Speaker 

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage or ag tech ecosystem panel Good morning

 
Laurie Bedord 

and welcome to the egg tech ecosystem panel. I'm Lori backdoored. I am the executive editor for egg technology for Meredith Agra media. And joining me today is our three panelists will start with Sid Sid Gorham is the president and digital business platform for corteva agriscience. In this role, Sid leads the digital business strategy for corteva and serves as CEO of the granular business which he co founded in 2014 corteva excuse me, granular was acquired by DuPont, which is now corteva agriscience in 2017. Sid has not only built and led a technology company in egg, but the food, media and telecom industries as well. Sitting next to sit is Julian Sanchez, PhD. Julian is the director of precision agriculture and business development for john deere. A seasoned technologist whose work has spanned multiple industries. Julian holds 20 patents, and has made significant contributions as a technology and business leader at john deere. His expertise ranges from UX capabilities to human factors psychology, to mobile software to digital innovation and more. And our third panelist is Renee Vassilos, who is the agriculture innovation director for the Nature Conservancy. Renee is an agricultural economist with nearly 20 years of production agriculture experience. She is known in the ag tech space as a critical thinker and passionate Changemaker. She now manages the nature Conservancy's investments in early stage agriculture technology companies that will scale regenerative agriculture production practices. So please welcome our panel. So before we start the discussion, I wanted to kind of set the stage obviously We're going to pick their brains about the ag tech echo echo system. But we also want to field your questions as well. So toward the end of the discussion, I'll open it up for questions. And please feel free to ask them anything and everything that you can think of. So as we get started, I wanted to talk about why we're here. You know, we're at CES, where people don't really typically think of agriculture as being in this space. And that point was driven home to me yesterday, as I was coming in from the airport. My cab driver asked all his clientele what they do for a living, and I told him that I was an agricultural journalist, and he said, No kidding. That's a first I have never ever had an ag journalist in my cab. Why are you here? And I told him, I was at the Consumer Electronics Show. We have a presence here. You know, john deere is here. And he said, really jumps on his radio. You guys, you are not gonna believe this. I have an ad journalist in my cap and she's here for CES. She's going to be talking about tomatoes. I'm like, No, no, no, no. So I want to hear from our panel and, you know, help us understand why we're here. So, you know, Julian, why don't you start us off since john deere is exhibiting for the second year? Talk about why it's important for us to be here.

 
Julian Sanchez 

Yeah, it's our second year back with a booth. First and foremost, we we wanted to come and tell the story of agriculture for the the mainstream tech audience. What's really fun about agriculture is if you look at any of the major trends of the last 10-15 years, whether it be self self guided vehicles, whether it be IoT, big data, cloud connectivity, in a sneaky way, actually agriculture has been at the forefront. of those of those tech trends and leveraging all those tools, and and in some cases even innovating upon them. So, so we're here to tell to engage the the tech industry and participate and innovation. But again, more Most importantly, tell the story of agriculture. How farmers actually farm how they do their job, what, what pressures they're under.

 
Sid Gorham 

And Sid is a co founder of an ag tech startup, you bring an interesting perspective to being here as part of the show.

 
Sid Gorham 

Yeah, I think like Julian said, I think agriculture is one of the kind of least well understood industries or maybe even misunderstood industries in the tech community. So I'm based out in San Francisco where people are developing software for everything. But I actually have similar experiences to you when I meet people and I say I work for a company develop software for farmers, they say, Whoa, software for farmers, you know, aren't they just You know, leaning against a fence watching the sun set in the in the distance. And so I think one of the reasons we're here is to help educate the community, encourage innovation, encourage collaboration. Yeah.

 
Sid Gorham 

So let's take a step back and talk about the ag tech ecosystem and how its evolved. Because for our audience, you know, there may be many people here who don't understand that, you know, there has been technology and agriculture for decades. And, you know, there are many that believe that the purchase that Monsanto made of the climate corporate Corporation back in 2013, really helped, you know, almost kickstart that ag tech evolution. What trends have you seen in your tenure in agriculture in the ag tech ecosystem? Renee wanted to start us off on that one.

 
Renee Vassilos 

What, what I've seen is initially a lot of the innovation coming from industry incumbents like some of the representation we have on the stage. And then in the last five years starting to see other players coming into the space. So a lot of the funding for granular came from Silicon Valley, which that was interesting and new. And now we're seeing some other non traditional ag players coming into the ecosystem. Amazon is here IBM is starting to play Microsoft is starting to play. And I'm here with the Nature Conservancy. So what are we doing as part of the ecosystem? What we really believe is how critical the role agriculture has to move the needle on the planet that we need to start moving towards. And so we're also in the ag tech space. So my role with the Nature Conservancy is, in fact looking for those technologies that we think will move the needle to get us further and faster to agricultural Production that's sustainable and profitable for the planet and farmers.

 
Sid Gorham 

And Julian, john deere has always been known as an iron company. And they're beginning to transition as a smart technology company. So you know, what have you seen in your tenure in agriculture?

 
Julian Sanchez 

Yeah, I'll talk about it from the perspective of, of the farmer, one of my favorite things of this, of this industry is actually spending time with farmers. And what I'll tell you first is farmers for the history of the world. You know, we're talking about one of the oldest, if not the oldest industry, people have always in some way farmed. There. They're some of the most creative and innovative folks that you that you will ever meet. Over the last 1015 years, what I've observed is in addition to being great innovators, and they've all also they've always been agronomist of some sort but they've They've now in the last few years also become it, integrators. And they've also become data scientists in their own right. And so it's sort of this amazing experience where you visit a farm, pretty much all over the world, but let's just use North America as an example. And it's pretty easy to have a conversation with a farmer about geospatial technology, about shape files about all kinds of software terms that the average person knows nothing about. And they manage those terms and handle those terms with no problems, you can talk to the farmers about API's. So again, that that to me represents the biggest change is that the folks who are actually growing our food have actually embraced most of this technology and and by way of growing our food have learned sort of these new key fields.

 
Sid Gorham 

Instead, as a co founder of an ag tech company, you know, you bring an interesting person perspective on, you know, you actually had to deal with farmers and help them understand what your technology has done. So how have you seen the system evolve?

 
Sid Gorham 

Yeah, I think when we started in 2013 2014, like Julian said, we when we went met with farmers, we weren't starting from zero. Many of them. Were doing all kinds of things with technology. I remember one of the first farmers I met, was also a pilot. And he would get his wife to sit in the plane and with her iPhone and just video the crop as he flew around his farm, and then upload that some server in his office and hack it all together and stitch it. And it was amazing to me that he was doing what he was doing by brute force. So it's not a I think farmers are very receptive to it. But what we've seen in the last five, six years is a real focus on profitability, and how do they use data and information to operate Eyes, their operations that they produce the most profit with the least environmental footprint, and, you know, steward their farm for the next generation. So I think, you know, one of the things that's happened in agriculture is that there's been a sort of cycle of crop prices. And right now, we've been in a tough several years here. And in that time, I think people have really farmers have really turned a focus on how does information, how can it help me drive more profit in the business,

 
Sid Gorham 

and in those tough times, ag tech can be a hard sell for farmers. And you know, we've seen that evolution of tech companies coming and going and, you know, I talked to an investor a week ago, and he said, he fields 200 AG tech and food tech startups every month. So we can only imagine what farmers are feeling with all these egg tech companies coming at them. So you know, for the entrepreneurs out there, you know, what's your best piece of advice for approaching farmers and agriculture as a whole?

 
Renee Vassilos 

Maybe I'll take that. So I think sometimes there's a misconception around the entrepreneurs coming in and thinking that the farming system is broken. The farming system is actually incredibly efficient. It's, it's come to, to operate, according to all of the market signals that have put in its place. But where I think the new opportunities are for entrepreneurs that want to come into the space, is to take some of the new learnings that we have around how to potentially farm in a different way in a more sustainable way to drive improvements not only for farmer profitability, but also for environmental outcomes. So I think coming at the space With the idea that it's a broken system is a problem. And instead looking at it as, wow, this is such a hyper efficient system, we now have all kinds of new information, how to potentially do it differently, and how can we incorporate that and support farmers to make shifts in that direction for their profitability and then also for the planet. So that would be kind of the advice is relax on the broken system thinking.

 
Sid Gorham 

Yeah, I would agree with that. Renee. It's like it's a it's one of the world's most biggest, oldest, most efficient supply chains, the food supply chain, but it's very analog and digital offers an opportunity to optimize and and make it more efficient, more traceable more transparent. And so I think digital is not going to disrupt the food system and the way that Amazon might have disrupted retail, but digital is going to make the food system work better and in particular link the producer to the consumer so that we can make more efficient more informed trade offs about the environmental footprint of producing our food and the price we pay for food because right now, the supply and the demand side of the food system don't really talk to each other in a super efficient way.

 
Julian Sanchez 

I my advice is a farming is a context rich business lifestyle. And so typically an entrepreneur we'll we'll go and look for an interesting use case, customer pain point. And so maybe even this, it's a farmer a farm or two and kind of looks for opportunities. And, and then tries to extrapolate from that from that observation. And when you do that, you run The risks that you extrapolate from this one situation one or two situations which are context rich context heavy, meaning you're going to then miss a whole bunch of other contexts that might exist in in a in a situation or in a farm that's maybe even literally next door. Right? One of the things that's always been striking to me is you can take, you can take two fields 20 miles apart, let's say in Central Illinois, both both farmers, you know, at a glance, maybe have similar operations, both are growing corn, similar equipment. And yet, when you really get into the context of those fields, everything from the topography of the field, slight undulations on the field and how it gathers moisture to the type of soil that is in those two fields that are 20 miles apart to the precipitation that they receive, to the fact that one farmer maybe farms with his or her family, the other farmer, maybe hi employees to help him farm. All of that stuff. All of that stuff is context rich, right? So again, from an entrepreneurial perspective, if you only go and understand the one farmer with the one field with the one soil that has a certain practice and say, I'm going to extrapolate my solution, and I'm going to expect it to scale, you're going to swing and miss probably with the next door neighbor, right? So you'll have this one great solution for this one farmer with the one field. So my advice to you is, think of it as an AI problem where you know, to build a good AI system and train it, you go to the extremes, and you try to interpolate, as opposed to extrapolate. It's the same thing when you're generating solutions for farmers, look for the variants and try to come up with ideas that way.

 
Laurie Bedord 

So let's talk about some of those developments. Let's call out two or three developments that you feel have really made an impact or have the potential to make an impact and said you can't say granular

 

Sid Gorham 

Okay, what can I say, john? Okay, let's pass it to Julian and what? Do you want me to say it? No, no? Yeah, I'll say dear. No, but seriously, I think one of the one of the things that has really changed in the time that I've been in the industry is is the ease with which farmers can can get their equipment, collect and log data in the field and get that up to the cloud, to some extent, granular was a play on, okay, once you have all that data, now run it through these algorithms and will help you make decisions. But when we started, we were a little early and it was still a lot of jump drives and old machines and incompatible data. And we've still got a decent amount of that. But we have, I think, really turned the corner in terms of the equipment and the devices and the machines that are on the farm. JOHN dears and others are now much smarter, very often connected. And so that really sort of lays the foundation for software and analytics to come on top of it. Because if you rely on the farmer if you expect the farmer after working 18 hours to come back into his office and pack things into a computer not going to happen. So the the sort of IoT is critical to the getting the wheel turning in terms of analytics on the farm.

 
Renee Vassilos 

I would say three things row, what is going to have a huge impact is robotics. AI. So one of the major roadblocks to driving a shift towards regenerative farming practices is equipment. So there's an opportunity to bring fully autonomous vehicles in there that will allow for more about diverse production, the reintroduction of forestry solutions into large scale operations, the intercropping and double cropping, there's just a lot of interesting things that could potentially happen. With the introduction of robotics. I get very active cited about technology coming there. gene editing is another game changer. So we've seen a lot of development in corn and soybean seeds, which most of which were genetically modified. What gene editing is going to allow is a democratization of advances in the seed space. And so I think we're going to start to see more and more research happening beyond corn and soybeans. So we're going to see more and more research for, for for crops far beyond the corn and soybeans, which I think is very exciting for those bio diverse operations that we're looking to get to. And then lastly, this the fact that we are sitting in at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and all of you are in this audience, possibly most of you without agricultural backgrounds, but interested in this space. That to me is an incredible opportunity to drive more innovation and bring outside talent and thoughts and business. Thinking and new perspectives to the space.

 
Julian Sanchez 

I, maybe I'll go back to my some of my roots of being a human factor psychologist to talk about what I look at the role of GPS, guidance, self guidance vehicles. And then all of the automation and the vehicles that came after that on top of that, really, really transformed the precision with which farmers can can farm right. It also was a game changer in the conversation around labor. Alright, so one of the things that's difficult a pressure for farmers is available and skilled labor. And, you know, we've done a lot of studies at john deere to understand how all of these different technologies sort of relieve some of the the cognitive load issues of an operator of having to do so many things at once too often. One of these vehicles and allow farmers to, to, to hire and to you and to work with less skilled operators to still achieve good optimal solutions. So I think that's been a transformative thing, the guidance part, and it's really just continuing to build more opportunity for for technologies like AI that are not just going to help with guidance, but are going to help with how well the job is done in the field, right. Our cultural vehicle is not just about going up and down the field, it's about doing a job. And so there's two elements of automation that have to coexist. The guidance thing is pretty well solved in agriculture. It's pretty good. The other part of doing the job well, right, putting the seat exactly where it needs to go at the exact depth and all that. That's the part right now where there's a huge amount of runway and it will continue to be so.

 
Laurie Bedord 

So we not only have non traditional companies coming into the space, we also have investors, and those new sources of new investments coming into agriculture. So I'm curious, especially from you, Renee and said is, you know how those new investments are investors are changing the type of companies that are looking to improve the egg value ecosystem. And that whole supply chain.

 
Renee Vassilos 

Well, there was an interesting announcement this week, indigo AG, which is one of the kind of when people think about ag tech startups right now, they're very hot. they've raised a significant amount of capital. They just raised another round, and FedEx was a was a big investor. That's interesting. That's not something that folks maybe would have expected five years ago that a logistics company was going to come in and start investing in the agricultural space. So we're starting to see a reckoning. So what I would say is, until today, the way the agriculture environment has progressed has been very siloed. So the companies have been staying in their lanes. So john deere is in the equipment space. And Lori already mentioned that now it's like shifting from an iron focus to beyond that. And I think that the investors that we're starting to see investors coming from different spaces are driving some of that behavior for for lots of different pieces of, of the agriculture space. So to me, it's very exciting to have outside different types of capital coming in and looking at the space and identifying opportunities to potentially disrupt and shift us again towards kind of different ways of farming that are good for the farmer and good for the planet.

 
Laurie Bedord 

And Sid, what did you see in your experience with granular

 
Sid Gorham 

Yeah, I mean, I think agriculture is obviously a very big market when you think about it. So investors start with Okay, how big is it and check that's huge. And then they they say well, Okay, how hard is it to build the product and take it to the customer. And I think the ticket to the customer part and agriculture is pretty darn challenging. You know, if you're developing software for or any kind of technology for lawyers or whatever, you can walk up and down the street of any major city and call on however many dozen lawyers a day but farmers remote hard to reach relation very used to relationship selling. So even if you do drop in on their farm from San Francisco, there's a spend an hour getting through the Who are you and you know, you're not from around here. So it's it's sort of a friction in terms of acquiring customers and getting to know customers, I would say is considerable in agriculture. And so I think that's one thing that Silicon Valley investors in particular are a little nervous about, because that feels like you know, far away and foreign and we got we got through that granular. We We sort of we, what we did was recruit kind of cohorts of, of beta, beyond beta customers who could validate our idea. And we sort of did it in a very purposeful kind of stage wise way. But but that's definitely tricky. But like Renee said, I think they're, you know, they're now been some considerable acquisitions in the space. And the sort of wheel of capital sort of follows that. So if you think about climate, and granular and Blue River and some of the other ones that are coming along, I think you start that, that really investors chase returns. And so as we start to see more m&a in the space from companies like my parent company, corteva, agriscience, or john deere or bear, I think that really, you know, obviously peaks investor interest and makes it easier for entrepreneurs.

 
Laurie Bedord 

So let's expand on that and talk about all of these alliances that we're seeing in the industry right now. How is that going to help build out the ag tech ecosystem even further, instead of letting these Trump companies try and make it alone. Julian, do you want to start with that? Yeah.

 
Julian Sanchez 

Again, maybe step back and let's let's have that conversation of alliances from the perspective of the farmer, right? You know, I always I always start a conversation with someone that's trying to develop new technology for farming and just kind of set the context to say, look, farmers always stressed out, right? And here's why. Because they're their number one partner, business partner is weather. And guess what you can't ever count on is weather. Right? So from the standpoint, you know, a farmer always has the weather channel on the background. And then there's like, always three random radios in their house with special weather services that they get additional context on localized weather and they have 17 weather apps open at all times. And so you know, the the idea Then between all of these alliances in partnerships across agriculture is then the ones that work are the ones that reduce the stress of the farmer. Right? And so I talked earlier about, you know, them being it integrators, they're great, it integrators, but at some point, everybody has their limit, right? Even us, as you know, let's say general consumers, there's only so much integration and so many sign ups and sun sign ons that we want to do. And so the alliances that are working are the ones that you know are naturally coming together and and sort of fitting into the workflow that farmers execute today right in that very efficient workflow that Renee mentioned earlier. And and and sort of seamlessly seamlessly say, hey, farmer, we're going to work together such that you're not having to spend so much time being an IT integrator. That's the that's the secret sauce there.

 
Sid Gorham 

Yeah, totally agree. I mean, I think farmer the popular perception of farming as being a very slow paced industry is dead wrong. It's a little super stressful, time intensive, logistically intensive, you know, if you're on a farm, during, you know, the busy time of the year you're going to get you stand on the driver, you're going to get hit by something, there's a stuff going around and there's not a minute to spare, and a lot of times are going around the clock. And so I think entrepreneurs miss that sometimes and think like, oh, here's another app that you could spend an hour with that would give you this brilliant answer. And that hour doesn't exist, right? So you need to make it easier you need to fit into their workflow, you need to be aware of the as Julian said, the context in which they do their work because, you know, time is definitely a super scarce resource when they're dealing with various weather windows.

 
Laurie Bedord 

We've also seen a big influx of incubators and accelerators trying to help these ag tech companies, not only reach farmers, but you know, vet some of these products that they're trying to develop to ensure that they really are developing a solution for the farmer that is real, and that they're not going and hunting for a problem. Do these? How do these incubators and accelerators help vet some of those companies so that we really do get some good solutions out there for the farmer? Rena, you want to start with that one?

 

Renee Vassilos 

Yeah, actually, the Nature Conservancy has partnered with TechStars. And we have a sustainability accelerator program out of Denver. So we just close the second year. I think it's a great example of this. So the focus the premise is sustainability. I think eight out of the 10 companies from last year were agriculture focused and what the Nature Conservancy can do along with TechStars is to introduce them to the science behind what are the How are their solutions actually impacting from a from an environmental perspective. And then also the Nature Conservancy has a lot of boots on the ground in the field as well. So we can connect them with Farmers and the ecosystem that exists. So I think good accelerators, which I think we have a good example, do an excellent job of bringing expertise to the startups and then access to to their customers, which is absolutely critical. If I would say, what's been lacking in the agriculture ecosystem for these accelerators, it's probably dollars. So we haven't seen as much engagement as I think we should be from the incumbents. And I think that there is an opportunity for them to really engage with with, with more dollars to drive more of this early stage innovation, when you look at how pharma plays out, I mean, they have an incredibly fully baked system around how they're supporting these early stage entrepreneurs, getting the solutions that we all benefit from in the healthcare space. So that's what I would say. There's some great examples Then there's probably some opportunities still.

 
Laurie Bedord 

Well, a john deere did a startup collaboration program in 2018. Julian, and they were working with three companies. So, you know, talk about that experience and how you help to those companies understand agriculture.

 
Julian Sanchez 

Yeah, correct. So we just finished our first year official year of our startup collaborator, and we're going here into our second year. So we're learning. As Renee alluded to the, the key there was giving those companies those startups access and expertise. And it goes back to my earlier comments of understanding context richness. And and sort of asking all of those all of those questions that that that many of us at john deere and in the in the incumbent industries have have already answered for for several decades and just sort of posing it back to them and saying, you have you guys thought about these things as well. By the way, we're going to go connect you with you know, these growers. So that you can go ask them yourselves. So we saw, we got good feedback from the, the startups that were in that first cohort, that, you know, hopefully we accelerated their thinking about their solutions by quite a bit. For us benefit was, we got to be close to folks that are are, are trying to take a look at agricultural problems, let's say with with fresh thinking. And so it's sort of, you know, it allows us to disrupt ourselves and the way we're trying to solve these problems. This is a really important really important mindset that that I think the the incumbents in agriculture, have have opened their eyes to and and I think are being proactive now that that it's it's an industry where it's not just everyone's open for disruption, but the incumbents have also began to say, Hey, you know, let's disrupt ourselves and you're beginning to see that in Some spaces so successful program, we're going into the second year, and we're going to bring more more companies. We've opened it up globally, and and will continue to learn from that.

 
Laurie Bedord 

Well, I think we also need to help these ag tech startups, you know, as they're going through these accelerators in this incubator process, said, You said it best at a conference I was at last year that farmers are not technology averse. They are technology impatient. So how is that going to? Or how is it affecting the evolution of the ag tech ecosystem?

 
Sid Gorham 

Well, like like Julian said, The getting the startups connected with real farmers and real use cases early in their incubation is critical because you can get you can make all kinds of assumptions sitting in an office in San Francisco or London or wherever. And you really have to get out there and sort of test it with the reality of the industry that you're trying to serve. And, and like we've said a few times, make sure that it fits. In the workflow of the industry, I mean, you're, we're talking about something that's like construction or some other very, very specific workflow that you need to accommodate. I do think, you know, companies like corteva and john deere and Nature Conservancy can play a big role in terms of getting those companies started and getting them in contact with their own people and with growers. So I think you know, that those types of incubators are a great idea.

 
Laurie Bedord 

And how are the consumers driving what we're doing in the ag tech ecosystem? Because we've all heard they want us to be transparent, they want us to be sustainable. You know, how is that affecting what companies like a john deere or the Nature Conservancy or corteva do to ensure that we're moving the system along?

 
Julian Sanchez 

Yeah, I mean, I think if you look at I mean, consumers are demanding traceability, sustainability, right. And and that is propagating upstream to the whole food production chain. And and really again, putting the farmer at the center of the discussion. Yeah, I mean the every farmer you talk to wants to do more with less, right? They want to apply fewer chemicals they want to apply for your herbicides your nutrients and and still be able to, to generate enough food to feed the world. And so that, in turn, the farmers are putting pressure on the john Gears of the world on the seed companies say help us do that. Right. So how do we respond to that from from a john deere perspective, if you look at most of our investment right now is around precision agriculture. How do we develop technology that helps farmers essentially farm at a plant based level such that their their their Micro managing at scale, right? So they're looking at how do I make each plant be the best possible plant and generate the most amount of grain or whatever the plant is generating with the least amount of inputs. And whether it be through digital or you know, actuation of robots in the field. That's, I mean, it's been, it's very clear to us that that's where our investment needs to be. And it's very clear that that everything that a farmer does every decision, they make agronomically. They want that documented digitally, and they want to be able to use that data, their data to make better decisions. So what are we doing investing in all of that connectivity technology? So yeah, it starts at the consumer. But again, if we put the farmer at the center of the discussion, they they are stewards of their land and they are demanding those types of technologies.

 
Sid Gorham 

Yeah, I think one of the other big misconceptions about farmers is that when I tell my folks in San Francisco that farmers are environmentalists, people say, Oh really, I didn't think they cared about the environment, I thought they were just whatever, grinding up the land to make money. And that's couldn't be further from the truth or multi generational farms, they see the land, they see the wildlife, they see the plants that you know, they're, they're way more informed about it, then then the person I'm talking to in San Francisco. And so what I think is the missing ingredient and what Julian just described as linking the consumer and the producer and creating value mechanisms such that consumers can can reward the types of practices they think that we all think are valuable to the planet. And so that has happened with organic but it hasn't really happened at scale, with regenerative and all the other, you know, techniques we know that could help the planet and help the producer and help the consumer and so data and information Play a foundational role and in getting that convert that economic conversation going where the consumer can say, Yes, I would pay a nickel more for a crop that was grown that way. And we need to that needs to happen. And that's a big part of corteva. His mission is to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume. And we have granular seen sort of the data and software pipe between the demand and supply side of the industry as a sort of quarter what our mission is.

 
Laurie Bedord 

So we've really talked a lot about how the system is evolving. But I think we also need to talk about the obstacles that are still in the way, like connectivity, you know, all of this technology needs connectivity, to upload that data, download that data, you know, and all of the precision agriculture that comes with that. These systems also have to be compatible with one another. You know, that's also been an issue. So let's talk about that. And you know, what those apps do goals are to continually moving the needle forward.

 
Renee Vassilos 

So I'd say I think the one of the biggest obstacles, and we've touched on a little bit here, but it's also the opportunity. I mean, that's why I'm excited to be here here at CES is farming systems are incredibly complex. They're very, very complicated, especially again, as we're looking at how do we make them more diverse? And so how. So that, to me is kind of the biggest challenge. And the biggest opportunity is farming systems are incredibly complex and ripe for new innovation and solutions to help mitigate some of that complexity, which we already heard farmers are inundated every day with an incredible amount of decisions and risk that they're managing. So that's what I would say is probably the largest challenge.

 
Julian Sanchez 

There's a certainly I could I could list a whole bunch of techniques. areas that are going to be challenges. Certainly, coverage. Cell coverage is going to be one of them. Let me take a kind of a higher level perspective at trying to answer that question. And that's it. So, one of the big insights for me and working in agriculture is that when you're working with, with farmers, that's not just their profession, it's their life. And it's one of the few I think instances where it really is so tightly intertwined mean, most of us live our jobs. I get that. I mean, truly, they live their profession, and it's one in the same, right. And, and so it actually takes a unique individuals who say, I'm committing my life to this lifestyle to this profession. I don't think I certainly I certainly wouldn't hack it. You know, I know I Wouldn't. So when I talk about the challenges of agriculture, and again, as I talked to the tech to the tech community here, I would ask you to think about that important fact that it's very unique situation. And so what can we do in the tech community not just to make their profession better, but to also help improve in at least maintain a good lifestyle for them? Right, that ensures that then people want to stay in the rural areas and farm and continue to invest in in this very important area. You know, that's sort of this fundamental, fundamental aspect of it that we all should should not forget.

 
Sid Gorham 

Totally, which and I think if there are people in the audience who are thinking of starting businesses in this area, I would say it's we've talked a lot about the challenges but it is the most rewarding customer base I've worked with in my career by many miles, right. These are people Who as Julian said, who they're not just like, thank you for that software that helped me do my thing over there. And then I'm going to go home. This is this is this is everything. This is their their they themselves are fourth generation farmers who were handing this business off to their kids. And so that that level of commitment and dedication and really comes through in terms of the generosity in which they deal with strange people like me who show up at their doorstep trying to introduce them to software. So it's it's a super rewarding customer base to work with. So I would highly recommend it from that standpoint.

 
Laurie Bedord 

So we have about 15 minutes left, and I want to open it up for questions from anyone from the audience. There are microphones, or I'm sure we can probably hear but I think they would prefer since we're live streaming, if you would step up to a microphone, that would be wonderful. So there's one on each side here.

 
Speaker 

How can someone that is like external to the industry, get involved and learn the latest like ag technologies to start approaching the agricultural sector by knowing the best practices and technologies that exists right now?

 
Julian Sanchez 

Let me go back to context, right. So, if you if you have a desire to get involved in agriculture as maybe start by deciding Alright, maybe what's best for me geographically, so you know what, what type of farming happens happens closest to me, right? And then and then try to get involved from that perspective. Take a slice at that way first, you know, that way, whatever is closest to you, you can begin to think about relationships, right? relationships with not just the farmer but relationships with whoever whoever sells them. See the Whoever sells them equipment, whoever sells them services, agronomic services, because you truly have to begin to understand and form some relationships with all of the players in the ecosystem in order to begin to understand it. So start geographically would be my would be my my advice and say, Hey, what's close to me what kind of farming happens close to me and how do I get close to it?

 
Speaker 

But there is there is not like a source of information. Like for example, in software, there are lots of training schools, training places that give you Hey, this is the best practice with what's best people like the best farmers are doing right now. There is no like such a place of centralized information where people can learn.

 
Renee Vassilos 

In in the US we have a really robust land grant university system. So oftentimes the universities are a great resource. They usually have extension offices that do a lot of external work with farmers and Then, I guess if you're really interested in on the tech side, I always use ag funder. This is a plug with any any return. But it's a great news source. And they really cover a lot of what's latest and greatest coming coming down the pike from a tech perspective.

 
Sid Gorham 

And there are a number of conferences that are agriculture specific. So that might be another suggestion to go to a conference. That's three days of just this.

 
Laurie Bedord 

Right. We had some questions over here.

 
Speaker 

Thanks. So I really appreciate all of the discussion about the culture of the farming community and the efficiencies that need to exist in that in that sector. In order for them to succeed in providing all of us with our food sources and and to to provide a living for themselves as well. I was really interested Renee in your you implied a plan or an objective towards bio diversity last year in the United States, for those of Internationally, our government spent $22 billion subsidizing our farmers, and a majority of that $22 billion went towards corn, wheat and soy, not for human consumption. Are you within your companies or with any of the other organizations working with our government to apply some of that $22 billion towards research that will enable farmers to build crops, their bio diverse and for human consumption.

 
Renee Vassilos 

So actually, the last farm bill that was passed last year, had some great new legislation around shifting focus towards soil health. And what will inevitably come out of that research is that more diverse production is absolutely critical for long term sustainable soil health, which is what we need for to kind of move the needle and draw down carbon, frankly, I mean, it's an incredibly important piece to that puzzle. So I think we're moving in the right direction. You're also starting to see it. And this is where I get excited about technology and some disruptors that are coming in, you're starting to see some interesting new insurance companies that are coming in and saying, we're willing to work with farmers and be more creative with insurance and maybe shifting away from the subsidized insurance that really supports kind of a focus on corn and soybeans. So there are a few interesting things happening, including just a lot of great science around how critical soil health is. And then what are the what are the things we have to do to foster and support soil health. So I think good things are coming.

 
Sid Gorham 

Yeah, I think the farmers the farmers grow what we want to eat. So we need we need the demand side to shift. And so I've two teenagers in Marin County who are vegetarians and will never so I do think there is a shift in In the eating habits of the world, right. And as that happens, what we need to do is help the supply side move with the least amount of friction and the most confidence to to these new new crops or new rotations or new practices. And so information and analytics are key to that. Because if you're sitting as a corn and soy farmer in a very traditional setup, and you say, Oh, well there, there's the market might reward me for growing that we need to make that leap as, as, you know, confidently as possible. And so that's where data can really help.

 
Speaker 

So as a internet service provider and a wireless service provider in rural America, and knowing that the promise of 5g is struggling to materialize in an urban setting, technologically it may never happen. I know a lot of people will shoot me for that in a herb in a rural setting. What is it? That is He's in the rural world need to do to help out the farmers because there are huge customers in our areas with huge combines and huge fields out there that can get the data they need, because the infrastructure isn't there.

 
Julian Sanchez 

I mean, I, if we go into the 5g discussion, I mean, 5g has many flavors. Right. And, and, and so I know the discussion around 5g is always around, you know, bandwidth and latency. But, I mean, I'll say that we need to continue to have a serious discussion around coverage. Right. And actually, john deere is part of a task force. FCC Task Force right now, on on on 5g. We're going to continue to beat that drum. coverage is a is a essential element to continue to evolve. All of the older technologies and all the sustainability efforts that, that that we, you know, we've alluded to here. And so it's, it's it's as simple as that. I mean, let's, let's not give up on it is my my answer.

 
Laurie Bedord 

All right, any other questions?

 
Speaker 

It's a question Anna. Not really a comment, but I come from a multi generational family farm. And the kids we're in stone fruits and table grapes. And the kids are all interested in taking over the farm, as well as most of the family's farms that I know. But they're very interested in regenerative farming, which is going to drastically change some of the practices. And everything that I've read or heard is that regenerative farming actually is a huge will have a huge impact in correcting our climate challenges. And I was just curious about, especially john deere in particular, but the the, the pressure from you know, we're retiring and they're taking over, I would imagine you have some generational pressure, young people. But what statistics do you have on the potential improvement that we can make? And I realize it could be hard to measure because it's a multi faceted problem, including the oceans. But if farming and soil rejuvenation is, is a huge carbon second process what are you guys doing to address that or or what? Or what are your plans?

 
Julian Sanchez 

A couple of couple of multifaceted answer there, right. So again, first the farmers and that new generation of farmers that want to farm system sustainably that have chosen to stay on the farm and take over the family business. They now realize that this has to be their business and lifestyle for the next 40 years. Right. And so, they they are demanding every possible technology that allows them to do that and and in treat their their land is as well as possible. second aspect of this, which I think it's to your question. I think part of this discussion around regenerative farming is going to really highly leverage the digital and the traceability component. And, and, I mean, john deere corteva have already a digital relationship, as well as many of the other key players in agriculture where we really I would say over the last three years have turned an important page where, you know, the farmers data, the data from the farm can move around all of these different digital platforms and equal systems that each provide a service. Right? And and so I would say that that's one of the key catapults right now where we're set up to do something like that to have a major pivot point. Because now we're not a, you know, everybody's not just trying to hoard it's a, it's an open, open game. And once that happens, if we can crack the code with data and demonstrate not just to the farmer, that this is also financially viable for them, and that it's financially viable for the consumer and for everybody else, then then we're again, we're close to that pivot point it My answer would have been somber maybe five years ago, to your question because we we weren't there as an industry with with the data interplaying.

 
Sid Gorham 

Yeah, and that I see your dynamic all over our customer base where the incoming you know, the new generation, the new leaders of the business, want to do it a different way. The incumbent generation doesn't They're not opposed to it, but they need to be convinced that it's economically viable for the farm and, and just logistically possible. And so, you know, that can all be solved with good information and and, you know, thinking it through with numbers because without that, it's all it's like religion, right?

 
Julian Sanchez 

We have a two two family farmers that are part of our booth here at CES, the Jax family they farm in Mississippi and I heard them talk to some folks yesterday. And it's an interesting comment. You know, they both said, I mean, they're there, I think in their 40s maybe they're younger, so I apologize if I've already aged them. But, you know, they made the comment that they are making investments in their farm, around soil management around water management, that he knows for a fact may not actually, the ROI may not be within his lifetime, but he knows the ROI will actually Cashin in his his children's lifetime I think their children are for into. And and so there are a number of farmers that are just taking that real long term view that, again, our role in the industry is to say, hey, let's, let's play well together, and let's enable them to make those intelligent decisions.

 
Renee Vassilos 

And then I just share. So two of the companies that were in this last TechStars cohort of TNCs, we're looking at how do we bring payments to farmers for biodiversity and carbon sequestration? So it's not still being worked out. But there are some very exciting things coming coming that way. So Australia, for example, they're already doing it. So the carbon sequestration pays piece, so paying farmers for carbon sequestration. So as the data works out some of the other things, there's also you know, other things happening. With new companies that are looking at the space and what the opportunities are to ensure that there's a financial return for those very important environmental decisions.

 
Laurie Bedord 

So we have about three minutes left. So I want each one of you to in one minute or less, maybe less if I talk longer. I want each one of you to share what you want the non traditional ag companies or entrepreneurs to consider before they enter the ag tech space. What's your final thoughts? Renee, let's start with you.

 
Renee Vassilos 

I think I would repeat what I said before the system today isn't necessarily broken, but there's incredible opportunity to make it so much better. And so that's the call is, you know, if you are interested in this space to think about how you can apply the technologies that you know, to make the agricultural space even better.

 
Julian Sanchez 

hop aboard, right. So the space is fun and it matters You get to make a difference. I spent time in aviation and medical devices, both amazing spaces. And I find agriculture so rewarding. Working with farmers working with, with with food production is so rewarding. And then from a tech perspective, you get to be a pioneer. And so everyone there's plenty of room on the boat. Everybody hop aboard and and let's make it let's make it better.

 
Sid Gorham 

Totally agree with all that come on in the water's great. We've talked a lot about some of the challenges and the friction and the hard part but super rewarding, really important customer base really important for our planet. Now it's right time.

 
Laurie Bedord 

All right, well, please join me in thanking our panelists. That wraps it up for our session.

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