May 7, 2019

Who's interested or working in agtech?

Niel Swart @hackerboer

I recently joined IH and after searching a bit I couldn't find much about #agtech being mentioned on IH.

I would like to hear from anyone in or interested in the #agtech space to exchange ideas and hear more about what you're working on.

I'll go first ;)

I've established a consulting company (nielswart.com) focusing on #agtech product development, we help founders go from idea to finding product market fit and when possible help them scale beyond. We focus mainly on software tech, but we also do some hardware prototyping for IoT type of projects. Our technical focus is on IoT, machine learning and data analytics applications, although we are currently doing work on an ag ecommerce marketplace for a client - agrichecker.com.

We are also currently busy with the initial discovery and customer validation of our own in-house product agridash.co - it is a risk management and budgeting tool for crop farmers.

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    I'd love to do something with hydroponics or even better, aquaponics ! Actually I'm in the process of building a small aquaponic garden but I'd love to hear about people that have creative projects around the subject.

    Beeing from a CS background I'd be really interested of knowing how much impact tech can have in the field

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      Sounds great, I'm also interested in hydroponics and aquaponics. I'd like to see what you are doing.

      This could also be of interest to you: http://goatech.org/ - they are a bit academic/research oriented but agtech hackers are all welcome.

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    Super interested in the space Niel and I think that your approach to focusing on risk management makes a lot of sense. Would be happy to chat about growth strategy/targeting/etc

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      I'm glad to hear that you're also interested in the agtech space. Yes, I still have a lot to learn regarding growth/strategy and marketing in general.

      I have grown up on a farm and most of my family still farms today, so I know the farming business and market in South Africa quite well, but from a digital marketing view it is quite difficult and very different from other online businesses. I haven't yet figured out how effective online marketing really is compared to other avenues. It may also differ quite significantly by country, so there is still alot of uncertainty.

      Would be great to chat to you about that.

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    Agtech sounds pretty attractive to me. I feel like it's the right combination of under-hyped and actually providing a clear concrete benefit.

    Speaking of which, although I'm interested in it out of sheer curiosity, I have very little understanding of that market, and I'd be curious to get your point of view on some questions.

    When I look at B2B businesses, I want to understand how they impact the value chain down to the final consumer. Here, you talk about software, hardware/IoT, ML, ecommerce, etc. but what's the benefit to the end consumer? How are you helping farmers make a better product?

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      Not op but the general idea of agtech is to gain a more clear understanding of many variable inputs and see how they affect outputs. IoT offers a precise and cost effective way to track and store these outputs.

      Concrete examples, things like, Row A of lettuce is 0.3 degrees warmer than Row B and it produced 6% more. Over time you can zero out control factors etc and hopefully build better yields with less inputs.

      Super broad space though, lots going on globally and across all sorts of horizontals/verticals. Check out some of the acquisitions John Deere has done in the last few years, an example of an enterprise incumbent throwing money at a space to hopefully hedge against disruption.

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      Good question. I agree with @NickC, it is quite a broad space, so it differs quite considerably depending in which area you target.

      Most of agtech and especially precision farming technologies is focused on reducing input costs to the farmer and also reducing variability in yield and quality. This has clear RoI benefit for the farmer. For the end consumer of the food the benefit comes down to cheaper food. This is specifically for row and commodity type crops like grains and oil seeds.

      In the horticulture space, alot of the tech helps farmers produce better quality crops that are "better" for consumers, e.g. fresher, healthier etc, like the example @NickC mentioned about the lettuce. Some tech also shortens the supply chain from farmer to table - like ecommerce and has clear benefits ito total supply chain cost, quality etc. This is especially true for fresh produce. Also the reduction in herbicide and pesticide usage made possible by some tech is also very beneficial to the end consumer and are sometimes also driven by new regulations etc.

      So I think in general there is countless benefits, but we'll have to look at specific cases for more specifics and details.

      As in any market there is quite a bit of hype as well, and a lot of the tech I see don't provide a clear benefit to the farmer nor the end consumer. They all want to enable agriculture feed the 9+ billion people in 2050, with less land and water, but the benefit they provide to farmers and consumers are not always clear.

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    The main problem is marketing to farmers. They are often seen as not so tech savvy people. How do you market to them and what channels work the best? I know a guy who spent $22k on FB ads to build an email list of farmers and grew his company to $800k+/year (can't mention him here) but not everyone can afford $22k. What's your approach?

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      Yes, I agree online marketing can be a problem. I don't totally agree that they are not tech savvy (it probably depends on what exactly you mean by that), I found that they are oftentimes more tech savvy (capable of using tech) than I thought, I even think they might be more tech savvy than the general population in their same age group. The biggest problem is that most farmers are quite busy and in a single operator farm (which still makes up the largest percentage of farming operations globally - excluding smallholder and subsistence farming) a farmer has to take care of a lot of aspects of the business with little professional help. He just doesn't spend a lot of time online and so online marketing is less effective.

      I don't know much about other countries, but in SA the best is to use targeted marketing in trade magazines and their online editions, specific conferences and trade events and then word of mouth and referrals are also much more effective if you can get a few of the early adopters in the community - usually younger farmers who are spending more time online. So in the end online marketing can be effective, but it is very easy to spend a lot of ad spend unwisely with agtech.

      I unfortunately don't really have the answers and I am still learning a lot about marketing in agtech myself...

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      I disagree. “Farmer John” might not be the most tech savvy, but agriculture is huge business and often the tech buyers would be multinational corporates who want to better understand (and influence) their supply chain.

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      Certainly he didn't spend $22k in bulk, randomly. Ideally, you'll spend the money incrementally and reinvest the money in expanding the marketing effort. If you have to test the market and need more money, you raise money from investors if you don't have it. Note that FB ads for farmers may not be the best way to go. What I'd most likely explore first is "things that don't scale", i.e. selling personally to farmers until I nail the right message/demographic match. Then you can scale the marketing. Maybe direct mail is a better option here.