A Turning Point Year for Collaboration in Agriculture

Despite the relatively positive vibrations we received from retailers who filled out the CropLife 100 surveys this fall, pretty much everyone else was ready to forget “the year that was” as quickly as possible.

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I won’t waste any space repeating the stories of misery that many of you and your farmer-customers endured this year. From the standpoint of the annual crop cycle churn, we’re on to a hopefully more prosperous 2020 for the entire crop production channel.

But before I leave 2019 entirely behind, I want to share some observations.

The one beauty of the down-cycle we’ve been immersed in for some time is a washing away of the peripheral and vaguely relevant ideas and technologies, and a refocus on the core systems that drive the business of agriculture.

Now, I’ve been covering ag technology for more than 20 years, and I’ve always championed big ideas. But we’ve all seen what happens when products and ideas are rolled out that are not fully vetted, or that require an unnatural or extreme shift in the production of crops — it tends to distract, disrupt, and delude the markets they attempt to revolutionize.

This past year it was interesting to me to see what the established agriculture companies would do in the wake of so many ideas, products, and systems that have moved through the market over the past five years or so. While predictions of a revolution in agriculture were greatly exaggerated, the industry virtually never returns to the same baseline. We take the best of what works and move forward.

As the year comes to an end, we saw Raven Industries make a monster play in robotics through the full acquisition of Smart Ag and the purchase of a majority stake in DOT Technologies. Both companies had demonstrated real promise in a market segment with more sizzle than steak, and it will be interesting to see if Raven can turn these investments into market dominance in machine autonomy.

Last year Deere made a big splash with its acquisition of Blue River Technologies and its advances in machine learning. But in 2019 the narrative has been more about partnerships, collaboration, and compatibility.

Whether it was the overall economic malaise or some other internal or external driver, that focus on staying in lanes, so to speak, and maximizing the core business rather than going for total world domination seemed to be prevalent this year.

The recent announcement of collaboration between BASF and WinField United is another interesting example. Users of the WinField United ATLAS platform will be able to access BASF’s xarvio platforms from a single sign-on. The xarvio system currently offers SCOUTING, a mobile application that can quickly identify weeds and diseases via smartphone. Eventually, users will be able to synchronize data between the xarvio and WinField United platforms.

In 2020 I’m looking forward to covering, and championing, more examples of how agriculture companies are tearing down the silos of propriety, focusing on their strengths, and gaining traction in the market by working together on our biggest challenges. Best wishes for a successful and prosperous year ahead!

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