Panelists in an early session at this week’s World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in London spent the better part of their discussion discussing the whats, whys, and hows of agtech tools: What tools will we need to produce food now and in the future, why we need them and how we’ll use them.
“But we’ve missed one,” Diana Lenzi, president of CEJA, the European council for young farmers, told attendees. The who.
Who is going to be using these tools in the first place?
The farmer, of course, is the answer, but too often, agtech tools and services are, as the saying goes, solutions in search of problems. Or as a recent McKinsey study put it, more farmers would adopt agtech “if their concerns are addressed.”
Lenzi noted that there are a lot of solutions out there, but the industry needs to ensure they’re the right ones for the field and the farmer. The following are a few pieces of advice she gave the panel on how to achieve that:
Make solutions relevant to problems
“First we must diagnose the patient then come up with a cure,” said Lenzi. “[Agtech companies can] come up with a great idea, but maybe it’s not completely relevant to the solution that the farmer needs on his farm.”
Lenzi urged the industry to turn this on its head by letting the actual problems farmers face dictate the course of innovation.
Create ‘multifunctional innovation’
Innovation can’t just do one job on the farm. It needs to, as Lenzi said, solve a practical problem that can also relate to climate change.
“Climate change is endangering everything we put into our farm. Farms are being swept away by disease, by climate events and market disruptions. But I not only need a solution that helps me survive climate change, I also need one that helps deliver to the farmer a bit more power in the communication with consumers,” she said.
The much-needed shift in consumer diets was another example. “What farmers produce is not unhealthy. What we do with what farmers produce, along the value chain, provides an unhealthy product. How do we empower the consumer to understand that going back to that first product is the way to actually have a healthier diet?”
Make ‘economically sustainable’ solutions
“We need to make sure this wonderful innovation is actually economically sustainable for a farmer,” said Lenzi. “[Farmers] are always working on a very fine line, and [it’s] very costly for a farmer to transition.
“To add to technology can be very positive, but has a huge cost.”
She notes that young farmers — who currently make up less than 10% of farmers in the EU — will typically get rejected for a bank loan “two out of three times” no matter how perfect their business plan appears. Asking them to transition to a new tool or process to accommodate agtech would be a tough sell in that situation.
“We need to start creating alliances with the tech industry to make sure tools become something that creates value,” she noted.
Speed up policy
“We have policies that are there to supposedly enable the farming community and the whole value chain,” Lenzi said.
The problem here is that “policy always arrives late.”
“The problems we will be addressing [in the future] will be absolutely irrelevant for what we have put out on paper. So maybe we need to start simplifying. Maybe we need to fast-track a number of things and understand that policy works only if it is also relevant and time efficient.”