Agriculture's Connected Future: Technology's Role in Yielding New Growth
G. Bailey Stockdale, CEO, Leaf Agriculture
At Leaf, we believe that food and agriculture technology can solve some of the world’s most valuable health, economic, lifestyle, and environmental challenges if these challenges are accessible to development teams of all backgrounds. One of food and agriculture technology’s major barriers to entry is the upfront technical hurdle of building compatibility with the thousands of unstructured farm data sources to ensure products will work across farms in a target market. While this technical challenge and upfront time investment jeopardizes the potential of technology in food and agriculture, we’re inspired by other industries that have embraced digital infrastructure to empower developers and build a brighter future for all.
For context, Agriculture technology has quietly and rapidly spread across farms worldwide. Today there are over 5,000 Food and Agriculture technology companies ranging from small teams to fortune 500 companies. Most offer a combination of software, hardware, and services to generate farm data for their customers including data from machinery, weather stations, soil samples, financial applications, satellites, drones, and more.
In addition to data collection, many food and AgTech companies are now also building higher value products and features on top of the underlying farm data and services. This direction is important because it allows farm data to be used for a wide range of applications that deliver value far beyond just influencing production decisions. Examples of these types of products include lending products, outcome-based pricing models, carbon sequestration programs, yield forecasting, land and input marketplaces, agronomic recommendations, seed and fertilizer application prescriptions, insurance products, traceability applications, maintenance forecasting, and supply chain management.
However, despite the progress and promise of technology in food and agriculture, teams often struggle to deliver their promised value to end users. Agriculture is a notoriously difficult market and the problem for Food & AgTech companies is compounded by the significant upfront and ongoing technical challenge of building products on top of agriculture data. With thousands of companies collecting different types of farm data and each farm creating its own data stack derived from the equipment, software, and services they use, building applications and features that are able to scale across all potential data source combinations is a significant barrier to entry.
Infrastructure companies help make problems and challenges accessible to developers by providing tools that facilitate straightforward communication with an industry’s existing services.
Thankfully, we can draw inspiration from industries that have successfully opened access for developers via infrastructure and flourished because of it. In Financial technology, Plaid helps FinTech companies like Venmo, Transferwise, and Coinbase become immediately and consistently compatible with everyone’s bank. In telecom, Twilio helps companies like Uber, Airbnb & Twitter send messages and calls to their users on any mobile network in the world. In computing, AWS helps companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Linkedin deploy code as a service without any upfront hardware costs, configuration, or maintenance. In each case, infrastructure companies help make problems and challenges accessible to developers by providing tools that facilitate straightforward communication with an industry’s existing services.
Here’s how infrastructure works in practice: if you want to build a fintech app like Venmo before Plaid, you and your development team would have had to make individual API integrations with the majority of banks in the target market in order to be useful to users. This would take thousands of hours of upfront and ongoing development work in addition to the development of your core Application. Instead, FinTech teams today can build with Plaid and be automatically compatible with any user’s bank account. That allows teams to build faster, more efficiently, and with full focus on their app’s value to their users.
In Agriculture, if you were to build an Food or AgTech app before Leaf, you’d need to build individual integrations with each data supplier, learn how to parse their proprietary files, resolve inconsistencies in syntax, variables, field boundaries, units and more in order to build products that work across farms. Instead, with Leaf, developers can build applications that are natively compatible with farm data from any source and focus on delivering valuable and robust products for their users.
Infrastructure is not the only challenge facing Food and Agriculture, but it plays a key role in opening access for teams to directly approach and solve some of the world’s most interesting health, economic, lifestyle, and environmental challenges.
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