Positioning Farmers at the Forefront of the AgTech Revolution
Marc Kermisch, Global Chief Information and Technology Officer at CNH Industrial and FIRA USA 2022 panelist, explains why securing the world’s food supply chain begins and ends on the farm.
Every job has a stereotype. From the aggressive sales rep to the arrogant financial advisor, people tend to judge a profession by how it’s represented on TV and in the movies. Farmers are not immune to this phenomenon. Often portrayed as simpletons in overalls, farmers are perceived as physically capable and hardworking but not necessarily book smart or business savvy.
Marc Kermisch thinks its long past time for this stereotype to be put out to pasture. As the Global Chief Information and Technology Officer at CNH Industrial, Kermisch has seen firsthand how much farmers’ knowledge and expertise drives the agtech revolution.
“We have to give credit to the farmers that are out there, regardless of what continent they're farming on, because they fully understand the technical needs that they have and what they expect the machines to be able to do,” he says. “I'm seeing more and more farmers, really operating as quasi scientists as they evaluate how best to drive productivity on their part.”
“That said, I think if you took a college student who's in computer science, their basic thought of a farmer is kind of what they've seen on TV, but there's been a generation change,” Kermisch continues. “These farmers today are extremely astute business people that understand how to run their operations. They're also extremely willing industry partners, who are helping to drive the next set of innovations forward.”
At CNH Industrial, a global capital goods company specializing in agricultural and construction equipment and services, farmers are at the forefront of what’s being developed. It’s their input that ensures the technology is commercially viable. Besides, successful adoption of autonomous solutions is dependent on farmer buy-in. Anything they bring onto the operation has to address their needs.
“If you think about the farmers and the fact that the demands in our food supply chain are increasing tremendously with the growth of our global population, our goal is really to help find ways to assist that farmer meet those objectives,” Kermisch says. “We develop solutions so that they can profitably and sustainably farm. We are focused on the missions that the farmer articulates to us. We use those missions as opportunities for automation.”
One such opportunity involves building automation on top of an electric platform. This gives the farmer more finite control over what the machine is doing, while enabling the agtech company to build in additional capabilities over time. Kermisch uses the example of an operator who is doing work away from the autonomous vehicle while using their phone to send the machine where it needs to go, whether that’s into the shed to charge or out into the field to complete the next task.
This example is just the beginning. CNH Industrial acquired Raven Industries in November of 2021—a move that helps accelerate the development, testing and adoption process. With Raven Industries’ rapid development expertise, CNH Industrial can get their solutions onto the farm faster than ever before.
“Raven has what we call mission-driven product development: They built products that have a go-to-market strategy where they start with the farmers’ goals and objectives,” Kermisch says. “They then work hand-in-hand with those farmers throughout the product development lifecycle. This creates a culture where a highly customer-centric viewpoint in product development leads to rapid innovation.”
One way the company accomplishes this is through a 260-acre test farm in Sioux Falls, where engineers have their own office space. Kermisch says that the employees can conceivably write code in the morning, test it on an appointed vehicle on the farmland in the afternoon, get immediate feedback, and make and test changes one or two more times before the end of the day. Because the test space is used to bring farmers together with our software engineers, the agtech company is able to quickly tap into their expertise about what’s working and what isn’t in real time.
The Raven acquisition has also helped CNH Industrial to digitize its traditional way of working. Kermisch says that although the company has long had excellent mechanical, hydraulic and combustion engineers, the growing need for software engineers requires a shift in training and hiring practices. The transition to different types of vehicles has highlighted a skills gap as well.
“Similar to what we see happening in the automotive industry, people are beginning to explore how we can reduce emissions,” Kermisch says. “These vehicles require a hybrid or fully electric engine, and this starts to put a stress on the talent we have based on the experiences throughout their careers. Now, we have to think about retraining and upscaling that talent to suit these new needs.”
Despite the current challenges, there are benefits to moving toward digitization. For one thing, Kermisch explains, the pace of innovation increases when the technology is driven by software rather than electronics or physical inputs. This shortened development cycle is important, as time is of the essence. This is something Kermisch plans to highlight during the “Ag Robotics: The Pace of Innovation” panel at FIRA USA next October in Fresno, Calif.
“When you think about our global challenges that we have, making sure we have a secure food supply chain is extremely important,” he says. “Innovation plays a real key role in our ability to continue to feed the growing world, especially as we adjust to climate change, labor shortages, skillset gaps, various consumer trends toward organic, sustainable farming and the fact that high-demand foods are desired year-round.”
“People want to know more about the chain of custody for the food they consume every day,” Kermisch adds. “We have a need for rapid innovation, and we need to focus on solving the farmer’s day-to-day pain points. There are a multitude of ways to do that, but I think we have to tighten the relationship between the farmer, the farm industry that supports them and, ultimately, their customer, the end consumer.”
Part of strengthening relationships and delivering necessary solutions comes back to addressing the skills gap. Kermisch sees an opportunity to get the next generation interested in agtech.
“We need to bring the STEM experience down into the elementary school, so we can start to inspire kids at an early age,” he says. “Every kid sees the autonomous car problem, but no every kid sees the autonomous farm problem. How can we take a kid in New York City who might be into gaming and show them the farm and its technical challenges? We need to think about how we can inspire kids to come into the field and help us advance as a whole.”
This, too, begins on the farm.
“We need to be able to give young kids farm experiences and exposure to our industry as a whole,” Kermisch says. “The mission to feed the world is extremely altruistic. The perception of where our food comes from is gaining importance around the world. This gives us a chance to bring new people into the fold and prepare society for the automation that’s coming.”
Pictures @Case New Holland Industry