March 6, 2017

Northwest FCS News

Northwest FCS' 2017 Ag Technology Conference is a Success

Common threads wove throughout the speakers’ presentations at the recent Northwest FCS-sponsored Ag Technology Conference in Spokane, Februrary 21-22, 2017. More than 200 attendees learned about emerging and maturing technology and tech management options, from hardware to software, from live organisms to wearables.

Global futurist Jack Uldrich seeded his talk with the ag-relevant technologies to watch. He predicted these technologies will grow 1000-fold in the next 10 years, and have a significant impact on ag:

•  5G bandwidth. Residents of the rural countryside and the remote corners of the earth will be connected.
•  Wearables. For example, sensors implanted in tarps will report moisture levels in hay bales.
•  Augmented reality. Shoppers will want information about products and their producers at the point of sale and get it simply by pointing their cell phones, a la Pokémon Go.
•  3D printing. Replacement parts can be printed by the local co-op or on site.
•  Nanotechnology. For example, microbeads can be treated to act as a grain desiccant or water filter.
•  Drones/robotics. Self-driving tractor, anyone?
•  IoT (Internet of Things). From that smart watch to a rain gauge, sensors will be embedded in and collect data from everything.
•  Genomics, gene sequencing. Think preservative-free potatoes, the taste put back into tomatoes and rice that can prevent blindness.
•  Supercomputing/artificial intelligence (AI) that crunches “big data.” AI will give you the answer before you even know you have a question.
•  Big data. Trillions of data bits collected are being monetized now. “Amazon has what you want, when you want it.”

Disruption innovation expert Mike Steep suggested taking a cue from Einstein, who said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and five minutes thinking about solutions.“ Further, Steep advised:

  • Be bold, arrogant and audacious – call a company in Silicon Valley to get knowledge. Network and create relationships with people who can help you figure tech out.
  • Understand the implications of tech on your economic model.
  • Let tech happen (and be left behind), or get engaged.

OnFarm’s Lance Donny said, “By 2020, businesses using data will see $430 billion in productivity benefits over their competitors not using data.” He said to start the process:

  • Identify one or two relevant problems in your operation.
  • Narrow down what’s available to the tech that will address your problems. (Find someone you can trust to help you.)
  • Commit to meaningful deployment.
  • Adapt to change.

Mary Kay Thatcher, Farm Bureau Senior Director of Congressional Relations, addressed ownership versus control of the data that farmers and ag businesses will generate. She’s working with the Ag Data Coalition, which developed the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator to help farmers understand the fine print in contracts with ag data providers. By owning and controlling their own data, producers could annually collect “$5 to $10 per acre, according to Dr. Dave Kohl,” she said.

Sileo Group founder and CEO John Sileo provided immediate, actionable information on protecting oneself from cyber threats. Speaking from experience, he urged the audience to never believe “it can’t happen to me” and verify everything. He discussed the top seven cyber threats and how they relate to ag…

  • Hackable farm-level data: e.g., soil content, yields
  • The farm-specific IoT: hacked cell phones, field and irrigation sensors, etc.
  • Privacy/espionage: e.g., drone reconnaissance
  • Ransomware: locks files, demands payment to release, threatens to - and does - delete
  • “Eco-hacktivism”: GMOs, animal rights the prime targets
  • Cyber terrorism: could disrupt the food value chain
  • Commodities manipulation: market speculation affects prices

...and countermeasures, including skepticism as a first response to requests for information or money (for example, the “we need your password” and “grandpa, I’m in trouble and I need money” scams) and “too good to be true” offers:

  • Perform offsite, real-time backups.
  • Take regular training re social engineering scams (e.g., phishing emails, phone callers asking for personal information) and provide training for your employees as well.
  • Allow automatic patching for OS/apps/XP.
  • Use encryption.
  • Install a default deny firewall.
  • Manage passwords and use two-factor authentication.
  • Conduct an annual external threat audit.

Jeff Raikes, co-founder of the Raikes Foundation and former Microsoft exec, echoed the themes of previous speakers, putting them in context of the big picture of globalization, population growth and automation. Best case, farmers will need to feed three times the population on the same amount of land with less water by 2050. He cautions:

  • We need to overcome the public perception that the global biotech revolution has produced “frankenfood.”
  • Climate change will lead to water wars.
  • The adoption of technology brings big data to the farm, but farmers will have to use the right data and fight for control and profits.

What does it all mean to the producer?

  • Be aware of macrotrends.
  • Be progressive in your business mindset.
  • Be business savvy when evaluating technology: look for production advantage, premium value, scalability and vertical integration.
  • Be excellent.
Questions or comments?
Contact the Business Management Center