Transformational Power of Digital Agriculture—Why Now?

By Al Eisaian, Co-Founder and CEO of IntelinAir

One of the hottest tickets in Silicon Valley these days is an investment in digital agriculture.

What is digital agriculture?

Basically, it’s leveraging the massive amounts of data from agricultural equipment, soil, weather, seeds and chemicals and using modern computer science to automate agriculture. Additionally, ag-specific ERP software, crop-pricing and marketing software also help in running farms as profitable business enterprises.

A growing number of technology industry experts, entrepreneurs, and investors have taken notice of the digital agriculture opportunity—to the tune of $139 million invested in the agtech decision support area so far in 2016, representing the second highest number of deals among all the agtech sectors.

In addition, the proliferation of partnerships between the tech sector and agribusinesses is a sign we’re increasingly understanding that realizing the full potential of digital agriculture will require a tremendous amount of collaboration from various entities.

Why is digital agriculture garnering so much attention—and why now? Here are some of the many reasons:

The financial opportunity in leveraging modern data-driven technology solutions is greater in the $3 trillion agriculture industry than perhaps any other industry.
The fact is, there has never been a better time for digital agriculture, and there’s no other industry than ag that’s more primed and ready for digitization. The main impediment to adoption of these new solutions seems to be the lack of integration and interoperability among the main players. Ultimately, we must link investments in these new technologies to actual positive returns.

There’s a missing piece in the chain of data management that’s causing a roadblock to extract meaningful insight from what’s collected. Farmers are inundated with an avalanche of data coming from various sources and no viable analytics solution to make sense of it all. The vast amount of data being generated on a single field alone makes it extremely difficult—if not impossible—for farmers to process, much less when you multiply the number of fields scattered across many miles. The only viable solution is for advanced and automated processing of this data avalanche to deliver the valuable and profitable insights farmers need to better operate their farms.

Anticipated global demand is driving giant ag company mergers.
Additionally, large ag players such as Bayer and Monsanto, as well as Dow and DuPont, have agreed on joining their resources to accelerate this adoption of digital agriculture and more streamlined and profitable operations. While this trend is positive for larger players, the reduced choice and increased pricing power by the big ag players might motivate farmers to seek more data-driven decision-making solutions to manage their input costs to drive profitability.

The technology is more readily available and affordable.
What IntelinAir is doing now with data analytics (and specifically aerial imagery analytics) was cost-prohibitive even just two years ago. Comprehensive and cost-effective high-resolution imagery captured via satellites, planes and drones are becoming increasingly affordable for most farmers. Additionally, affordable cloud-computing services enable analytics companies like IntelinAir to effectively analyze this data avalanche and to deliver their solutions seamlessly to farmers’ mobile devices

Farmers are willing to try it.
Today’s progressive farmer is an early adopter of technology, and is usually the CEO of a multi-million-dollar business with a hefty operating budget to match. With low commodity prices eroding their profitability, farmers at every level are seeking solutions that can optimize their investments. Digital agriculture is a vital return-on-investment opportunity for these farmers to get as much value as possible from every acre, every piece of equipment, and every input that goes into their operation. IntelinAir delivers the most-vital in-season insights through its aerial imagery analysis technology that can pinpoint key problem areas for the farmer to focus on.

We really don’t have a choice.
In a world that soon must accommodate close to 9-10 billion people, it’s no longer a choice or a luxury—advanced data-driven technologies are a necessity. Food security is a pressing need today and it will continue to grow in urgency over the next few decades and beyond. According to United Nations studies, by 2050, we will need to produce 70% more food than we’re producing today. We simply have to optimize the limited land resources available to us—and that requires using modern technologies to make better decisions.

This convergence of sciences is long overdue.
What’s happening with digital agriculture is a diverse set of scientific disciplines coming together to solve real problems facing farmers today. Farming is a complex biological operation, and judgement on the part of the farmer and trusted advisors will always play a critical role. But there are limits to what humans can process.

With modern data analytics technologies delivering near real-time advanced warnings and actionable insights—more powerful and yet more affordable and accessible than ever before—why wouldn’t farmers want to take advantage of these capabilities? The answer lies in the fact that we still have not made it easy for farmers to adopt these technologies! That’s what IntelinAir is working on diligently to solve!

Innovation Ecosystem
IntelinAir is proud to be part of the innovation ecosystem that is leading our transformation into the era of digital agriculture. This includes the digital arms of major agriculture companies, progressive farmers who are investing in and using data-driven technologies, and fellow startup companies leveraging technology and data science to provide innovative decision-support solutions for farmers.

IntelinAir’s AgMRI™ product has been designed from the ground-up with the help of many progressive farmers. We intend to make this solution available for wider availability in early 2017 in time for the next growing season. Soon we will make it possible for farmers to apply to become one of our earliest launch customers.

Al Eisaian is a serial software entrepreneur with several successful exits in the past decade. His fundamental area of focus has always included extremely data-rich environments and advanced data-analytics to deliver actionable insights.