Ep. 56: Ag Tech Trends to Watch for in 2023 with Jeremy Wilson
Ep. 56: Ag Tech Trends to Watch for in 2023 with Jeremy Wilson
Imagine tracing a harvested kernel of corn from inside an elevator grain bin back to its origin as a seed bought from your ag retailer.
It’s a concept that, just a few years ago, some might have scoffed at. But for Jeremy Wilson, he made it happen on his farm; and for him, projects like this are all about making a grower’s life easier.
As an Illinois grain farmer, self-proclaimed precision ag evangelist, and more professionally, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of AgGateway, Jeremy is passionate about bringing improved interoperability through data to all levels of agriculture. And rightfully so, he has a few opinions about what ag tech trends will be crucial in the near future.
One of Jeremy’s top ag tech trends to watch for in 2023…
“We’re going to start seeing hints of autonomy impacting rural America,” says Jeremy. Even though driverless equipment might not yet be ready for mainstream, Jeremy predicts that the autonomous vehicle space will have many different entry levels into agriculture.
Likening autonomy’s emergence to auto-steering products in years past, Jeremy illustrates the at-first dismissal of new technology is justified. What might have seemed far-fetched at the time is now a reality.
“Show me a grower today farming more than 600 acres that doesn’t have an auto steer system. It’s just not possible,” states Jeremy. “I see the same thing happening with autonomy, and growers are going to step in at different levels.”
As a farmer, Jeremy can dream up his ideal application of autonomous farming. It includes starting with UAV chemical application, dispatched through weed-identifying remote imagery.
And the ultimate next step – small autonomous implements operating in a swarm. Think of four small tractors running autonomously with four-row planters. “One day, I’ll probably have a mobile device that sits in my tractor, and it keeps an eye on them for me while I’m in there,” visions Jeremy.
Outside of his future “farming utopia,” it’s no surprise that Jeremy says autonomy is a piece of precision ag technology he’s the most excited about.
“I think that autonomy and a few other pieces of technology will empower younger generations to have the lifestyle they want and yet still be a farmer,” says Jeremy. “That might be the one thing we see that changes the most.”
Here’s a glance at this episode:
[01:03] Jeremy shares his background in precision agriculture.
[04:04] Jeremy shares the mission of AgGateway.
[06:26] Discussing traceability, Jeremy shares a recent proof of concept project he completed successfully - tracking a kernel of corn from the field all the way to the elevator grain bin.
[08:39] Jeremy explains the importance of collaboration between ag tech companies for grower interoperability.
[11:31] Jeremy shares three top ag tech trends he thinks are noteworthy.
[15:43] Jeremy shares an area where artificial intelligence and machine learning may play a critical role in crop production.
[17:53] Jeremy illustrates his ideal application of autonomous vehicles.
[21:02] Discussing how precision ag technology has changed over the last 25 years, Jeremy explains his optimism for future generations of farmers.
[23:51] Jeremy leaves with the one piece of technology he’s most excited for and advice for growers.
Jeremy was raised on a family farm near Olney, Illinois, where he operates an 800-acre grain farm with his family. He graduated from Wabash Valley Jr. College with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Agriculture Production and received his Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Eastern Illinois University in May of 1995. He started his working career with a Crop Insurance Company as a loss adjuster in 1995 then went to work for Wabash Valley Service Company as a crop specialist in 1999. Then in July 2006 accepted the position as Technology Specialist for Crop IMS, an information management, scouting, and technology company based in south central Illinois. Jeremy joined AgGateway as EVP/COO in January of 2022.
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 work to bring you ag tech information and ideas. Today on the show, I'm joined by Jeremy Wilson of AgGateway. Our conversation is focused on the future. As we are wrapping up the 2022 calendar year, we're looking ahead to '23 and beyond. Jeremy shares the three trends you want to keep an eye on moving forward.
Welcome back to Precision Points. Today on the show, I'm joined by Jeremy Wilson from AgGateway. Jeremy, welcome to Precision Points.
Jeremy Wilson (01:02):
Morgan Seger (01:03):
I'm really looking forward to getting your take on the trends going into 2023. Before we dive into that, could you kick us off by sharing your background?
Jeremy Wilson (01:13):
Yeah, absolutely. I was a non-traditional student graduating from East Illinois University in 1995 with just a straight degree in business management. Would've told you in '92 I was done with everything related to agriculture and went off to get a real business degree and leave the industry. Ironically, in my first job, I got hired as a crop insurance loss adjuster right back in the ag industry after two years of saying I was leaving it. That was probably what charted my course throughout the rest of my working career.
In late '95, or early '96, the president of that crop insurance company came to me and said, "I want to start a precision ag company. You're my only farm boy that understands computers and technology. Let's go figure this out." And so we did. And he rolled out a technology company in late '96 or late '97. Did that til around 2000 when I just had a burning desire to get back home closer to the farm and didn't want to travel, so I went back to work in ag retail for a bit and realized that technology and what we were calling precision ag at the time was going to intersect that sphere as much as it was where I was at before and so I got back into technology.
Then in 2006, I was part of starting Crop IMS, which was a technology and data management company based in southeastern Illinois, and I pretty much stayed with that until I went to a software company for a short stint, and then in January, I joined AgGateway as the Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer.
The other key thing we can't miss in 2019 or late 2018 was that my dad came to me and said, "I've seen you travel and speak a couple of times, and every time you say when you grow up, you want to be a farmer." So on November 27th of 2018, he looked me square in the eye and said, "Are you going to grow up, or am I going to line it up?" And I looked at him and said, "What?" And he says, "Am I going to line it up and sell it, or are you going to grow up and buy it?" And so now you know the rest of the story. 2019 was my first year as a full-time farmer as well. Pretty tough sledding in southeastern Illinois, and pretty sure it was the dumbest decision I ever made. Fortunately, 2020, '21, and '22 have helped heal some of my sins of 2019. So all things are pointing forward to get to farm yet one more year.
Morgan Seger (03:37):
That's awesome. I feel like, as farmers, that's often our goal. It's like we just need to farm one more year, and then we'll figure everything out.
Jeremy Wilson (03:47):
Morgan Seger (03:48):
Well, I love that you're coming to this conversation with so much experience coming from so many different directions with also the hands-on experience in your farm. Can you tell me more about the work you're doing with AgGateway?
Jeremy Wilson (04:04):
AgGateway is an industry not-for-profit that's been under a few different names. But their first real claim to fame is the barcode you see on a chemical jug and some of the databases of product information that folks like manufacturers and ag retailers use to be able to order products, deliver product, receive products, bill products, whether that's chemicals, fertilizer, or seeds. In 2010, we decided to go to that organization and start a precision ag group. And there were, I think, 11 of us that were in the first AA meeting, I call it every day, where the whole industry raised their hand and said, "We have a problem, and we're looking for AgGateway to help us." But we created a few standards and helped build implementation guidelines that are already for standards that are in the industry. In some cases when those standards are missing, we have to help create them.
And so we started a little project there called SPADE. Way back in the day, can't even remember what the acronym stands for now, but it doesn't matter. We were on a mission of standardizing precision ag data so that we could bring data interoperability to FMIS software, and farm management information software so that when a green combine or a blue combine, or a red combine collected data, everyone's system could import it and we could understand it, which led to the ADAPT data model, which is widely used in the industry now.
We've done a lot of other things, and now we've moved beyond that. I was asked in November if I'd be interested in coming in and being an Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer. In the first pitch at it, I said, "No, that's not me. I'm just a farm boy from Southern Illinois. This is not what fits."
After a couple of phone calls, they were like, "Jeremy, this is your passion. It's been your passion since 2011. Will you reconsider?" And so I did. So now I'm excited to be working for basically all the players in the ag space now as a staff member of that organization and working to bring improved data interoperability to all levels of agriculture. Whether you're a farmer like myself and need to share data with a trusted service provider or it's my service providers ordering products, delivering products. I'm doing a lot of work on the whole traceability. I won't call it carbon yet. We call it more traceability at this point.
We've actually run three proof of concepts on my own farm of tracking seed from my ag retailer billing system all the way to my field. I'm happy to say in the spring of 2022, we completed that task, and my field computer really had the product names that I purchased from them. And then this fall, we had a very elaborate traceability project where we tracked those same seeds from the field to the combine, combine to the grain cart, grain cart to the truck, and then truck to the elevator or my on-farm storage, one or the other.
I'm excited to say for the first time in my life, I can now track a seed of a kernel of corn bought from my ag retailer to the field all the way to the grain bin that it's sitting in today and had minimal human intervention. Yes, there's still some, I'm not going to lie, but I feel like we've made a really big step forward in helping that. And I think that will be a crucial piece as we continue to move forward.
Morgan Seger (07:21):
For sure. I remember having conversations at conferences where blockchain was a very new word and we were talking about how we were going to do this. And it felt to me at that time, people were just like, "That's never actually going to happen, but we can get close." So you're telling me it actually can happen.
Jeremy Wilson (07:40):
It did happen. We don't want to focus on the technology I use to make it happen but more on the messages we created so that if you're in the ag space and you've got a mobile app, the concept we piloted this year on my farm could be embedded into a mobile app. So simple. And now we have the messages that we share and are able to communicate that data. The technology was not the special sauce, lettuce, and cheese. The technology was the mechanism to say, "All right, these are the messages we have to send, we have to receive, and here's how." It's a mobile app for me as a grower. I mean, you literally put a button in that software that the drivers of your grain trucks and grain carts could use and bring this traceability that the industry's been asking for. I know that'll scare some farmers, and forgive me if it does, but if we look at what our ultimate customer is asking for, we're going to have to figure some of this stuff out.
Morgan Seger (08:39):
Yeah, for sure. So how, through AgGateway, do you get some of these companies to work together to make that interoperability work? Because that seems like a very consumer-driven desire. The big equipment people aren't probably asking for that as much as the farmers are.
Jeremy Wilson (08:58):
Basically, AgGateway is just a safe haven where we collaborate on the critical elements needed for industry success, yet let individual companies bring their own technologies and their own special sauce and lettuce and cheese. No different than McDonald's. So we really collaborate on the core items that we need to all be successful. Then we let each manufacturer have their own way of delivering that to their customer, whether it's a farmer, whether it's an ag retailer, whatever the case may be.
It hasn't all been fluffy roses and sunflowers. I mean, there are tough conversations, but it's really great to bring those people to the table and collaborate together. We're tackling this new idea of trying to standardize these field boundaries because that's a real problem.
If you look at the trends and where our industry is going, this is going to be a big deal because whether you're looking at autonomy or you're looking at these carbon programs, we somehow have to figure out a good effective way to share that area of the earth that I'm operating on. And they have to shape with me as a grower and how I need that displayed in my system. So, things like my auto swath and my variable rate application maps, that stuff just all works.
The collaboration I've seen and just literally bitter competitors. If you are out running the trade show circuit, and I won't name names, but the same people that sat there and told me all the reasons XYZ was no good, but PDQ was better. And don't even think about ABC because they're out in the left field. We're all sitting in the same group saying, "Yeah, we got this problem, we got to resolve it." And it's been fun to watch. I'm telling you, we got a long way to go, but we're going to get there, and we're going to solve this one, too, because it's critical. Whether it's Jeremy the grower, or whether it's Jeremy that worked ag retail or Jeremy that worked crop insurance, we got to get some of these core things straightened out to make a grower's life easier. We're just spinning our wheels.
Morgan Seger (11:11):
So you mentioned a few things that sound a little futuristic to me, so maybe this would be a good time to ask you, we're coming up at the new year, and if you're looking in your crystal ball, what do we see when we look at 2023 and beyond?
Jeremy Wilson (11:31):
My list of three is probably stretching in '23. We might be a hint to the beyond, but I think, clearly, one of the key things to watch and if you're a grower is to still pay attention to it, is this whole piece of autonomy. I'm not saying that the run-of-the-mill grower is ready to go buy a driverless piece of equipment and set them free. That's not what I'm saying. But there are so many different entry levels into this whole autonomous vehicle space that I really think, and if you look at some of the product releases of some of the major manufacturers, we're going to see hints of this autonomy impacting rural America. It might be only the biggest growers in '23, but that's fine. I think back to how auto steer came about, and I still remember the run-of-the-mill growers that stood at me and laughed and said, "Jeremy, you're going to have to pry my cold, dead, bloody fingers off this steering wheel. I'm not going to do that."
Show me a grower today farming more than 600 acres that probably doesn't have an auto steer system. It's just not possible. I see that same thing happening here with autonomy and people are going to step in at different levels. I mean, even my small operation, there's some value to me of maybe it's the driverless grain cart, maybe it's a master-slave where if I need to do some tillage, I got two pieces of tillage equipment, maybe the first one opens it up and the second one is finishing it. Am I going to own that in '23? Probably not. But it's not that far down the road. I think that's one of the big ones that we're looking at, Morgan.
Then the next step, I think, is right in line with that, and I don't care what you call it, whether it's artificial intelligence or machine learning, they're different, but yet people blend them all together, so I won't pretend to break them apart. But how do we get better at making decisions based on help from a computer system? I don't know how else better to say it.
I can tell you I wrote the check for inputs of '22, and I'm getting ready to write the checks for inputs of '23. I got to be good at this. And anything that I can do to make better decisions to increase my return on investment are very critical to me. I think we're going to see hints of that. I mean, we're seeing it already. Most people won't acknowledge that that's what they're seeing, but we really are. We're just on the fringes, but that continues to come.
And then the last 800-pound gorilla sitting over in the corner is whether, here again, I'm not going to pick a winner either, this whole carbon sustainability, regenerative ag. I don't know what label's going to be put on it. I don't even know what it's completely going to look like today. But I think, without a doubt, we're going to hear about it in '23. You're going to have people engaged in it in '23.
Here in late '22, I heard two or three people, that probably don't want me naming their name on this particular podcast, but there are some people that got some pretty sizable checks from those programs last year. And I think you're going to see more of that. And there are just a lot of new things coming. A little news flash, I don't know if anyone noticed, but the USDA put out how many billion dollars in smart commodity grants out to 70 different entities. I think long about, what was it, September, October timeframe. I think in '23 you're going to hear about that without question.
Probably, when you look at all three of those, maybe not the machine learning as much, but clearly, autonomy and this new sector of revenue that I'm going to call carbon sustainability, regenerative ag, data interoperability, field boundaries are going to be very critical pieces.
I've been a tech guy. Yes, I've been collecting data since 2001, even before that, if you want to count fertility. And we pulled our first grid soil sample, I think in 1994 or 1995, and have used some form of technology ever since. And this casual use of data is going away, and being better and having interoperability is going to be very critical.
Morgan Seger (15:43):
Yeah, I agree. I've just taken some notes here. I have a question about AI and machine learning. Have you seen it being applied in any certain space when it comes to crop production, or do you think one space has a chance over another? If you're looking at fertility or we've heard about weed identification and that kind of management, is there any one thing that sticks out to you?
Jeremy Wilson (16:07):
I think the first place we're going to feel it is this whole pest management. I'm not even going to pick weeds today. I mean, that could be bugs, weeds, whatever the case may be. There are apps out there today that are using that technology if you choose to use it. Now, everyone will be like, "Oh, that's not really that. That's just a system that's got a lot of data behind it." Okay. Research a little bit. That's kind of what this is all about. So yes, we're seeing it there, but I really think we're going to see it grow beyond that and how we get better data so we get more data behind these systems.
There are just new opportunities and I really am struggling to pick one that I think will be the first winner. I think you're going to see them all grow out of these pest management tools and apps we see today just because everyone needs a low-hanging fruit to help fund the next piece of development. And when you can demonstrate to a user the power of taking a picture of a pest, bug, or weed, I don't care, and then being able to identify that, tell me the chemistries I need to control it.
The other thing is, you can't keep your head in the sand. There's nothing different than what folks like John Deere are doing with the See & Spray and seeing those all summer at trade shows and hearing ag retailer A, B or C. Well yeah, we got one we're going to demo and take a look at it. That's an amazing application of it. And it still comes back to pest management to me. So I think pest identification and pest management are going to be the first two. I see some others that are out there, but I think they're a little further out because we just don't have the data behind them yet to really be successful.
Morgan Seger (17:53):
Okay, that's fair. And when it comes to autonomy, maybe some of the larger growers might be the first ones to try it out. I think we see that with new technology often. What are your thoughts on smaller pieces of equipment that might be able to be leveraged across all farm sizes?
Jeremy Wilson (18:12):
So in Jeremy's happy little utopia, he lives in, my ideal application of autonomous vehicles is small tractors, small implements operating in a swarm, because from an agronomic standpoint, we don't need to go review all the compaction research that's been done and what that does to yield. But as we look at smaller implements, and I look at my own operation, I'm small time, but I look at the four-wheel-drive tractors that get put into my fields on a regular basis to pull a piece of equipment. Whether it's a planter, whether you have to do some tillage, whatever the case may be, I just cringe. And yes, I'm on RTK to try to manage compaction as best I can, but I still can't. I still can't do it. I really think some of these smaller implements couldn't be happier if you'd have an affordable way for me to run four small tractors autonomously with four-row planters. I'm all over that.
They're small enough. I can move them on a standard flatbed. I can get them set forth in an 80-acre field and get them working. Maybe have someone there to monitor them. I really dream and think that one day I'll probably have a mobile device that sits in my tractor and it keeps an eye on them for me while I'm there. "Hey, I see we're down to about four acres, five acres left. Go and take two of them, move into the next field, and let the last two finish up. The other one's got the end rows done to start planting when I get back with the other two." That is where I think we'll see that or where I think the real opportunity is, is to be better agronomically.
And the same thing, I've watched what we're doing with these UAVs to do chemical applications. I think that's going to continue to flourish. That may be the first step into autonomy I make is we get some of these bigger birds and get FAA approval on them where I have something that can maybe carry even 200 gallons of water that I can maybe look at a 20- to 30-acre load on these things. Man, there's some real value there. And if I can get out there and get some applications done, better scouting, maybe it's through remote imagery to identify weed areas that I dispatch those for a specific task and a specific reason, that's the next place I think I'll see it and probably most likely it'll be my first step into it until we get to where my ultimate dream is. Swarms of smaller pieces of equipment.
Morgan Seger (20:45):
As you think about all of the changes you've seen across technology and precision ag the last 25 to 30 years, how do you think that is going to compare to the changes we're going to see moving forward?
Jeremy Wilson (21:02):
Well, you didn't prepare me for that one. I think we're just going to continue to see widespread adoption that's going to actually be the funding mechanism to continue to move us forward. I think autonomy just changes so many things. If you're in an area where you work with a trusted service provider that does custom application work for you, I think the efficiencies we bring there have an opportunity for increasing my return on investment by me not only using some of this new technology, but the people who work for me being able to use that technology as well.
As I think back to the mid-'90s and we were putting in yield monitors and making pretty maps and a handful of people were calibrating on them because we just didn't get it to where, if you choose, I'm not going to make you, but if you choose and take the time and calibrate these things, there are some very definite decisions that can be made from that data.
And I really think, over the next five years, we’ll have yet even another younger generation getting ready to come into agriculture. I love this generation. I still have to figure out how to work with some of them, but I think that autonomy and a few pieces of this technology will empower this younger generation to have the lifestyle they want and yet still be a farmer. That might be the one thing that we see changes the most. I'm happy to say I have a 17-year-old son. When we look at products, or he looks at services, they want to make him feel good. Okay, that's fine. This generation likes that, and he's also a kid that's ready to run a piece of equipment as long as you want him to run it, but he's not the one that wants to sit out there from five in the morning until 11 at night.
There are other things in his life that are important and I think some of the things like autonomy and some of this machine learning, how we can streamline processes will empower this generation to have the lifestyle that they desire but yet still farm. That may increase that appeal to come back to the farm. We've kind of struggled to see, even the end of my current generation and really the generation behind me, a lot of those kids I went to high school with and especially you take five years behind me, they didn't want to come back and do this. "It's too hard of work. I ain't going to do this, I don't have the desire to do that." And boy, my gut just tells me we've got some technology here that will let that generation live the life they desire, yet still work to feed our planet and be a part of production agriculture. That excites me at a level I can't even explain.
Morgan Seger (23:51):
That's awesome. So I have another question that maybe I didn't prepare you for. On every episode, we ask our guests what's one technology they're most excited about.
Jeremy Wilson (24:04):
So probably, without question, it's going to be autonomy. Yeah, I think I can learn a lot, I can improve my return on investment through machine learning. I think there's potentially a revenue stream coming out of these new segments, carbon regenerative ag, whatever, sustainability. But I really think it's autonomy because I really think we'll get to the point where I can get to smaller pieces of equipment, be better for me agronomically. But more importantly, like I just said before, empower my son to be as excited about agriculture as I was because he gets to do what he loves yet feels good about it and wants to come back and stay on the farm. I think that's just one that's going to be critical. I've been watching it from the beginning.
I tell you, seven years ago, I was the guy that stood up and said the cost of entry of this thing is just never going to be where it needs to be to use it. I hate to say it, but I probably was dead wrong because it's starting to get there now. And if there are small things that you can do and small entries into that, that I think will lay the groundwork for the more advanced stuff. I'm incredibly excited. I think that can help our human resources problem at the farm but also empower the generation behind us to be as excited about agriculture as I was when I was his age.
Morgan Seger (25:36):
Is there anything else you think growers should be thinking about as we are turning the calendar from '22 to '23?
Jeremy Wilson (25:44):
I challenge every grower for the same thing each year and probably in '23 is not going to be different than '24 and '25, but I'll still say it anyway. If you're not working to collect quality data and use that in your decision-making processes to improve your profitability or return on investment, please start now. And if you need help, reach out. Google me. I guarantee you, you'll find me. There are enough places out there, look me up. I'm happy to have that conversation because I'm sure you know it, but in the case of yield data, we get, on average, 40 to 50 chances to do it right, and we get one scorecard a year. If we can't get that one scorecard right, how are we going to be good at documenting changes? What impact and agronomic changes have?
Yes, I understand Mother Nature's the biggest variable. I live in southern Illinois. I'm five days away from a complete crop disaster. Okay, I get that. But yet, data-driven decision-making can help you make the decisions that you can control even when Mother Nature chooses not to – there's opportunity there. That's the same story I've been telling for probably 15 years, and I'll continue to tell because there's just so much power in that data we collect if we just take that extra three, four, five minutes on every field to do it right.
Morgan Seger (27:06):
Sure. So we can have people Google you. Is there any place you would like us to send them if they'd like to connect with you, continue this conversation, or learn more about your work?
Jeremy Wilson (27:16):
Yeah, I mean, I'm happy to give you my email address. My current work email address is email@example.com. I'm also on Twitter. I'm not on much of the other social media, but you can look me up on Twitter. My handle there is JWW72.
Morgan Seger (27:36):
Awesome. Well, we will link out to that in our show notes as well. Well, Jeremy, thank you so much for taking the time to be on our show, and I'm excited about your outlook and how optimistic you are about everything.
Jeremy Wilson (27:49):
No problem whatsoever. It's my passion, and I've been trying to look forward and what is next my whole career. So this lines up with my personality perfectly.
Morgan Seger (28:00):
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Precision Points, and thank you, Jeremy, for joining us in that conversation.
As we've had different guests on the show, autonomy comes up a lot, and we've been thinking and talking more and more about carbon and regenerative agriculture. I'm excited to see where those go and then add in that extra layer of AI and machine learning. That's something we've touched on in this podcast, but definitely, something that we will be keeping an eye on as we move forward as well.
If you're interested in learning more, I encourage you to reach out to Jeremy. We'll be sure to put his contact information in our show notes which can be found at precisionagreviews.com. While you're there, check out our grower-sourced reviews. We're working to build a reservoir of information from growers like you, capturing their real-life experiences with different precision ag tools and services. We also invite you to leave your own reviews. That information can be very valuable to others as we're all trying to learn about new precision ag opportunities.
Again, thanks for tuning in. We are so glad you're here. Let's grow together.
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