From a leadership position in protein production (#1 in the U.S. in duck, #3 in eggs, #4 in turkeys and #5 in pork) to global strength in crops (#2 in the U.S. in popcorn, #3 in tomatoes and spearmint, #4 in soybeans and peppermint and #5 in corn and watermelon), Indiana is a juggernaut in agriculture. For generations, entrepreneurial spirit, hard work and stewardship of the land coupled with innovation from seeds to machines have enabled farmers to increase production to meet the needs of the global food supply chain. It’s an increasingly challenging operating proposition to produce more in a hyper-competitive global market with increasing demand. However, a new ally is emerging that holds tremendous opportunity to create sustainable competitive advantage: Indiana’s tech community.
Early on Oct. 1, global tech giant SAP announced its intent to acquire marketing tech company Emarsys – an Austrian company with its American headquarters in Indianapolis. With the announcement, SAP joined a growing list of tech giants who have completed acquisitions in Indiana, including Salesforce, Oracle, IBM, Genesys, Teradata, Blackboard, Experian and more. In total, tech transactions have surged to well over $7 billion in Indiana over the past decade, creating a powerful tech economy and a cadre of experienced technologists, strategists and leaders who have proven their mettle creating market leading, industry-changing companies. And, many of those who fueled the success of these now-acquired companies have roots in rural America – some even in agriculture.
Although the application of Indiana’s enterprise Software-as-a-Service tech talent to creating competitive advantage in agriculture may not be immediately clear, it is undeniable upon a closer look. When evaluating what differentiated these companies from their competition, themes emerge. Each of the acquired companies brilliantly made data integrations possible, enabling customers to bring data from multiple systems into their single platform to create a more complete understanding of the information. Each company demonstrated prowess in visualization of the aggregated data, and many applied analytics to enable customers to analyze and act on the information. This proven value-creating combination of data integration, visualization, analytics and action fueled their success and ultimate acquisitions. Those same strengths are needed across the fragmented ecosystem powering production agricultural and the broader agbioscience economy.
When asked in August to define the top tech challenges effecting on-farm operations, Indiana farmers unanimously identified data among their top challenges. Stories of troves of data from tractors, accounting systems, trucking logs and operations creating time-consuming seas of information topped the list. Nearly all had replaced the technology solutions purchased to bring together these data with manual processes attached to Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel worksheets due to inconsistent automation of data aggregation. Farmers identified the need to make theses integrations more reliable to generate higher quality data sets that can be trusted to shape decision making. They defined the need for triggering alerts when thresholds were surpassed and the need to visualize the amassed data. The needs farmers identified were strikingly similar to the strengths Indiana’s tech companies have demonstrated.
More than 50 people across 17 teams are now working on creating solutions that address these challenges as part of the state’s first Producer-Led Innovation Challenge. Created by AgriNovus Indiana and sponsored by the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance, the Challenge is a manifestation of the desire to bring together Indiana’s tech-savvy strength that has attracted the largest names in tech on the planet with Indiana’s progressive farmers – focused entirely on solving real problems for real farmers with real innovation. Look for an unveiling of the top solution in December at the Indiana Farm Bureau Convention.
Creating collisions like these that bring together tech and agriculture are a positive step toward igniting Indiana’s tech community to spark innovation in the food supply chain and the agbioscience economy. Together, we in Indiana must build on our momentum, capitalize on our strengths and set the pace for others around the globe to shape the next chapter of data-driven, tech-enabled agbioscience growth.
Mitch Frazier is CEO of AgriNovus Indiana, a non-profit focused on growing Indiana’s agbioscience economy. He’s the former CEO of regional John Deere dealer group Reynolds Farm Equipment and former tech executive with Salesforce and ExactTarget.