By: Kevin Heikes, COO and co-founder of IN10T
Kevin and his grandfather at the farm in Southern Colorado.
I’ve been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat to innovation over the last 25 years, including the adoption of cell phones, computer technology, and numerous scientific breakthroughs. I graduated high school in the ’90s when we didn’t have cell phones or email accounts. Back in those days, our information source in the ag classroom was the DTN machine. News, weather, and the markets—the speed of information changed from the weekly newspaper to daily check-ins with the DTN. The growth of the internet during my college years shaped many career paths, including my own, and as we entered the workforce tech innovation was the name of the game.
Right out of college I began working for Vantage Point Network, a startup funded by John Deere, Farmland, and Growmark. The company started with news, search engine, weather, and markets, but quickly moved to become a decision support and data warehouse. I was convinced our tools were going to change the way farm decisions were made. In fact, I went to visit my grandparents’ farm in Southern Colorado, where I grew up, to tell them just that.
I’ll never forget that experience, as it humbled me to the realities of tech adoption on the farm. With Grandma dialing in on her 56K dial-up modem, I spent an hour showing Grandpa how to get information in real-time. During this conversation and painful tour of the sluggish internet, he looked me in the eyes and said, ‘If it doesn’t save me time or make me money, I’m not going to use it.’
Lesson #1 – Demonstrating the value of technology is key to adoption on-farm
Those comments from my grandpa have stuck with me and bring me to lesson number one. With any new technology, if it doesn’t solve a problem, it won’t be widely adopted. We are seeing ground-breaking innovation today but connecting it to the farm remains a challenge. The world’s most innovative products can fall flat if they can’t show a farmer how it ‘saves them time or makes them money’. At IN10T we bridge this gap — we help our clients connect with farmers. We enable them to collect and analyze farm-level insights, measure real-world results, and ultimately, demonstrate the value of their product. We believe that farmers should be guiding the development of technology in agriculture, after all, they have been experimenting on their farms for years.
After our disastrous computer session, we needed some fresh air, and my grandpa encouraged me to take a walk with him around the farm. We walked numerous fields that day, with my grandpa scanning to see how the crop was progressing. He had a keen eye, trained through years of experience on the farm. Today, my dad still walks every field during the growing season each year.
Lesson #2: Farming is an art and a science
There is an art to farming and the insights gathered by putting boots on the ground are hard to replace. So how do innovators produce valuable insights, combining art and science? I believe data scientists are key. Their ability to create new data models and algorithms aid the understanding of product performance, as well as farmers’ perceptions. There is an art to this work – to be able to cut through the data and discern trends, comprehending the bigger picture. When we can combine this art with real-world data, the analysis is even more powerful. Whether this data is input by an agronomist, sales rep or even the farmer themselves, the ‘boots on the ground’ insights are key. Using a single platform to pull together all this information, and running thorough data analyses, reveals trends across regions and over time.
As we made our way back to the house that afternoon, my grandpa shared one last piece of advice. “I know you’re trying to make your mark in the industry but remember everything takes time.” He encouraged me to keep on my path at Vantage Point, but to remain grounded in my expectation for changing the world.
Lesson #3: Everything takes time.
Today, in agriculture, there’s a lot of buzz around regenerative practices, autonomous tractors, artificial intelligence, robots, carbon credits, and biologicals. Investors want to change the face of agriculture and are pumping money into these fledgling tech companies, producing some of the cool new innovations of the future. But adoption of new tech and products in agriculture takes time. Crop inputs, plant breeding decisions, and equipment features only get one chance a year to test in the field, in a real-world situation. While this can slow down progress and results for investors, asking a farmer about your product is a key step on the adoption journey that can’t be skipped. It further highlights the importance of getting it right – getting real results from every acre in your testing program. At the end of the day, investors in AgTech are looking for the same thing as farmers: value.
My grandpa refused to implement my technology that day, but he taught me about innovation. I carry those lessons with me to this day. And the next generation, my dad, has adopted a lot of today’s AgTech. If you show farmers the value, capture the real-world proof, and take your time, the path to tech adoption can be realized.