Wrapping up an interesting ag tech year
MEASURING TECH: Whether it is track added to a tractor, or a new kind of sensor, the 2017 ag tech year was one to remember. But in the end all these tools have to perform.

Wrapping up an interesting ag tech year

There are plenty of new ideas out there, but farm management still matters

There are parts of this job that are very cool (we won't dwell on those that aren't). For me a constant highlight is that trip to a farm show and 2017 had plenty to see. I often get asked what's the coolest tech or greatest innovation I'm seeing in this business, and I often defer in part because there's so much going on.

Agriculture has never had a shortage of innovators. From self-scouring plows to power takeoffs, from large round bales to hybrid corn, this is an industry that knows how to make things better, more productive, and more efficient. Having ridden that 'technology horse' for more than 35 years, I've been able to see plenty.

When I see those innovations I often recall conversations with my father-in-law. A long-time farmer, who took a job in town after he 'retired,' he was an early user of hybrid corn (with an uncanny ability to recall exactly what he planted in 1932). And as we came to know each other and talk about what I was seeing in the field, he would often remark that he wished he was a younger man so he could be part of this newest tech revolution. And that was before the last 10 years.

For 2017, we built on the ag tech investments of the past five years. More venture capital came into the market. More longer-term investments were made for major innovators, and bigger players are taking part in those financing programs. Familiar names like T. Rowe Price, for example, are investing in later-round funding, as that company did in a Series D finance package for Farmer Business Network recently.

With all that money flowing into this industry we're seeing sensors used in new ways, there's more interest in robots and how automation could help us farm the same ground with less labor. Even tech in plant breeding is advancing when companies like Syngenta step forward to gain access to the latest gene editing tech for future product development.

Heady stuff for someone who loves to follow technology, but there's more to it than that. As we wrap up 2017, I have to step back and take a deep breath. A lot of what we're seeing in ag tech is still under development, still just getting past the proof-of-concept stage. That's especially true for companies just getting Series A funding, with a big idea that may, or may not, catch on.

Reality check

There's reality out there, where this tech really has to play. As all this innovation approaches the market farmers will have to decide if it's practical technology that makes sense for their businesses. And many may be asking - when it comes to data - what do I do with all that information? With corn and soybean prices bouncing at less-than-profitable prices, investing in your farm business isn't an easy choice. Sometimes just keeping the lights on is important.

Long-term the tech that proves itself will be the tools that add value to your life, make your farm more productive, or enhance food safety in some way.

As we wrap up this year in ag tech, we've seen plenty of new ideas and a few acquisitions. For 2018, many of those new ideas will be approaching the market. Farmers will get their chance to check out what might make sense for their operations, and perhaps there's a ground-breaking idea out there that could change the way we do business. It's happened before.

What will that tech be? No way to predict, though if you look at the labor supply in ag, picking winners may be easier than you think. And to keep up on that tech, you'll be heading to a farm show. I'm already gearing up for a trip to the National Farm Machinery Show, and that kicks off my farm show year with a bang.

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