Lachlan Sutton, Agribusiness Manager for Southern Cross Farms, has been involved with agriculture for his whole life. He was born and bred on his family’s sheep and wheat farm, worked in various rural services roles for over a decade with Elders, and now looks after agtech for the Corporate farming outfit Southern Cross Farms.
Because of his experiences working in both corporate and family farming businesses, Lachlan is in the unique position of being able to shed light on his experience incorporating agtech into each of these different farming models. Here are 5 key insights that we hope will help farmers of all types make their businesses agtech ready.
This episode is the second of four that we will be releasing on the theme of “getting agtech ready.” This theme is brought to you in partnership with Decipher. Check out the first episode with Tim Rethus here.
AGTECH HELPS SOLVE COMMON CHALLENGES
Regardless of the type of commodity you sell or the type of farming business model you operate (family vs corporate vs sharefarming), everyone faces the same challenges: dependence on the weather; limitations of the knowledge and skills of your team; and market prices.
These common challenges unite the ag industry in its need for tools that add value in the form of greater operational efficiency and financial sustainability. However, not everybody adopts exactly the same tools to solve these problems, as we each run our businesses slightly differently. It’s OK to solve these challenges differently. Making sure a tool suits your business is key.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Both family farms and large corporate farms need quality knowledge from data and people to make informed management decisions.
Family farms may have the advantage of better understanding the land on which they farm through knowledge handed down over generations. However, knowledge about the land can still be obtained in a corporate farming model- often in a much shorter time frame- with the help of the right tools and people to gather the data.
One key advantage Lachlan highlights for corporate farms is having more people from different backgrounds who can put forward ideas and share experiences. Capturing this knowledge can contribute towards a more robust decision making process.
Both family and corporate farms can benefit from high quality data, both from tech and tools as well as from diverse perspectives that bring new ways of looking at old problems.
HOW TO MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION
The decision making process around adopting new technologies can vary greatly between family and corporate farms. However, there are learnings that each can derive from one another about how to improve this process.
Lachlan says that in a family farming business, decisions can often be made more quickly than in a corporate model. This can be great (i.e., you get the benefits sooner), but it can also mean that decisions can be made without taking the time to assess the product’s strengths, weaknesses, and fit for the business. What works for one farm may not work for all- being slower and more deliberate has its benefits.
In a corporate farm on the other hand, decisions can take longer as there are more people involved, and decisions often need to be justified to investors. There is value in taking the time to streamline ideas. For example, it helps ensure that the whole team is confident that the product will deliver value. It also gives time to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis.
So overall do we want more process or less? Lachlan’s advice is that getting buy-in from the whole team is critical. Take as long as you need to get this part right.
ENSURE A SHARED STRATEGIC VISION
Deciding to adopt a new agtech product is only partially about the technology. It’s also important to ensure that the company behind the product is committed for the long term and for the right reasons.
This starts with getting clear on what problem needs solving and then investigating possible solutions. Comparing solutions is about evaluating the technology, the support provided, and the people behind the brand. In Lachlan’s experience, it has been important to build a relationship with the CEO as well as the sales reps to ensure the company shares their long term strategic objectives and will be around to solve their problems in the future.
Once the decision has been made to proceed with an agtech product, the way that product is launched on the farm is also vital to its success.
In Lachlan’s experience, simplicity is key. A “soft launch” across the entire farm will improve consistency in its use across the entire business. This should be closely followed by a review of its performance, making sure that feedback is obtained from all of its different users- from farmhands to managers to accountants.
“We prefer a consistent launch across the entire business. I prefer to be consistently incorrect rather than inconsistently correct”