Last year at FIRA USA, held in Fresno, California I had the pleasure of moderating the panel titled, “Robotics Business Models and the Maintenance of Computer Based Equipment”. To discuss this the FIRA USA team brought together experts from the industry to deliberate on the intersection of agricultural technology and profitability, including Ben Alfi - Co-Founder & CEO Bluewhite, Bartley Walker - President Pacific Ag Rentals, Matt Hart Lead Engineer Betteravia Farms, Jennifer Edney - President Edney Distributing Co., Inc. & Steven Saunders - CEO Robotics Plus. The discussion revolved around the fact that the ultimate goal of developing agricultural technology is to make producers' lives easier, farming more efficient and increase production while using fewer resources. The panel made it clear that it is essential to involve farmers in the development process to ensure that the technology developed meets their needs and challenges. The panel discussed the importance of ensuring that the farmer has a voice in the development process of agricultural technology.
A point that struck me, and was raised several times through the discussion, was that although these developments and advancements in technology are mind blowing and fascinating, the fact remains that if they are not profitable for both manufacturers and the producer they will not be adopted. It’s easy to get carried away by how ‘cool’ the technology is, but it has no home in the ag industry until it proves it’s worth. Autonomous tractors can reduce the need for manual labor, and in some cases fuel, allowing producers to use their resources more efficiently. Additionally, precision agriculture techniques have helped reduce the amount of water, fertilizer, and pesticides used, leading to a more sustainable farming system. However, these technologies come at a cost. The experts on the panel recognized that the initial investment in agricultural technology could be expensive, particularly for small-scale farmers. The panel discussed the need to develop business models that consider the affordability of these technologies while ensuring that they remain profitable for the manufacturers.
One of the solutions proposed is the rental business model. In this model, manufacturers or third parties can rent their equipment to farmers at a lower cost, making it more accessible to small-scale farmers. Additionally, manufacturers can offer equipment maintenance and support, reducing the farmer's need for skilled labor and knowledge. Another solution proposed is to develop equipment that can be customized to meet the needs of different producers. This customization would allow farmers to pick features that they find useful, reducing the cost of the equipment. It would also improve the functionality of the equipment, making it more efficient in their specific farming operations.
The panel also discussed the importance of maintaining agricultural equipment to ensure that it remains operational for a long time. Agricultural equipment is exposed to harsh environments, which can affect its lifespan. Therefore, it is essential to conduct regular maintenance checks, and repairs to ensure that the equipment remains in good condition. Manufacturers can add a business model that offers support to farmers through maintenance contracts, where they can provide regular service checks and repairs at an affordable cost. This support can help improve the lifespan of the equipment, leading to cost savings and improved efficiency in farming operations.
The FIRA USA conference panel on robotics business models and maintenance of computer-based equipment in agriculture provided insights into the intersection of agricultural technology and profitability. The panel agreed that it is necessary to involve producers in the development process, ensuring that the technology developed meets their needs and challenges. The experts proposed various solutions to make agricultural technology affordable and accessible to farmers, such as rental business models and customizable equipment. Additionally, the importance of maintaining agricultural equipment was highlighted to ensure that it remains operational for a long time. The conference emphasized the need to continue innovating and developing agricultural technology to improve producers' lives and help grow food with fewer resources. I am looking forward to this year’s FIRA USA in Salinas, California and the innovations that will be released and discussed! I hope to see you there too.