Augmenta - 2018-08-09

Attracting ‘A-Class’ Talent to the field of Agricultural Technology Systems Development

Our vision is to bridge the gap between engineers, agronomists, and farmers.

Being an Electrical and Computer Engineer as well as a farmer, I am privy to the rapid developments in the field of precision or ‘smart’ agriculture that are just beginning to emerge. Having co-founded Augmenta, a company which produces hi-tech equipment for the agricultural sector, I am actually an active part of these developments. This is why I believe we are on the cusp of extraordinary change — a revolution every bit as important as the 19th century invention of the tractor and mechanized farming.

Although many in the ‘smart’ agricultural industry are proficient at what they do, they are generally very poor at communicating their advances to the world, or even to each other. Both layman and specialist alike really have very little idea of the potential size and scope of the revolution in store.

Notwithstanding this fact, the shared vision for all ‘smart’ agriculturalists is both challenging and ambitious — to improve agricultural practices so as to produce higher yields of better quality while still using the same acreage of cultivatable land. With an ever-increasing global population, the realisation of this vision is certainly more urgent than it has ever been before. Spearheaded by the cutting-edge technology, many companies — including my own — are taking the first bold steps towards this goal and significant advances have been made in recent years. However, I believe that even greater achievements are just around the corner. The combination of automation, artificial intelligence and big data will certainly play a decisive role in future agricultural practices. Their utilization will mark efficient and sustainable production of high quality crops that will not only be preferred, but demanded by consumers and the global food industry.

Given its importance, it seems almost incredible that the agricultural sector has been so slow to adopt hi-tech technology, especially in comparison with other industries such as transportation and telecommunications. Nonetheless, this is changing rapidly and irrevocably. The focus of recent business innovation competitions and the attention of major investors the world over are important drivers of this change. They ensure a growing enthusiasm for and greater mobility of agricultural initiatives. Ideally, a new generation of farmers, agronomists, scientists and engineers will be created — and it is they who will continue the essential process of modernizing agriculture.

The agricultural industry is not alone in having to worry about where this ‘new blood’ will come from. Agriculture in the future will demand brilliantly talented minds to deliver high-tech solutions to achieve higher levels of modernisation. Fortunately, technology can act as its own vehicle by which innovators are incentivised and want to become involved. However, other factors in attracting ‘A-class’ talent to the field should also be considered.

Perhaps the most important of these is the gap between engineers and agronomists, which is currently wide enough to impede progress. Engineers are invariably interested in pursuing reputable careers in areas such as IT or software development — rarely do they gravitate towards working in the agricultural sector. Similarly, agronomists also choose a traditional career path — working for themselves or companies, providing advice to farmers or trading products. This situation is further complicated by a third front — the farmers themselves. Both agronomists and farmers often regard engineers as ‘techies’ who are better suited to pursuits other than ‘the land.’

The question is whether these differences in mind-set can be bridged. I believe with a resounding ‘Yes!’ that they can. It is simply a matter of understanding the importance of sharing a common purpose. The efforts of engineers, agronomists and farmers should be seen as complementary, not diametrically opposed by stereotype. Coming from a farming background, I consider myself the very embodiment of this idea of synergy. I use my engineering prowess, basic understanding of agronomy and considerable farming experience to solve a variety of agricultural challenges all the time — and it works. Guided by the vision of seeing increased global food production that is more efficient, higher quality but with a lower impact on the environment, I take great pride in the fact that Augmenta has put together its own team of engineers and agronomists dedicated to helping farmers in their all-important work. The challenge has been to make people realise that we are all part of the same solution.

Modern technology is a tool that engineers bring to the agricultural table. It is, however, rendered useless without a deep understanding of the science of soil management, crop production and the art of farming. In the world of agriculture, a myriad of interdependent factors — from nutrient uptake ratios to global climatic changes — all affect crop production. For the first time in history, however, we have the ability to quantify and understand these interactions with unparalleled depth. Aided by learning algorithms, big data and a single on-board sensor unit, it has now become possible to offer the farmer a simple plug n’ play means of using this information in real-time to produce better yields with minimal waste. Importantly, this does not change their farming habits per se, rather it improves on them.

So how can ‘A-class’ talent be attracted to the field? Through cooperation and shared vision, combined with an exponential way of thinking — indeed, the very principles we have encapsulated at Augmenta. In my experience, ‘A-class’ players are never in a class of their own. It takes the efforts of scientists conducting applied research, farmers wishing to produce more with less waste, agronomists wanting to take advantage of the new data-aided advice and engineers who see innovative ways of making the world a better place. It is only in this way that the promise of a brighter agricultural future can finally be realized. After all, revolutions never just happen by themselves — they require everyone’s talents.

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