Precision farming technology is ripe for startups
With technological advancements rapidly arriving in agriculture, ranching is a ripe industry for tech startups.
That’s the word of a roundtable discussion at the recent OnRamp agricultural conference, presented in part by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development; The Combine, a statewide initiative supporting high-growth entrepreneurs in the food and agriculture sectors; and gener8tor, a startup accelerator and turnkey platform to connect founders, investors and businesses.
Dane Kuper, co-founder of Performance Livestock Analytics, told conference attendees that there has never been a more exciting time for startups than now. His company, which is part of Zoetis and offers easy-to-use livestock management software, is only 5 years old, so Kuper knows the challenges and opportunities for start-ups in the livestock industry.
“It’s a super exciting time for anyone who comes into this space,” Kuper said. “We are seeing the evolution of sustainability, carbon footprint and more of the food chain participating in livestock technology, looking at how they can reduce the footprint and be more efficient. “
When it comes to industry startups, no authorization is required. “For us, it was about going to the farm, meeting people and getting started,” Kuper explained. “Put the product in the hands of the cattle ranchers, and if they like it, they’ll tell other farmers about it. “
If the farmer doesn’t have a good user experience and the product isn’t easy to use, it won’t take off. “User experience is everything,” he added.
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HerdDogg, an animal biometrics and traceability platform, was also founded by Melissa Brandao about five years ago. “We’re still a startup,” she said. “The good thing about the way the industry is changing and growing today is that startups are more welcome than they were before. I think there’s a lot more to come in this space, and new startups will be able to focus more narrowly on solving very specific problems, which makes their value even greater.
When you start a business for the first time, “it’s hard not to want to do everything,” said Brandao. “But you have to stay focused and be narrow, and the industry will support it more and more.”
This sentiment was echoed by Paul Koffman, Global Marketing Director at Merck Animal Health. “We have the opportunity to speak with dozens and dozens of startups every year,” he said. “They have to work on refining what is needed and what challenges they want to overcome. Many technologies may be able to deliver more value ”at different levels of production, he noted.
“The producer can buy the technology at the feedlot or cow-calf level, but the product can also provide more value at the processor level,” he said.
Startups must also look to the future, Koffman said. “They need to start thinking about how to scale up” in production and what the user experience will be like.
Technology has evolved so quickly that one wonders what the next decade might look like. “Technology will be the norm,” Koffman said. “Today we are still in the early adoption phase. Dairy is leading the way, but it will be the norm in five to ten years.
Drivers of new technology in the livestock industry include demand for labor and consumers requiring more information from producers, and more of a story behind their food, Koffman explained.
Kuper noted that the farmer and rancher have acquired technology to create more efficiency and be more profitable. But today, the epicenter of this technological boom is the food chain. “What is sustainability in the livestock industry? What is the carbon footprint? are questions asked by consumers, Kuper said. Answering these questions with data and being able to validate the points behind the data can increase the value of products that are grown on farms.
Brandao believes that the technology and the collection of data on individual animals help automate breeding processes. “We are starting to see real information about the herds” and how things are affecting stress and behavior in livestock, she said.
“As we automate more and more, we don’t interact with animals as often,” she explained. “It reduces stress for the animals. I’m optimistic about automation, like robotic milking in dairy products, as it’s a less intrusive medium and actually improves the overall quality of animal welfare.