In the weeks leading up to the 2019 InfoAg Conference the big question for a lot of ag folks was, would the largely dreadful spring dampen the usual enthusiasm for this annual confab of ag technology faithful? When all was said and done, the total number of attendees eventually topped 1200, demonstrating remarkable market resiliency and a continued high level of interest in the evolution of precision and digital agriculture overall.
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), which took on oversight of the conference beginning last fall with the announcement of the dissolution of the International Plant Nutrition Institute, was pleased with the conference and sees real potential for the future.
“We look at InfoAg as a great opportunity for us,” said Lara Moody, TFI’s Vice President of Stewardship and Sustainability Programs. The attendee base provides TFI an important avenue for reaching a key audience as the organization expands outreach in the 4R Nutrient Stewardship space, she adds.
It’s not likely that the conference content will change dramatically with a full year of TFI involvement in the process, but it seems certain that precision ag practices in the context of 4R stewardship principles, in addition to soil health, will be weaved into the already robust conference program.
The 2019 edition of the conference certainly was an interesting window into the state of ag technology for consultants, service providers, and the various technology and software companies showing their wares in the exhibit halls or in the meeting rooms and private suites dotted throughout the hotel. Here are six key highlights we gleaned from our three days in St. Louis:
- In The Shadows. For most of its history, the exhibit floor housed most of the commercial activity. This year in particular, meeting rooms and suites were very active with private conversations, indicating a lot more of the kinds of discussion that point to the second observation:
- Collaboration and Integration. While there were no major announcements coming out of the conference, talk of technology integration and new partnerships was all around. “We’re not siloing against each other,” said EFC Systems CEO Ernie Chappell. “Interoperability is on everyone’s mind with a focus on real value.”
On the integration front, Raven hosted an afternoon session to share the results of its integration of AgSync, called the Raven Connected Workflow Solutions. The offering is designed to improve transparency and efficiency on the logistics end of application services.
- Investments of Capital and Technology. Participation from organizations outside the normal channels of agriculture, including Microsoft and Airbus, demonstrated ongoing interest in bringing innovative technology to the industry. And investment is continuing for some, in particular Farmobile, which learned of a fresh infusion of cash from Ag Growth International just prior to InfoAg.
- Youth Movement? More than one long-time attendee we talked to indicated that, while many familiar faces have retired or moved on, there was an encouraging number of younger attendees in the room, as well as in booths working for exhibiting companies.
- Broadening “Imagery.” While there is still robust debate about the interpretation of in-field imagery and its overall value, service providers have opened the door wide to information from any source, be it satellite, drone, aerial, or ground sensor-based data. It will ultimmately be up to practitioners to sort out what delivers value, but the inclusion of multiple sources is a positive development.
- Data Compatibility. From the opening presentation given by Ranveer Chandra of Microsoft to the closing session conducted by the Ag Data Coalition that got more than 80 attendees to stay an extra three hours after the conference, the drumbeat for better data compatibility between machinery and software systems could be heard throughout the 2019 InfoAg Conference. How this happens, and who leads the charge, is yet to be seen.
Perhaps the the 2020 event will provide some “clearer insight” into these and other big issues for ag technology.