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Grand Farm: Solving Growers’ Pain Points Through Technology

Problems are what drive innovation – and it’s what drives Grand Farm.

The Grand Farm Initiative was created to solve the biggest problems facing agriculture. From sustainable ag practices to grower profitability, Grand Farm will bring small business, corporations, higher education, research institutions and government agencies together to create the farm of the future.

However, at the heart of Grand Farm is the grower. If Grand Farm isn’t solving real problems that growers are facing right now, we’re wasting our time.

That’s why throughout the summer, a collection of growers and industry professionals gathered at the Grand Farm Test Site to discuss pain points facing growers. From crop and soil management to data visualization to autonomous systems and the farm of the future design, dozens of pain points were identified and outlined.

Part of the future of Grand Farm is highlighting pain points growers are facing right now in hopes that industry will work together to solve these problems.

Soil Crop Management

Grand Farm Chapters

Before we dive into those problems, it’s important to understand the goal of Grand Farm. As we work toward creating the Grand Farm “user story”, we look to move towards the Integration-of-Systems. This is the connection between autonomous technologies, internet-of-things and the digitization of agriculture.

  • The purpose is to more-efficiently execute on the agriculture life- cycles. We’ve broken it into three different phases:
  • Pre-cultivation phase: Identifying more effective methods to determine crop selection, land selection and access to credit.
  • Crop cultivation and harvesting phase: Effectively prepare the land with a focus on sowing, water management, fertilization and pest management.
  • Final phase of post-harvest: Includes go-to-market, transportation, packaging and food processing. Achieved through a strong agriculture ecosystem focused on collaborative innovation.

Here, we’ve broken the story into different Grand Farm chapters. As you read through the pain points, we’ve identified which Grand Farm chapters align with which pain points. This illustrates how with small business, corporations, higher education, research institutions and government agencies to solve these problems.

Soil and Crop Management
Bringing new crops into production with new uses in agriculture. This includes the importance of land stewardship and the opportunity costs associated with changing crops.

Autonomous Systems
The tools which automate tasks on the farm. This includes everything from the to the truck taking crops to the elevator to the decision making tools providing insights.

Information Flows
The collection of data, including standardization of that data across technology solutions, data privacy and cyber security and the ability to turn data into information and insights for the grower and the supply chain.

Farm of the Future Design
This includes sustainability practices and how to approach different farm management principles. Other concepts may include farming as a service and agriculture technology as a service.

Improve the Human Condition
The impact on humans connected to the farm. This includes everybody from the grower, their community, the workers in the agriculture supply chain and the consumer. At the end of the day, everyone is connected to agriculture in some way.

Integration of Systems

Pain Points

  • Investment based in Silicon Valley
    • Much of the capital investment in agriculture and ag- tech is based in Silicon Valley. This leads to a disconnect between the end-user and the investor. By focusing on growing businesses that have roots in an agrarian society, there will be a clearer understanding of pain points facing growers.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Farm of the Future Design
  • Knowledge transfer from older generation to younger generation  
    • According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, almost 70 percent of growers are over the age of 45 and almost 30 percent are over the age of 65. Over the next 10 years, there’s going to be a great transfer of knowledge that needs to take place in order for the next generation of growers to succeed. This problem is heightened by the fact that in previous generations, growers were more apt to share best practices. However, there is a potential for there to be larger disagreements about neighbor’s farming practices as run-off from one field can impact another grower’s crops.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Improve the Human Condition
  • Land availability & profitability
    • In order to be more profitable, growers often have to rent more land. However, as land is often passed down from generation to generation, relationships often play a big part in land rental. This means that if you don’t come from a lineage of growers or there’s land in your family, you’re at a disadvantage. This is evidenced by the fact that approximately 39 percent of the 911 million acres of farmland in the contiguous 48 states was rented, according to a USDA’s Economic Research Service study of farmland ownership, tenure, and transfer in U.S. agriculture.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Soil and Crop Management
  • Integration of Systems
    • While the AgTech ecosystem is robust, the integration of systems remains a struggle. This means that there may be 20 different softwares that are accomplishing niche problems for growers, but they don’t integrate together into an enterprise system. This is often because agtech is built up of small companies who don’t have the capital or resources to dedicate to properly integrate with bigger corporations’ systems and the larger players in agriculture are often reluctant to allow other software companies to integrate with their systems.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Information Flows
  • Lack of robustness around risk assessment
    • The variables that go into risk assessment are complex and are really only understood by domain experts who have been involved in farming for years. This means that it’s difficult for growers who want to invest in new opportunities as there’s so many unknowns. When looking at risk assessment, it boils down to impact and profitability so the question is: How do you create simpler risk assessment so growers can properly plan and take on new risk?
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Information Flows
  • Fragmentation of farm practices
    • Throughout much of history, farms were one large ecosystem where a number of plants were harvested and raised. For instance, a farmer may grow corn, soybeans and other crops while also raising pigs. However, farms are becoming more specialized and have lost that interconnectivity with the ecosystem. As technology develops, there’s been a fragmentation of farm management techniques, which is creating more complexity. It takes a lot of time to learn different tools, which also creates inefficiencies in farming.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Soil and Crop Management
  • Unpredictable Seasons
    • The complaint of unpredictable seasons is not a new problem. However, as new farm management practices are created, a disconnect and distrust have been created between the research being done and the growers. This is often because these new farm management techniques are being created for best- case scenarios involving weather, which frequently don’t exist in the real world. This problem will only be compounded by climate change.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Soil and Crop Management
  • Economics of Soil Health
    • In terms of proper soil health, a lot of the healthy practices don’t make economic sense and regulations are poorly aligned with best practices. In fact, many of the proper farming practices don’t align with regulations. There is a greater need for connectivity between proper soil health, regulations and grower profitability.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Soil and Crop Management
  • Lack of Traceability
    • Consumers are asking for greater clarity on where their food is coming from. However, to get to full traceability in agriculture, growers need to have an economic incentive. This is especially true when you consider that tracing produce increases complexity and resources a grower has to dedicate. Another note on this is that as indoor farming becomes more widespread, this was identified as a way to create greater profitability for those farmers.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Information Flows
  • Pricing Transparency
    • In agriculture, many pricing structures can be very complex and hidden by gatekeepers. This is further compounded by the fact that certain pricing (e.g. seeds) are transparent while with other items (e.g. chemicals), growers have to go to talk to different sales representatives in order to find prices. Even co-ops and checkoff organizations felt like they couldn’t easily get access to pricing structures. It is very difficult to plan when growers don’t have a clear understanding of their expenses.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Information Flows
  • Complex Systems
    • Many growers are managing their farm through simple spreadsheets, which often only have basic information. As more technology is developed around farm data visualization, the way it is presented is very complex and often more than what growers actually need to know. Those developing farm software need to focus on simplicity and solving real problems as growers won’t adopt new technologies unless the value has clearly been demonstrated.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Information Flows
  • Disconnect around proper farming techniques
    • There’s a wide disconnect between growers around proper farming practices. For instance, two growers who are neighbors could be utilizing drastically different farming techniques. This is further complicated by the fact that there is no clear or trustworthy resource to figure out what makes sense for their farm. Growers don’t know what’s their opportunity cost, when’s the best time to do certain techniques, etc.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Soil and Crop Management
  • Adoption of newcrops
    • Planting new crops is a risky undertaking for growers. Utilizing hemp as an example, when it was legalized in North Dakota, growers didn’t understand what tools were available to plant, harvest and work the new crops. Most growers either planted hemp and lost money or didn’t go into it because they didn’t have full clarity on the process. As new crops emerge, it’s important for that information to be transparent. (E.g. Where contracts come from? Who’s going to buy hemp seed and oil? How do you know you’re going to make money on that crop?)
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Soil and Crop Management
  • Soil erosion
    • Soil erosion is a very complex topic and varies from field to field. There is confusion on how growers can properly gain correct information on their field. While there are a number of systems and software that growers can use, the challenge often comes in making sense of the data.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Soil and Crop Management
  • Too many agtech companies are branching out from their strength
    • Most small businesses launch because the founder is passionate and knowledgeable about a problem. That founder then successfully brings a new product to the market. However, as the company expands and begins to obtain a presence in the market in their niche, it often expands it focuses on problems that are outside of the realm of their expertise. This creates frustration from the user and fails to solve the problem
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Information Flows
  • Product adoption is very slow
    • Production adoption is difficult in many sectors. However, the adoption of new technology in farming is compounded by the fact that the equipment is so expensive and impacts so many different facets of the farm. This creates a problem as more agtech is invented. How do you encourage quicker adoption amongst the grower and industry?
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Information Flows
  • Finding operators for farm equipment is hard
    • As rural communities continue to see a population exodus, finding qualified labor is becoming an increasing challenge. While many of the jobs are minimal (driving trucks, farm labor, etc.), the workers simply are not in the community to accomplish this job. This problem is further compounded by the fact that machines are becoming more complex and need a lot of technical knowledge in order to operate. There remains a lack of training in order to operate the machinery.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Farm of the Future Design
  • Accurate mapping of fields
    • Autonomous systems and vehicles require accurate digital mapping of the field in order to operate properly. While there are many mapping softwares out there, many fields remain poorly mapped, which creates problems for these autonomous systems.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Autonomous Systems
  • Incentivization for sustainable practices
    • The land owners have incentivization to encourage sustainable agricultural practices as this will ensure their land will remain profitable and thriving for generations to come. However, most growers don’t actually own the land they farm so they don’t have the same incentives to use those sustainable practices as the grower may only farm the land for the next five years whereas, if the grower knew they were going to farm the land for the next 100 years, they would may use different agricultural practices.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Soil and Crop Management
  • Willingness to innovate
    • The current economic crisis of trade wars, covid and other market factors are impacting growers’ willingness to launch new initiatives. This creates a much smaller window of error for growers to try new products or practices. The ability/willingness to “bet the farm” during hard economic times becomes much smaller.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Farm of the Future Design
  • Funding models
    • Many farm loans from banks are year by year. This makes it difficult for growers to test out new software, equipment or practices as these may take several years to see an ROI. Because of the structure of the loans, the growers must be focused on making a profit immediately.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Farm of the Future Design
  • Securing funding for indoor farming is difficult
    • Many banks are skeptical of the feasibility and profitability of indoor farming so there is a large reluctance to fund these operations. Plus, the barrier to get into indoor farming is very high, which is causing immediate problems in growing the industry.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Farm of the Future Design
  • Lack of a clear ROI with new technology
    • For growers, it’s easy to justify the expenses associated with certain equipment (eg. a new combine) while other expenses are difficult to see the immediate ROI. This creates a barrier to entry to innovate with new technology as the growers are so focused on profitability.
      • Grand Farm Alignment: Information Flows
Indoor Farming

About Grand Farm

The Grand Farm Initiative, powered by Emerging Prairie, capitalizes on the region’s potential and expertise in the agriculture and technology industries. The Grand Farm Initiative will accelerate the research and innovation into technology which will be present on the farm of the future – impacting North Dakota, the United States, and the World by solving challenges in the agriculture industry and developing new opportunities.

The Grand Farm Initiative is designed to inspire collaboration among businesses, organizations and researchers to develop the future farm, which we believe will solve issues critical to farmers worldwide.

Learn more at grandfarm.com

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