Ep. 42: Up-and-Coming Technologies We’re Most Excited About!
As we near the end of 2021, we wanted to reflect on some of the conversations we’ve had this year. In each episode of Precision Points, we end by asking our guests about the one technology they are personally most excited about. In Episode 42, we highlight some of the most interesting responses we have heard!
Our first clip is from Vance Crowe in Episode 16, focused on virtual and augmented reality. The conversation ranged from meeting at a virtual reality viking bar to some valuable insights on how communication has changed for both professional and personal settings since the onset of COVID-19. As he looked into the future and considered the future of agriculture in regards to virtual reality, he shared his prediction.
“I think what we will do is, this will be the necessary bridge in order that people can automate their tractors. Because we're going to be really uncomfortable with tractors that can move around the world, move around your fields, or go from one field to another,” started Vance. “So right now we have to have a person there, but I would imagine that we will get to a place where it will be okay for somebody to move a piece of equipment down a county road if they have a virtual control over that. And we're probably a ways away from that, but that's where I see it going.”
The second clip on our highlight reel comes from Mike Winn, founder and CEO of DroneDeploy. In Episode 15, we spent a lot of our time talking about drones and the work DroneDeploy does to make collecting insights from the sky simple. Mike also took time to explain the history of his work, which was really interesting. Drones are still a fairly new technology themselves, but with his hands in this technology every day he understands how the industry went from hype to practical execution. He thinks we will see this same trend with robots.
“And so we would make a big bet that, by the end of this decade, by 2030, in the same way drones have started to proliferate across all of agriculture, across all of construction, energy, and other industries, we're going to see the same with ground robots,” stated Mike. “And, we like to think about them just as drones with an altitude of about two feet.”
The third clip comes from Episode 3, when we had Keaton Krueger from WinField United on to talk about their field forecasting tool. We had this conversation in May 2020, right at the start of the COVID-19 shut downs, with lots of unknowns in the future. When asked what technology he was most excited about, he broke his answer down into three categories. First was automated equipment, specifically around specialty crops and filling the gaps created by labor shortages. Second, he mentioned the work being done with biologicals for crops. Third, he leaned into a technology most everyone has – social media.
“Consumers have woken up for the first time in a while about where their food comes from. It's mostly impacting the meat industry, I think right now, but maybe some other ones also. But I think there's a lot of opportunity for farmers to build their own brand and connect directly with their customers in a way that there hasn't been, and not ever,” started Keaton. “I'm certain at some point in history you knew the farmer you bought your food from, but it hasn't been in a while. And I'm sure that, as we move past this and the food concerns go down a little bit, there'll be some consumers that don't continue to be as concerned as they are. But I do think that there's an opportunity for folks that want to build a brand and try to go direct-to-consumer to do that right now in a way that there hasn't been, or at least hasn't been as easy up until now.”
“To me, the trend towards autonomy is pretty exciting,” shared Brett. “I really like following along who's investing there, what new technologies are kind of enabling autonomy.”
Brett’s prediction about the future is that we are around 15 years out from mainstream autonomy on farms. He thinks the generational shift at the farm will aid in the transition.
“There was a time, I think, when tractors came out that people who were driving horses really liked driving horses. They didn't want to drive a tractor. But that will phase out, and I think autonomy will probably end up that way too. But that is just one. You know, we have the technology, but the guys who are calling the shots aren't wanting to do it,” stated Brett.
Our fifth highlight clip comes from a recent conversation with Scott Shearer, Professor and Chair; Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Ohio State University. Throughout our conversation, we discussed the Ag Data Coalition and artificial intelligence in agriculture. As we wrapped up, he shared that some of the technology he is most excited about is around autonomous equipment.
“I encourage people to be thinking about this term ‘farming as a service (FaaS),’” Scott said. “In other words, in the future maybe farmers are not going to own all their equipment, and maybe they're not going to have to manage all of the technology, at least independently by themselves.”
One of the companies that Scott mentioned is currently working on creating a fullstack FaaS offering. We had the opportunity to have SabantoAg on the show after Scott’s introduction and the work they are doing is definitely leading-edge. You can learn more by tuning into Episode 40 of Precision Points.
Compiling the technologies and ideas from our guests definitely has us excited about the future of agriculture and the role precision ag is going to have in making farming even more sustainable, profitable and efficient. You can listen to the full episode here. And be sure to tune in to our last episode of Precision Points this year as we are joined by Tim Hammerich from The Future of Ag podcast!
What technologies are you most excited about? Leave a comment below!
Host: Morgan Seger
Morgan Seger grew up on a small farm in northwest Ohio before studying agriculture at The Ohio State University. She spent 10 years working with ag retail – specifically in ag tech – prior to hosting the Precision Points Podcast. She lives and farms in western Ohio with her husband Ben and their four children. Morgan has her own blog, Heart and Soil, where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.
Host: Morgan Seger
Guests: Vance Crowe, Mike Winn, Keaton Krueger, Brett Buehler, and Scott Shearer
Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Precision Points: An Ag Tech Podcast, where we plant seeds of innovation to inspire informed decisions about precision technology and its impact for growers like you. We explore precision ag tools and technology, from the soil to the sky, with your host Morgan Seger.
Morgan Seger (00:22):
Welcome back to Precision Points: An Ag Tech Podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host Morgan Seger. And in each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased ag tech information and ideas.
Morgan Seger (00:35):
Today on the show, we're going to take a different approach to our typical interviews, and we're going to do kind of a reflective episode. As the end of the year is right around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to kind of sit back and think about the episodes we've done so far. And what I wanted to do was highlight the question we ask all of our guests at the end of the episode: What technology are you most excited about?
Morgan Seger (00:59):
Now, this is actually one of my favorite parts about my entire job, is hearing people talk about the technology they're most excited about. There's so much passion and insight and excitement and optimism that comes through when we start talking through this question.
Morgan Seger (01:15):
So what I've done is I've kind of handpicked a few of my favorite responses to that question, and we have them segmented for you here in this episode. So I hope that this gives you some motivation and things to look forward to for 2022.
Morgan Seger (01:31):
Our first clip here is from episode 16 when we had Vance Crowe on to talk about virtual reality.
Vance Crowe (01:38):
I think the first thing will be, if you've ever been around working on equipment, you find that there are certain things about the way a screw is placed in that you just can't get a video camera there. Right? There's some piece in front of another piece in front of another piece.
Vance Crowe (01:56):
And so I think the first use will be the ability to be able to have somebody come into a space and be able to look all around and say, "Oh, I see that the piece is under here and around there." YouTube is doing that to some extent. But when you think about the entire immersion of it, where you actually can feel the combine around you as you're getting in there and looking at these things, it will make the experience of fixing complicated things go way, way up. And it also could mean that you could probably hook up a camera that would allow another person to take a look at what you're seeing and go another step beyond video.
Vance Crowe (02:37):
That first-use case isn't going to be that big of a deal. However, as you go forward and you see this technology improve, I think what we will do is this will be the necessary bridge in order that people can automate their tractors. Because we're going to be really uncomfortable with tractors that can move around the world, move around your fields, or go from one field to another.
Vance Crowe (03:03):
So right now we have to have a person there, but I would imagine that we will get to a place where it will be okay for somebody to move a piece of equipment down a county road if they have a virtual control over that. And we're probably a ways away from that, but that's where I see it going.
Morgan Seger (03:19):
I could see that. One of the questions that we ask on the podcast a lot is: What is one technology you're most excited about? And almost everyone says autonomous equipment. But there's obviously hurdles to getting in there. So you would predict, if that's fair to say, that someone's sitting in an office actually controlling the autonomous vehicles when they're in a public space. And then when they're in the field, they'd get set on their AB path and just run.
Vance Crowe (03:44):
Right. So having to have somebody be at those controls when they're interacting with the public space, because you don't want the automation to be fully in control. But that's just a guess.
Vance Crowe (03:56):
So I love new technology. And one of the things I've learned over time is it takes a long time for the applications to match people's imaginations and to meet them with enough consistency that you can rely on them. So that's a 10-year thing at the earliest, probably. And there'll probably be intermediary steps that will be interesting and unexpected, will be my guess.
Morgan Seger (04:28):
The next clip that I wanted to highlight was my conversation with Mike Winn from DroneDeploy. So we spent some time talking through automation, but also kind of looking a decade at a time to gain perspective over where we've come and what we're going to be capable of doing in the future.
Mike Winn (04:45):
I think one thing, this does affect agriculture. One thing we are really excited about is that about 10 years... At the beginning of this last decade, in 2010, drones started to become a tool where we could see the commercial application. It was early, but I was flying an RC drone with a camera. And three years later, we started this software business to enable anyone to be able to fly a drone to capture data.
Mike Winn (05:10):
We think we're going to see a similar thing this decade with ground robots. Obviously, this has been worked on for many years, but with the advances in self-driving, with electric vehicles, and what we've seen from the drone world, all these technologies are coming together to enable the next generation of relatively inexpensive ground robots that can navigate themselves, that can be supported by software platforms like us that make them into productive tools.
Mike Winn (05:45):
And so we would make a big bet that by the end of this decade, by 2030, in the same way drones have started to proliferate across all of agriculture, across all of construction, energy, and other industries, we're going to see the same with ground robots. And we like to think about them just as drones with an altitude of about two feet.
Morgan Seger (06:05):
No, I like that. Kind of like a side question to that: Do you see people in the future using aerial drones to do more application-type things, or do you think it we'll just move to bots on the ground?
Mike Winn (06:22):
We're going to definitely see a bit of both. We think that with the growth of this robotics industry right now, we're going to see even more data captured by more types of drones, more types of data. And that's generally what DroneDeploy works on.
Mike Winn (06:36):
We're equally going to see... Well, in addition to that, we're going to see more drones that take action. And in the agriculture world, actually for many years, we've seen drones that have applied pesticide and fertilizer. It started in Asia where they've got very challenging terrain. But we are going to start to see more of that in the US.
Mike Winn (07:03):
If you go to many farm shows, you can see a demo of a drone that can spray, but that's only one dimension. We're going to see a lot more. I think it's really exciting when we think about the precision applications there of micronutrients being able to be applied, or being able to apply nitrogen just at the right times. Because you're going to have machines that can be fully autonomous. They're going to have booms of only six foot wide, so they can spray exactly the right amount in the right places. And that's going to be great for farm profitability, but also great for the environment.
Morgan Seger (07:40):
Yes. I can see that. And the other kind of side benefit to some of this is I can see, as people start adapting drones and bots, that it can kind of be almost an equalizer on farm size for being able to use and leverage precision ag. Because I know, for some smaller growers, it's hard to justify certain pieces of technology because they come at such a great cost. But having these smaller pieces that can still cover the acreage that they need could really help kind of level the playing field so all growers can learn about not only how they're managing and the economics of each acre, but that stewardship and how they're affecting the environment as well.
Mike Winn (08:20):
Yeah. That's actually an amazing point. That's so true. And I think one thing that's going to be very interesting is, historically, one of the drivers of farm productivity is the machinery's gotten bigger. You can just cover more ground.
Mike Winn (08:36):
And the reason that's been important is because you want to take the one person that's driving that applicator and make it more productive for her. But in the future, if you're actually going to take that person, and say, "Hey, you can command your fleets of robots from your laptop." It doesn't matter how big that bot is. Maybe you should have 20 small ones. And that's not just going to have that productivity impact, but you're right, it's going to actually have an impact on smaller farmers that will be able to buy the highest tech machinery for their size field.
Morgan Seger (09:09):
Yeah, I think that'll be really cool. And I'm sure there's plenty of unforeseen things that I'm not thinking of yet. But even just the risk that comes with operating such large, huge pieces of equipment, it seems like things like that would be lessened as well.
Morgan Seger (09:25):
So it'll be interesting to see. I'm excited to watch it. And as you talk about it, had you said that 10 years ago, it'd be like, "Ah, yeah. Maybe." But it definitely feels like a reality now as we see things continue to evolve at such a rapid pace. So it's definitely exciting.
Mike Winn (09:42):
Yeah. One of my favorite quotes, and I don't know who said this first, but "As people, we always tend to overestimate what can be done in two years, but underestimate what can be done in 10."
Mike Winn (09:55):
So are the robots all going to be here in two years? Absolutely not. But in 10 years you're going to see a lot more it's likely, I think, in the agricultural community. It's not that everyone's going to have bots with those capabilities to be completely self-driving and fully autonomous, but they're going to see them in fields near them.
Morgan Seger (10:16):
Our next highlight is actually from all the way back in episode three, when we had Keaton Krueger from Winfield United on the show. He spent his time talking about the field forecasting tool. But when it came to answering the question, "What are you most excited about?" he broke it into three buckets and put a lot of thought behind his answers.
Keaton Krueger (10:35):
No, I think that the tech technology thing is something that... Three buckets pop into my mind and I'll go through them real quick. I don't know the scope of the podcast, so some of these may be outside the scope and you can ignore them or edit them out if you want.
Keaton Krueger (10:50):
But I think that from a core ag technology space, and this doesn't impact me probably on my operation or maybe a farmer in Ohio a lot. But I think the core opportunity in ag technology right now that I think a lot about is it's May 2020. It's a post COVID-19 world. I think this may be the time where some of these smaller, automated-type machinery options are going to have their opportunity to expand. Because accessing labor, in a lot of these higher-value crops that have to be hand picked, is much more difficult than it was.
Keaton Krueger (11:32):
And when that labor was there, even though it's not easy to get, it was available, and there was a structure that allowed labor to occur and come in. I think a lot of these tools were too expensive to start with. When I think about the dairy industry, and the fruit and vegetable, and the tree industry, now it's not just a math problem. Like, is it cheaper to have [inaudible 00:11:59]? I can't have this, so I may actually have to do that. So I actually think from a pure ag tech perspective that has a really good opportunity to grow. So that's one.
Keaton Krueger (12:10):
From a plant technology perspective, there's been a lot of people thinking about biological stuff a lot, but I think there's something there. I don't know what it looks like. There's a few products that are tested here in Ames, which is just a few minutes away at Iowa State. I think that we're going to figure out some biological approaches to some of our crop inputs that we've been searching for for a long time.
Keaton Krueger (12:34):
And then I think the third one is post-COVID related also. But it's like social channels. It's the technology we've had forever, right? Like it's in our phones, but there's a lot of farmers out there right now that are saying the world has changed. Consumers have woken up for the first time in a while about where their food comes from. It's mostly impacting the meat industry, I think right now, but maybe some other ones also.
Keaton Krueger (13:03):
But I think there's a lot of opportunity for farmers to build their own brand and connect directly with their customers in a way that there hasn't been, and not ever. I'm certain at some point in history you knew the farmer you bought your food from, but it hasn't been in a while. And I'm sure that as we move past this and the food concerns go down a little bit, there'll be some consumers that don't continue to be as concerned as they are. But I do think that there's an opportunity for folks that want to build a brand and try to go direct-to-consumer to do that right now in a way that there hasn't been, or at least hasn't been as easy up until now, I'll put it that way.
Morgan Seger (13:43):
So by now you might be picking up on some themes of common things we're most excited about, or we think are most noteworthy for growers to be paying attention to. Our next clip comes from Brett Buehler. He works for ag leader. And this is from episode 23. And he does answer in a similar way, but his take on autonomous vehicles and robots is a little different.
Brett Buehler (14:05):
Oh boy. To me, the trend towards autonomy is pretty exciting. I really like kind of following along who's investing there, what new technologies are kind of enabling the autonomy. Ag Leader, we're not focused so much as a company on full autonomy. And a lot of the farmers I talked to, they farm because they enjoy farming. The idea of autonomy doesn't please them, because if they were only in it for the buck they'd doing something else.
Brett Buehler (14:37):
So they want to maintain control. They want to be in that tractor. They want to be in the combine. They don't want a machine doing it for them. But we focus a lot on what's the word I'm looking for, partial autonomy or things to help improve. You know, you're still pulling your planter, but that planter is helping you become a better operator because it's automating some of the process.
Brett Buehler (14:58):
Ag Leader is, of course, into autonomy. But I think when most guys think of autonomy, they envision robots out there doing it for you. And it is interesting to see how that trend is going to become more mainstream, if it becomes more mainstream. But I do believe it will. I think we've got 15 years, at least, before you start seeing that kind of stuff become mainstream, where you've got an army of little one or two row planters that go out and do all your planting for you. And until then, we're going to keep automating things on the planter that you've got, that 10 year old planter that you think is not worth updating is certainly worth updating.
Morgan Seger (15:38):
Yep. Prime candidate.
Brett Buehler (15:41):
Do some phenomenal things with it.
Morgan Seger (15:42):
Yep. That's awesome. We actually just did an episode on swarm farming and that was something I asked. I'm like, so what about all these guys that just really liked the smell of dirt? They like being in the machines. Like what are they going to do? And it's definitely going to be an evolution or something to watch and see if there's pushback on that in the way that basically the new roles evolve as things become more and more autonomous.
Brett Buehler (16:05):
Yeah. There was a time, I think, when tractors came out that people who were driving horses really liked driving horses. They didn't want to drive a tractor. But that will phase out, and I think autonomy will probably end up that way too. But that is just one. You know, we have the technology, but the guys who are calling the shots aren't wanting to do it.
Brett Buehler (16:24):
You've got to wait till you've got a new generation in there who appreciates or enjoys that more than the current generation. So that's going to contribute to the leg of this becoming more mainstream. But again, just tractor technology was the exact same.
Morgan Seger (16:40):
Finally, in our last clip on this highlight reel, we're going to be listening in to Scott Shearer's feedback on what he is most excited about. So this is from episode 37, where Scott had spent a lot of time talking about artificial intelligence in ag. So his perspective on what we should be keeping an eye on right now to me was really compelling.
Scott Shearer (17:02):
I've been watching a couple companies and I think it would be very good for farmers to be paying attention. One of those companies is Sabanto Ag. I think they're out of Chicago, Illinois. This year they were running several Kubota M5 tractors in fully autonomous modes. And they were seeding soybean crops in the Midwest. Okay?
Morgan Seger (17:23):
Scott Shearer (17:24):
They got some pretty good videos. I think they were YouTube videos, and I believe that they have a lot of Twitter. They're shorter videos. I encourage people to look at what Sabanto Ag is doing. The term that I would use to describe what they're doing is farming as a service. When you talk to Craig Rupp about what he's selling, he is basically in my estimation selling a service. There's going to be some interesting opportunities coming up in the future, but you know, lightweight equipment. There's an indication that in the case these M5 tractors are running shifts of 30 to 40 hours, 24/7 around the clock type operation.
Scott Shearer (18:02):
The other organization I think people need to pay some attention to is a company by the name of SwarmFarm out of Australia. They've been running autonomous sprayers, probably not unlike what Craig Rupp is doing. I think his business model is a per acre charge. In Australia, the last time I talked to the owners of SwarmFarm, they were leasing their autonomous sprayers. There would be a technician would come out to set up the fields, set up the autonomous sprayers. I think that you had 30 horse diesel engines on them, 30-foot spray booms. They're not huge machines. Pretty small. When I was down there a couple years back and visited, they had five of those in one field running simultaneously.
Scott Shearer (18:44):
Did some numbers. And again, Australia's a bit different than the Midwest here. But if I'm not mistaken, when I did the conversions that their charge for that service, spray application service, was about a dollar an acre.
Morgan Seger (18:57):
Scott Shearer (18:58):
And so again, I look at those companies, and I think about where the future might go or whatever. And again, I encourage people to be thinking about this term "farming as a service." In other words, in the future maybe farmers are not going to own all their equipment, and maybe they're not going to have to manage all of the technology, at least independently by themselves.
Scott Shearer (19:21):
So keep an eye on those companies and where this automation is headed. I'll also remind everybody that John Deere just announced there were purchasing Bear Flag Robotics. CNH Industrial announced that they're going to acquire Raven. And I'll remind everybody Raven acquired Smart Ag. I think they acquired all the patents from Jaybridge Robotics. And also I think they now own DOT as well. So some very dynamic things going on in the machinery industry with automation.
Morgan Seger (19:53):
Yeah, for sure. We have a lot to keep an eye on.
Scott Shearer (19:57):
Well, I look forward to coming back and providing an update at some point in the future on some of the things that we're seeing on the automation front as well.
Morgan Seger (20:05):
As I wrap up today's episode, I think it is very clear that autonomous vehicles and robotics are both something that are going to be very prevalent in our future. We have some really bright minds working on these technologies. And kind of to advance his point, in his interview he said that it sometimes takes us a long time to build the confidence we need to really execute on some of these new technologies at a high level. So I'm excited that everyone is kind of putting brain power into solving these problems because the impact they could have on agriculture is huge.
Morgan Seger (20:41):
As always, you can find the show notes to this episode at precisionagreviews.com. And while you're there, check out our grower sourced reviews. We try to collect as much information as we can on precision ag products and services. So when growers like you are trying to make a decision, you have a good place to go to get some real life feedback from people who have used those tools.
Morgan Seger (21:03):
Our next episode will be the last episode of 2021, and I am excited to have Tim Hammerich from The Future of Ag Podcast on to share his thoughts on the future of ag. Until then, this has been the Precision Points Podcast. Let's grow together.
Speaker 1 (21:18):
Thanks for tuning in to today's episode. To hear more podcasts like this, please rate, review, and subscribe to Precision Points. Visit precisionagreview.com for show notes from this episode, and read expert advice on the blog, share your experience with the precision ag products you use, and check out our network of farmer reviews. Let's grow together.