with other growers and seek advice from those with similar challenges or goals. They are also providing a way for older farmers to share their wealth of knowledge and experience with younger farmers who are just getting started in the business.

Just like farmers, start-ups face a complex and dynamic field. The successful ones will be those who succeed in helping farmers create more profitable, efficient and sustainable businesses that meet shifting demands from the industry and consumers alike.

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The Kirchner Food Fellowship is an initiative of Kirchner Group (a traditional merchant bank) to innovate capital deployment by improving the assembly of investment teams, applying a problem-based learning and solutions model along with a unique process and domain approach that focuses on providing both sector and operational support. The goal is to shorten deployment time frames and increase the likelihood of investment success. The program focuses on improving global food security and provides students with full discretion over their investment fund. Find out more about the Kirchner Food Fellowship and the 2016-17 application here.