Why the Farm Industry Has Crawled Toward the Tech Revolution

September 25, 2018, 9:18 PM UTC

Try to think of how the typical farmer worked 20 years ago versus today: Your image likely didn’t change drastically.

That static impression of farming life may have at least a drop of truth in it: The agriculture industry has been slow to jump aboard the tech train. The largest firms in the space generally spend less than those in other industries do on research and development, said Mark Young, CTO of the Climate Corporation, at the Fortune Brainstorm Reinvent conference in Chicago Tuesday.

“There need to be more players in [agriculture] to challenge the status quo. It’s not natural for someone with a huge market share lead who sees no competition on their tails to go and invest in something that is going to completely transform their business,” said Young, whose organization helps compile and examine farming data. He added that the industry is largely dominated by just a few players.

What also makes it hard to move fast in the industry: It’s a waiting game. Farmers who do try out a new technology can sometimes wait eight months to see the investment’s impact, according to Young.

“The seasonality of it makes it hard. Typical technology we can unveil at the pace at which we can create it … but in agriculture, we can introduce the product at the beginning of the year, where it can take eight months for it to work and for consumers to recognize the value,” Young said.

That said, the industry hasn’t been stuck at a standstill all these years—even if it has been slow with widespread adoption and change. Soil sensors, for example, could lower water use, while the expansion of vertical farms could also help farmers cut down on transportation troubles between rural and urban areas.

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