Collision of Agriculture and Data Discussion at AGx

The AGx Conference was a sponsored ApRecs event held in conjunction with the Washington State Horticultural Association Annual Meeting. Below is a transcription of the Session Three Discussion Group that centered on the Collison of Data and Agriculture.

Discussion Panel consisted of the following:

  • Brit Dudek of ApRecs moderates a Q&A after the following lightning talks.
  • Drew Zabrocki of ApRecs will present 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.
  • Joe Dager of ApRecs presents on how the Grower can be empowered by information, data, and has the power to make food safety a friendlier place. We are held back by the thinking that Good is Good Enough.
  • Dr. Clark Seavert, Professor at OSU, will bring additional perspective to the discussion regarding return on investment and value of analytics in agriculture.

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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.

Britt Dudek:   Thank you very much Drew and coming from a person that is technically the last year of the baby boom generation, I’ll tell you, this is a learning curve, but we’re all in it together, and it’s an interesting ride I’ll tell you. I have two daughters at home, and they are both Generation Y and they were weaned on this stuff. Some very great words to consider as we move forward with our businesses and those are our consumers of the future and again, they will view things that we think are technological challenges as just something they just do every day of the week. Well, let’s go ahead and move on. Let’s see here,  we’ve got — okay, we’re going to go ahead and recap and try to pull this all in perspective here and see if there’re any other questions. So, what is the greatest opportunity for data because that’s a big, huge question, but it’s the world that we live in. Anybody on the panel have any perspective on that as far as what is our greatest opportunity?

Drew Zabrocki:   I think there are a lot of opportunities. I was talking with Clark just before this session about the information that’s on the farm and what people can do with the information, being able to analyze it in your farm and make better decisions. I think there is a lot of really creative things happening in agriculture today.

Clark Seavert:  Yes, I would agree. If you take a look at where we’re at today with information, as opposed to where we could be and should be in about five years, it’s going to be a tremendous fundamental shift. And why? I work with growers on a one to one basis and industry leaders on a different level and so, I’m helping growers make decisions as to technology and other aspects of whether it’s successful planning or whatever it is. The more information you have, the better that that decision can be. In particular, where I help out in the tree fruit industry a lot if pack out information, size, grade – not necessarily yield, but it’s with that kind of information that you can then start doing partial analysis or partial format and analysis to take a look at profitability and having that information and site specific as you can, I think that’s where you win.

I just did a survey of people that downloaded a software program I have, and I wanted to know what accountings systems they use and how they use it. The majority of them don’t use any. They don’t use accounting systems, and when they do, it’s Quickbooks and it’s P&L, profit and loss statements and that’s it. If they wanted to do anything with the analysis of their blocks, they’d use Excel. Excel ain’t going to work in the future and so it’s how do you take information from the field on your desk and in your iPad or iPhone and how do you then make decisions, and I think that’s going to be quite exciting in the next five years.

Drew Zabrocki:  Yes, we talked a lot about process and efficiency and using the information to make good decisions. As a fruit arrives at the processor and what markets its compatible for and regulation requirements and sales opportunities, but what I was excited about with Ag-tools, the software you mentioned, is the ability to take all that information next year and then go back and look at it. So it’s that analysis we heard about during the Lean session which is, okay, now we have all of this information about not just good horticultural practices and what we’ve been able to achieve in terms of results, but then now let’s run scenarios with it. And you were talking about scenario opportunities as well which I thought was pretty interesting.

Clark Seavert:  Right and so I can take these scenario opportunities. Once you have your baseline information, then you can go out and start projecting in 5, 10, 15 years about different aspects of your production system. I do a lot of this pack out stuff and if I you have the technology that can increase fruit size by 10%, what does that mean? Even Excel spreadsheets are going to be difficult to get you to that point. But if you can shift grade by 10%, what does that mean? And then you start looking at these different inputs and outputs and I can show you time and time again anywhere from a hundred — just today, I just gave a couple of talks and showing them those kind of differences. Anywhere from 150 to $7500 an acre, depending on variety, depending on pack out and depending on yield.

Drew Zabrocki:  That’s pretty significant.

Clark Seavert:  It is significant, and that’s where the money is going to be made. You’re in a very high input/output industry than any other agricultural sector, and then throw on that you market your product by size and grade. It’s not bushels of wheat; it’s not bushels of corn – it is size and grade. Certain sizes have premiums; certain grades have premiums. And so your objective is how do you get the best — what we call target fruit, that fruit that’s returned to you over and above fix and variable cost, how do you get that fruit to be all target fruit?  You don’t do it without some kind of database to start from.

Drew Zabrocki:  Data analysis, what a great project to put the next generation on, right? It’s an opportunity to evaluate that data. We’ve got discussions in our business just about this information that we have and where we can take it and what opportunities there are with it.

Joe Dager:  I think one of the most powerful things about data is hiddien in the discovery of just to start using it. I think the opportunities, you’re going to figure them out. It’s the boots on the ground. You’re going to come up with ideas. The best ideas would come in as you sit there and think about the data you’d just used. You might be riding the tractor or whatever, but you’re going to generate the use of the data and find ways that nobody else is going to think of. So without using it and starting, you hold yourself back.

Britt Dudek:  Most definitely. Another question that the we’ve kind of jotted down here, how can data be used across generations? Because now that we’re on the farm, you talk about all these different demographics from baby boomers to Gen Y – how do we talk that common language?

Drew Zabrocki:  That’s a good question. I think having common language is a good place to start. I was able to visit with a lot of students over the last summer and, in fact, we hired some really bright students to come work for our company and they’ve got this great technology at school and then they’re coming to work and they’re looking at how do I incorporate that into my business, into your business, into my career now? How do I make a meaningful contribution? And so I think maybe having a common language is a good place to start – similar technology.

Clark Seavert:  I’m just thinking about the baby boomers – my generation and we’re not used to it. So maybe it’s the X and Y sitting down with the baby boomer who still has the cheque book by the way in running their business and then trying to glean as much as I can from that individual and then how do they take information from both directions and then how do you manipulate it to build your algorithms to make good decisions.

Drew Zabrocki:  And is that part of a process or discussion that you could apply Lean practices to, to bring those two together and to have that discussion?

Joe Dager:  Oh, certainly. I think Lean develops that collaborative thinking. But the best thing that Lean does is it puts people in the proper position they. They understand, we talk about standard work, but it’s also is that they understand what their function or role is and how I go about my best practice. If they recognize what someone else’s best practice is and leave them develop it, they will learn from it. Someone else’s best practice may be using technology that you’re not accustomed to. They’re going to bring things forward to you that you really haven’t considered before and vice versa. I mean it’s a part of having an open mind and closing that communication gap.

Britt Dudek:  One thing I find very refreshing, coming to these Hort shows year after year is to work and talk with many of the vendors out there because it absolutely surprises me, some of the new technology that’s always coming online, stuff that we hadn’t even thought of or envisioned or what have you now that we have our ApRecs scout glasses version 1.0. 2.0 will actually be a little bit more high-tech and will actually download into the database, but that’s the thing that truly amazes me is the progress of technology and how data will come in through all these other avenues; whether we’re getting like leaf analysis or these high-tech things that will tell us as we move on down the road.

One of the other things that I hope that you get, or this is another takeaway message from what we’re trying to describe here is data isn’t just one directional. It isn’t just us farmers collecting it and then making our decisions on it, or passing it up the food chain for traceability. It’s also coming back. I mean I want to have a relationship with my consumer on a very personal level some time in the near future. I want them to know they’re eating my apple when they buy it off the store shelf. I want them to know who I am. I would love to be able to get direct feedback from that consumer back to me. Did they enjoy the experience of eating my product? If not, what was wrong with it and I will try to adapt and change it in the future. That’s the power of data, and that’s also how these future generations are going to expect because they live immersed in this whole field of data where they swim through it.

Drew Zabrocki:  You described it as a lake, right?

Britt Dudek:  Yes, it’s a data lake out there, and we’re all paddling around it and the objective is to kind of understand what all the parts and pieces in here. And I’m very excited to do further work with Dr. Seavert especially on being able to take this information that I get in printed form from my packing houses called my pack outs, and it will be great if we standardize that, download, stuff it in there, go ahead and start doing scenarios, figuring out what we’re going to do for next year.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out, okay is this block going to get top work or it can get pushed out because what are my projective returns that I have to take a look at and all the sizing data where the market is right now. I mean it’s absolutely mind-numbing when you try to do it in your head, but we have tools out there that are being developed that will make this analysis possible and then kind of dumb it down for us baby boomers, etcetera, etcetera.

Drew Zabrocki:  I think you made an excellent point Britt is that we have the data to make the analysis, there’s a lot of analysis to be had, it certainly does impact the pocket book and the profitability of the business, but the part that I really resonated with is that it’s not a linear flow of information. It’s not just sending information upstream, and I think that was a major pivot point in our company when we looked at what is an awareness platform? How can we exchange information between stakeholders? We have not just growers generating information, but we have academics, and we have sore programs, we have advisors writing detailed recommendations that are site specific to those growers, and then growers that are adapting those from multiple locations and weather environments, and all of that communication happens in a very natural state.

The information needs to also flow in that natural state; not to mention when you layer on the packers, and the shippers, and the market, and the sales desk, and the regulations, and all of that  that comes into the conversation. It’s not a linear process anymore. It very much is a conversation, and a platform that supports that conversation is really the next step to take in any business.

Britt Dudek:  Right and again, when you think about the multiplication of this data complexity because that describes essentially a farm. But then think of every one of the packers out there that work with several hundred of these farms and it’s all that multiplied, stacked on top of each other and it’s real time, and it’s now they got to have it. There’s perishable sitting on the dock, ready to go shipped out the door and is it going to be compliant with whatever market is going on, and all these different things are flowing around. Like you said, it’s absolutely dizzying the amount of data and how quickly it has to move through  the system nowadays, and it has to move through accurately, consistently, and we just have to make sure that it happens, otherwise, we lose out on a potential market or profitability, and everything we used to project our future returns based on all these other wonderful things, if it gets rejected and comes back, it just isn’t worth anything and that could all just be a failure of the data streaming and not of what we did out on the farm.

So anyway, we’re getting really close to our time where they’re going to have to kick us out here, but are there any other questions or just general overall comments on what you’ve all kind of gleaned from these last three sessions, because we’ve kind of hit you with a lot of different concepts, hopefully, kind of broadened that view of what data is, what it can be used for and kind of where we think it might be going in the future. I would love to have some perspective on that if you’ve got some.

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