Particularly in the past two years, the team at Growmark has been increasingly approached by agtech startups as a testing and/or distribution partner.
To evaluate agtech startups, the co-op has responded with the creation of the AgValidity program.
“This is all pre-commercial development,” says Lance Ruppert, director of agronomy marketing & technology for Growmark.
In 2019, Growmark will have field trials testing over 20 new technologies and products across its geography and crops served.
“These range from remote sensing to biologicals to crop nutrition products,” Ruppert says. “Testing on those products could be two to three years before we’re comfortable to say this is where the product works, and this is what our farmer members need to do.”
An exception may be digital products, Ruppert says, because the team is able to continually test the use of the products through a growing season.
He says Growmark is eager to refine a “shotgun” approach in promoting where products fit on a farm.
“The goal of AgValidity is that we’ll better understand where these products will be successful to give a farmer a better recommendation. In many product categories, we currently use a shotgun approach to these things, and wonder why we get minimal yield increases. Many times it’s because the response varies across a field and from field to field.”
Ruppert says what is missing currently in the industry is a collaborative and innovative mindset.
“We need to be more collaborative and share more from the grower to the retailer to the supplier and back and forth. AgValidity is looking to bring that to the table. We are going to keep the long view in that not everything will work perfectly every time, but we will continue to learn and improve to ultimately build viable, value added products.” he says.
Ruppert measures ROI of agtech by surpassing just the direct payback.
“To invest in certain types of digital technology, they need to help make us more efficient first, and through that efficiency it pays for itself and then some,” he says.
The goal will be to put Growmark on the leading edge of bringing new products to its farmers.
“For us, the biggest benefit will be getting an early look at these emerging products. For the startup, we are able to give them real-world testing and farmer feedback,” he says.
If the products work through the AgValidity pipeline, they could foreseeably be sold and distributed via the FS network, which totals more than 500 sales agronomists and consultants.