Why aren’t farmers taking advantage of new technology?

Agtech, short for agricultural technology, is a growing industry that uses data tools and software to help farmers improve yields and reduce resource usage.

As population growth increases global food demand and climate change negatively impacts crop yields, rapid adoption of agtech may be needed now more than ever. However, farmers are hesitant to adopt these new technologies.

What’s stopping farmers from rapidly adopting agtech, and how can the industry get more farmers on board?

“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke to Wall Street Journal reporter Belle Lin about a recent article about why so few farmers are using agtech. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: Can you give me a quick introduction? What is Agtech?

Berlin: absolutely. Agricultural technology, agtech, is actually a set of tools, both hardware and software, that allow farmer producers to make the most of agricultural resources and inputs and increase yields. So that’s the real goal of the current wave of agricultural technology. But in reality, a larger ecosystem of software, hardware, robotics, autonomous tractors, and more may be helping farmers work more efficiently.

Ryssdal: So the two things you said there are yield and current waves. We’ll talk about yields in a moment. But I want to talk about the current wave. Because, as you pointed out, this article is about that kind of bigger picture, the agritech thing, which he’s been doing for about 10 years.

Rin: That is correct. So data analytics and what is known as big data have been around for about a decade. Therefore, these large amounts of data that are often collected by companies can also be collected on American farms, which are some of the most data-rich environments. In almost every particular piece of land, collecting it where they are planted, right down to the seeds planted in the soil itself, the types of pesticides applied to the single weed where that weed is present. I can. So you can see how specific these things can get. And it’s related to the idea of ​​precision agriculture. All of these are like very specific inputs that are tailored to a particular farm, and ultimately help farmers work in a way that is informed by that data, increasing yields with fewer resources. You can increase it.

Ryssdal: Well, when it comes to yield, that’s the name of this whole game. More is being taken out of the ground per acre of cultivated land than ever before. And here’s a surprising statistic: According to the USDA in 2017, farmers who used digital soil maps as part of this technology had about 49% higher winter wheat yields than farmers who didn’t. Apparently it was expensive. Again, this is USDA data. Still, the gist of this article is that farmers have almost too much data and know what to do with it.

Rin: Yes, absolutely. So not only do you have this kind of challenge in getting farmers to use these tools, but once you do, you face this kind of data paralysis. One farmer explained this to me this way: He grows corn and soybeans. He feels like he’s collecting so much data about all the different parts of the farm that he doesn’t know what to do with it. So this is also a big issue for the entire sector, where big data and data analytics, as you know, promise all these efficiency and productivity gains. But what consumers and farmers often feel is that they don’t have the background to say, “Now that I know the moisture levels in all my soils, I should do this.”

Ryssdal: I don’t want to be ageist in any way here. And I would like to apologize to the young farmers out there. But as you pointed out, the average age of a farmer in this economy right now is about 58 years old.

Rin: Yes, that’s a big problem. These people are less accustomed to using technology to support decision-making.

Ryssdal: This is probably a small field. But there’s also the infrastructure part of this. The point is that almost all of this probably depends on connectivity and broadband. And I think anywhere in the Great Plains you might have poor connectivity and no service.

Rin: Yes, that’s a great point. Everything we’re talking about from an agritech perspective relies on the existence of an internet connection, a reliable way to stream the data collected. That makes connectivity a big issue for farms that are far away or don’t have the internet speeds that people in urban areas are accustomed to. So one of the problems that farmers run into is, for example, when they’re driving their equipment up a hill, they can connect on one side of the hill but not on the other side.

Ryssdal: I don’t mean to put any depressing punctuation into this conversation, but I honestly can’t remember if there are 8 or 9 billion people on this planet right now, but there will be many more in the future. And we have to feed them all. By the way, this is also part of how we adapt to climate change.

Rin: In theory, farmers could increase yields, which would produce more food to feed a growing hungry population and, in some ways, use fewer resources. That’s all the promise, but it’s falling a little short at the moment.

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