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The digital ag unicorn myth

An ever-increasing population demands more and more food, with no additional farm land to grow it on. Climate change patterns bring into question everything growers have ever known about their land. There is a rise in consumer demand for sustainable agriculture with safer, higher quality foods and a legacy they can leave their children.

Everything seems to fit. The stars all seems to be in alignment to produce the one company that will dominate the digital Ag sector. To paraphrase Aristotle, technology doesn’t permit a vacuum. Generally, when there’s a need for something, here’s a loud whooshing noise as some company quickly fills the need with products and solutions leaving little space for anyone else.

Think of Amazon, Uber, Google ….

So…Where is the Uber of Ag, the Google of Ag, The Amazon of Ag?

Where is the Ag unicorn? Nowhere to be seen.

The one key issue that prevents the appearance of this mythical agricultural beast is that there is not really a vacuum but more like a digital ag sponge with lots of little holes side by side. And the holes are all different, each with a different need and different solution.

In reality, the problem is one of homogeneity.

Or rather the lack of it. Retailers like Walmart, Home Depot, Target and McDonald’s have nailed this. From Dammam, Saudi Arabia to Dallas, Texas a Big Mac is a Big Mac. And you can find the same gallon of Glidden diamond paint in any Home Depot.

And of course, the online folks have nailed it. Amazon should be an anagram of homogeneity. Everything the same. That’s what’s needed. Without it, it’s too tough to scale.

Agriculture is the polar opposite of homogeneity. There are thousands of different seed hybrids and traits for every imaginable crop and condition. Every field is different. Every farmer is different, and every piece of farm equipment speaks a different data language.

Like a huge tower of Babel, all these tractors, sprayers and combines chatter on and on in a cacophony of different languages. Sure, some companies offer some limited translation programs, but it’s like going on vacation in a foreign country with a phrase book.

Sure, you can ask someone in Paris “where is the station”, in passable French. The problem is you don’t understand the answer. Most phrase books don’t give answers…so, at the end of the day, you’ve still probably missed the train.

As you can see from the CB Insights infographic there are a lot of single point solutions guys in the digital Ag space. But lots of them are destined to miss that train.

They are filling in the little holes in the ag tech sponge with clever technology, but with little chance of filling the entire space, or even knowing that a little further along the sponge there is another clever company doing the same thing.

Unless some smart company comes along with an idea of how to unite the many different traits that make up the digital ag space it may be that the myth of the agricultural unicorn will remain just that.

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