Feed producers: Can the feed industry keep up with Apple?

Aidan Connolly President of AgriTech Capital LLC
Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

Feed mills are a complex environment and need their technology to be fit for purpose. But unfortunately, it has fallen short and compared to Apple not kept pace with the experiences producers have come to expect with IoTs.

Consumers (including those whose day job means working in the feed industry) have become accustomed to the convenience and user-friendly experience offered by Apple iPhones, apps, and other products. It’s easy to forget that Apple’s approach is nothing short of revolutionary. With simplified hardware, streamlined icons, and intuitive navigation, Apple has forever transformed consumer expectations. Today, Apple continues to set the standard for user-centric technology, addressing consumer concerns about design, sustainability, and more.

However, for feed producers, technology has been less satisfactory. Compared to Apple, feed industry technology has not kept pace with the experiences that producers have come to expect. I would argue that far from being easy to use, install or, even with intuitive interactive platforms, the best technology being presented to feed producers is clunky, prone to long learning cycles and many ‘AREN’T EVEN CLOUD BASED’.

As such I believe that the slow adoption of technology within the feed industry is not due to feed producers’ reluctance to embrace new technology. They are not averse to technology; quite the contrary, feed producers are eager to adopt technologies that prove to be useful. For technology to be useful, however, it must surmount the challenging environment of feed-mills.

Reality check 1: Agritech in the feed industry needs to make management easier

Feed mills today are often ignorant of the demand cycles for their product, with little line of sight of the supply chain with farms traditionally calling the feed mill less than 24 hours before their feed silos are empty. This is not a very efficient way to optimise production of the factory. Even with a concerted effort to improve farm management using the Internet of Things (IoTs) such as silo sensors, with the promise of real time and reliable monitoring of feed levels in the silo, the realities continue to be more challenging. Feed-mills want to cut costs by improving operational efficiency, but to do so sensors need to be cheaper, easy to install and accurate. BinSentry leads in this field but a host of cheaper sensors are being seen in the market from Chinese and other suppliers.

Another issue for farms however is connectivity. Innovators such as Barntool owned by Muenters and Distynct replaces traditional technology with versions that have more data and functional capabilities at a similar cost, making it possible to install sensors on the farm in an affordable and manageable way.

Reality check 2: Agritech needs to make data simple and useful

The vast amounts of data generated by AgTech can be overwhelming, with the risk of producing too much information but with too little insight. Just as Apple simplifies complex technologies for its users, feed producers need tools that can sift through data to provide actionable insights. The use of AI computations and big data allow farmers to deal with the complexity of weather, genetics, market turbulence.

For example, companies like Ever.Ag give farmers real-time insights and data-driven recommendations, and Partners for Production Agriculture help farmers make better decisions in real time based on market movements.

Feed mills are complex environments

With unpredictability created by the variability in raw materials, dust and even outside factors such as pigeons and rodents can play a role in making feed-mills complex environments. In addition, the need to remove people from the factory continues, due to both the lack of labour and the cost. The key challenge for robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence or even augmented reality is often not the appropriateness of the technology within a feedmill, but poor design and ease of use.

While it is true that there are overpromised solutions, and this leads to Agtech business failure and farmer fatigue, it may continue to be necessary to put more effort on the back-end to develop solutions that are fit for purpose. Developing the Apple experience is difficult for many small Agtech companies, but they have set the standard in terms of expectation, and as such this defines the expectations for feed producers around the world.