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Interview with Jesse Vollmar, co-founder & CEO at FarmLogs

Views, 7 September 2017
In Ventures, Views

Interview with Jesse Vollmar, co-founder & CEO at FarmLogs
Jesse Vollmar is co-founder and CEO of FarmLogs, the leading data science company focused on helping farmers use technology to create a better future for their farms. We caught up with Jesse to discuss the 2017 FarmLogs State of Ag Report and how cutting-edge software and data science is transforming the oldest, and arguably most important, industry in the world. 

Q. Why had tech innovation stalled in the farming industry? 

The simple answer is that the technology community didn’t have a good idea of what modern farming looked like and we had left big, old companies to figure out how things like the web and mobile were going to reach agriculture. When you look at how few people nowadays are directly involved in farming compared to the past, it really isn’t all that surprising. My co-founder and I just happened to be sitting at the intersection of technology and farming at a time when software was changing the world but not (yet) farming. What was obvious to us just wasn’t obvious to most people that were only involved in one of those two domains (farming/tech).

Q. You have recently published the 2017 State of Ag Report, which identified issues being faced by US farmers including increasing input costs, crop prices and tightening profit margins. How can technology help offer a solution to these challenges?

Farmers today can know so much more about how the variables they are managing are changing day-to-day on their operations and that gives them the power to make more informed decisions. For instance, FarmLogs customers can now monitor crop health weekly using high-resolution multi-spectral satellite imagery and react to issues in-season as they happen. They better manage risk by monitoring cost of production in real time as they farm and then making more profitable sales of their crops with real-time market pricing data. Software is making it far easier to tie all these variables together in a very simple way.

Q. In the report, you also highlighted the decline in the number of young farmers – aged 44 and under. What should be done to encourage more young people into farming?

I think we are already doing it by making farming more about running a data-driven technology enabled business and less about physical labor. As automation continues at the machine level, farming becomes more and more about making smart business decisions and the science and data behind it can be really attractive to someone young like me that grew up with technology.

I also think younger people prefer to live in cities. This isn’t everybody, but it is a growing trend. Imagine being able to remotely monitor and control everything happening on your farm from your apartment in the city. We aren’t quite there yet, but we are certainly getting a lot closer to that. I often wonder how many farm kids would be more interested in taking over the family operation if they could better balance their desire to live in a city with being involved in farming operations on a daily basis through software and automation.

Q. Why is the FarmLogs Research Network important?

The FarmLogs Research Network is all about learning faster together. If every farmer were to run one experiment per year on their own, they would learn only one thing each year. Want to see if that experiment would have the same results with different weather patterns? Try it again next year. That’s far too slow of a learning cycle. By using software and a network of farms, we can run multiple replications of experiments across the network and get the answers we are looking for much faster.

Q. How can data science bring tangible value to agriculture?

To me, it is all about discovering ways to produce more efficiently and more predictably. Data science can help us better understand what outcomes we can expect from the things we get to manage. As an example, by applying 40 additional pounds of nitrogen fertilizer at this time on this field I can expect an 80 percent chance of increasing my yield by 30 bushels per acre. Knowing the probability of a desired (profitable) outcome can help drive better management decisions and more effective ways of managing risk.

Q. What does the future hold for technology supporting the farming industry?

Eventually farming will become more autonomous. Technological developments over the next decade will help us get there. The end result will be a much more efficient and predictable future for farming.

You can download the full 2017 State of Ag report here

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