AGx Conference: Collision of Agriculture and Data

The AGx Conference was a sponsored ApRecs event held in conjunction with the Washington State Horticultural Association Annual Meeting. Below is a transcription of Drew Zabrocki presentation on the impending “data collision” of the consumer and producer and shed light into how the industry must take a leadership role in this inevitable evolution. Drew Zabrocki

Drew Zabrocki has a history of creating and developing technology companies with a focus on communications, security, health and safety.  Drew is the Director of Centricity (applications and integration) and acting business manager for two of their software verticals: ApRecs (Food Safety Made Simple) and Tellicare (mHealth applications).

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Note: This is a transcription of a presentation. It has not gone through a professional editing process and may contain grammatical errors or incorrect formatting.

Drew Zabrocki:  We’re going to take a few steps back in a broader perspective. We’re in a digital world. Technology is everywhere; it’s in our home, it’s in our office, it’s in our fields. Technology is launching to the sky, and Drones and they’re even embedding microchips in our trees. Growers are connected, and data engulfs the farm. Satellite connected equipment, data loggers, mobile devices are common places in agriculture and becoming more so in specialty crop. Every day, customers leverage field and safety data to chink the armors of their competition and to scale up into markets. Field data is an asset at the sales desk and at the boardroom, and that’s exciting, but are you positioned for the greatest opportunity yet? We talked a lot about technology, but there’s a human opportunity, and it has very little to do with technology.

Technology is no longer an issue to be addressed. It just exists in our physical world. Technology is as native as lifting your hand to work or moving your eyes across a piece of virtual paper. Fluency of data and the devices that connect us are just part of our evolved DNA. We have evolved. And I say we because we’re all connected. We’re all connected to our children and the future generations. Generation Y is the largest population that this world has ever seen, and they’re entering the workforce. They’re competitive, value-driven, and socially conscious. They don’t see color, race, or gender. They don’t see limits on technology. This is how they were raised, and people see this generation, oh they’re lost in their phones, they’re disconnected, they’re isolating themselves. Look again; they are, connected, they’re integrated, they are social in ways that we don’t understand. They are using technology as an extension of their personality to connect and engage with one another. Their fluency of data, like how good they are with technology isn’t even considered a skill to them. It’s a natural extension of their environment. It’s how they connect with their peer, their influencers, to who which matters in their lives. Technology is a part of their DNA.

These are our consumers. They will set the social benchmarks. They will vote laws. They will vote regulation. They will speak of their growing pocketbooks, and they will compete for and win the next management jobs. Having grown up in a world of data and information, these amazing consumers meet their parent’s generation at the same supermarket, but they don’t have any concepts of the limits on data and information. This uber-connected social and eco-conscious consumer, she wants to know her farmer and she perceives no technical limits to doing so.

Let’s consider privacy and security for a moment – intellectual property. Privacy has a much different meaning in today’s world. A majority of generation Y believes that the security of information on their devices is not their responsibility, that data and IT policies of their employers are outdated and irrelevant if they even exist at all. Now you and I can look at field data and record horticultural best practices, and knowledge, and intellectual property that we have in our business. We use this to differentiate our product, to take advantage of the sales desk, to leverage strategies and opportunities at the leadership table until it’s taken away, until it’s no longer a differentiator because the boundaries of privacy and security have been eroded.

It’s just that some generations don’t see boundaries the same way, and I don’t think that privacy will be breached with ill intent, but when you look at regulation and you look at oversight in the name of safety or sustainability, if there is a lack of understanding of the value of this intellectual property that the data has on agriculture, on our businesses, then that misunderstanding could erase the boundaries that protect and give us the strategic opportunity.

Well, fortunately, Gen Y is not just our consumer; they are our producers. They are your employees. They’re your next manager. They’re your next leadership team. They’re ambitious, they’re competitive, they’re connected, and they’re hardworking. They want to be impressed by their employers. They want to make a meaningful contribution.  When you hire that upcoming young woman and you put her in a desk with a pen, and a paper, and a stapler and a desk phone, how do you think she feels about her ability to contribute in a meaningful way? How will the next generation connect inside your business? Where will they make their mark? Will it be from the inside as an advocate, as a team member, or are they going to make their mark on your business from the outside, at the voting booth with regulation?

Many people are considering succession, planning, future business generations; I propose that the same holds true today as it has for years. People just want to be awesome at what they do. They want to wake up every day, and they want to feel that they’re making a meaningful contribution. As a business and as industry leaders, it’s our responsibility to provide an environment that facilitates that for the upcoming generation. I’ve tried the pleasure of hearing a brilliant speaker just last month, Ken Kirschenbaum spoke of recently, and if you haven’t heard, he’s an amazing demographer and he studies the world’s population and trends and he’s able to forecast trends with amazing accuracy. He tells the story of operational shifts and technology and perspective much better than I on the generation, but then he turns to the room of business leaders and executives and he says, “Now, when you go home, go find the very best IT manager that you can find. Hire them and pay them more than what they’re worth so you can keep them and when they come to me you with their laundry list of servers and software and all of this money, write a check. Get it done.” He talks about the importance of having the infrastructure in place to be able to support this next generation, to give them the environment to make a meaningful contribution to something that they’re accustomed to, something that they believe is a natural extension of their life.

I paraphrased this statement a bit, so when Gen Y arrives at your business, they need to be ready to deliver a solution. Give them a door to beat down and when they arrive, challenge them. Don’t just give them data. Give them the opportunity to solve the problem and the tools to do it. Allow them to be connected with your business, to walk the trees, to explore the dirt below their feet, iPad in hand and data analysis in process. Allow them to be connected with the value, and the history, the heritage which embodies that American farmer. Allow them to feel connected to the value that your data, your information has on your business – that it’s significant to our industry and significant to your company and that it’s significant to them, that it’s important, and we must protect it. Empower her to be an advocate for limits and clear boundaries at sharing information. Have her be your champion for privacy and security because right now, retailers are already at work involving new generations within their management team. Now is the time to connect with them and have a discussion before policies evolve beyond that point.

Consumers who are now your producers, who are also voters and will become regulators, lawmakers, they see no boundaries. They solve challenges through connectedness, through awareness. Technology has no limits in their world. They’re ready to make a meaningful contribution in life. Where do you want that to be; in your business or at the voting booth? The greatest opportunity is not software. It’s not collecting and processing field data. The opportunity goes far beyond digital solutions and cool scouting Apps. Every business needs to have those things. Every business needs to have an awareness platform to process data; we know that. But once that’s in place, the greatest opportunity, the greatest value will be derived from your people and their ability to use those systems to make a meaningful contribution. It’s not going to be technology.

I challenge each of you to look at technology through a new set of glasses, to view it as an extension of your culture, to see it without boundaries for what it can be, to explore that, to extend the conversation, but remember to protect it with vigilance and to maintain that privacy and security that’s so important to it today. Thank you.

AGx was not a one-time event. Find out more about the continued series at