As interviewed by Gail Glick, Content Marketing Manager
LP: Talking from the macro perspective of our customers – the farmers and the agricultural community – I feel that there is some sense of caution towards adopting new technologies. This probably has to do with the high expectations in terms of customer experience and performance. Tech-savvy and business-oriented farmers are actively looking for a solution that can help them better manage and optimize their operations. And unless we can show them tangible ROI, the adoption will not grow. ROI doesn't necessarily mean dollar value per se. It can be the ability to do more efficient work, peace of mind, less toil and more free time to pursue other things and maybe savings too.
Startups which can tap into this and provide solutions for critical needs to farmers will survive & grow. Especially in our domain – irrigation and water management, technologies which can help farmers manage water use more efficiently and make agriculture sustainable and profitable will be more readily accepted.
LP: We have had great response from the farmers. The reason behind is the value which NetBeat™- our digital farming solution, offers - giving farmers the capability to manage their farms and operations remotely from their cell phone. And the added value of getting notified for making the right irrigation decisions. These simple capabilities are changing people's lives and changing the way they farm. Once the farmers start using NetBeat™, it is difficult for them to get back to doing these things manually without the capabilities of NetBeat™. We are constantly working on adding more features and capabilities to NetBeat™.
In the developed countries, farmers have more cash flow, bigger farms, more advanced irrigation and fertigation systems so their requirements are more progressed and they are more open to adopting newer technologies. In developing countries, the adoption depends upon factors like cash crunch and dependence on government subsidies and other financing solutions. The requirements are much simpler and NetBeat™ adoption has been very encouraging. The fact that it helps address their much simpler needs and have greater control over their farms with an intuitive interface makes NetBeat™ very attractive to them.
LP: I think IoT is, besides being a buzz word, at the end of the day, a business enabler. It's an enabler for any type of technology. The capability to connect any device to anything is becoming much more available in a much cheaper way. So IoT is going to be part of any infrastructure, even precision agriculture .As it becomes more available, it will help enable coverage of larger distances, better capabilities at a lesser price. It's not the only way, but it's something that will be a critical part of precision, smart agriculture.
LP: First of all, I don't think it's going to be that long in the future. This is going to happen in maybe next five, 10, maybe 15 years max. I believe that future farmer will be more focused on taking the right business decisions which are going to be influenced by better agronomical knowhow, technology, soil and weather knowledge etc Not only IoT, but artificial intelligence and machine learning will also enable him to take decisions in a much better way. They might be working on the farms, but they will be able to control and manage all their operations, machines, drones etc. remotely in keeping with the ever-changing conditions. He will be better able to predict the business consequences of the decisions he takes- he will be more like a command and control executive on-top of being a farmer at the mercy of climate and other factors. For example, he will know the business implications (using simulation models, AI and more) of spraying/not spraying chemicals as a disease preventive act. For each action there are pros & cons, that will influence his bottom line, and he need the tools to help him take these decisions.
LP: I see it as an opportunity rather than a threat, because the people who will work in tomorrow's farms will be more educated, better informed and more in control. If a farmer can control and manage everything from his cell phone, manage it from the palm of his hand and take a better decision then at the end of the day his life will be better, healthier and more prosperous.
LP: We are now completing the monitoring and control capabilities, crop models and closing the loop capabilities. Next, we're looking more into adding added value services related in a bit more extended way to irrigation and fertigation. We will add satellite images and other types of images or indexes based on these images. We're also looking into add more sensors, yield maps and, and closing the loop on the yield so that we can very clearly see the effect of an optimized irrigation and fertigation system on the yield increase. And then we, have a long road map going into other areas like managing climate and the crop management cycles cross the year. We are also looking to offer other value-added services by integrating with other players in the ecosystem.
LP: Well, there are traditional companies in irrigation and there are other companies who are adding to their offerings leveraging advanced technology. To our advantage, we are ahead of the game because we have a product which is backed by almost 55 years of irrigation `expertise, agronomic knowledge and global experience. But as technology like cloud capabilities become more available and affordable, we will have to continue to innovate and offer more value-added services to stay ahead in the competition.
LP: Personally, I think that the journey that is not over yet and it's probably not going to be over soon. But the journey that we're taking from concept to actual product, to sales, to feedback from customers - is very exciting, born from a concept to reality. And the feedback , the reality check or the validation we are getting that this is something that is indeed bringing value and changing people lives for the better is very encouraging. This is the biggest thing that keeps me going. And we have so many opportunities, new technologies that we can always add, and bring more value.