With two weeks to go until the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in London, we spoke with Marion Meyer and Gunnar Zinkhahn about how BayWa and its subsidiary FarmFacts are tackling sustainability challenges and encouraging innovation in all areas of the supply chain.
What are BayWa’s priorities and vision for digital agri-tech solutions that could change the lives and profits of farmers?
M. Meyer: Agri-tech solutions broaden the variety of products, tools and ways of working for all parties throughout the supply chain. We see ourselves as a partner and enabler for farmers, suppliers and crop customers, and independent advice is a key element where we can add value. Digital technologies allow us to provide this on a higher level: making more data and enriched data models accessible to increase the individual decision base. We offer an omni-channel approach, combining face-to-face transactions and digital services, such as precise fertiliser application directed by satellite data and a free app that offers farmers everything from market data to weather data. For us, it’s key to keep the customer benefit in focus – these digital solutions can save them time or money, enabling better decisions, safety in documentation, or managing the right supply in quantity and quality etc.
G. Zinkhahn: We have the chance to rethink existing business models, based on a new farmer-centric approach, this might be offering services that are purely online, enriching existing relationships with digital, or finding new ways for communication between business and farmer. Through data-driven analytics we can offer independent and unbiased optimisation along the farmer’s growing journey and supply chain, to make farming easier and more profitable.
What are the biggest obstacles for farmers using digital farming products and how will you resolve this?
G. Zinkhahn: In Europe farmers have mixed fleets, which creates machine connectivity problems. To solve this, we worked with manufacturers AGCO, Krone, Lemken, Rauch, Pöttinger and Kuhn NEXT Machine Management to develop an outstanding integrated machine management solution in terms of usability, convenience and versatility. Another obstacle for farmers and technology providers is the rules put in place by local regulators – for example, regulations on the type and amount of fertiliser allowed can differ from state to state and country to country. A farmer in France comes up against different regulations than in Russia, so our digital solution takes local authority restrictions into account every time it suggests action based on data analysis.
BayWa is active at all stages of the agriculture value chain, from field inputs through to marketing of produce. With this wide-angle view, what are the main sustainability challenges faced by the ag sector, and what can be done to resolve them?
M. Meyer: Sustainability will and must play a greater role in our industry’s entire production and marketing cycle: starting with the improvement of energy and water supply and usage, optimisation of soil and crop management, up to utilisation of all farm outputs like straw, humus and other field products. The main challenges will be to ensure enough good quality supply for food and feed while optimising the resources needed. Agri-tech can also support here, such as precision farming tools saving waste.
G. Zinkhahn: We at FarmFacts for instance offer products like fertiliser optimisation – a tool with positive impacts on three angles: optimised soil and crop treatment for better yields, potential cost saving for the farmer, and less input usage on the fields. Taking this further, we are developing our Climate Farming Initiative which will present a solution that will have a positive impact on climate and farmers.
M. Meyer: We see the focus on sustainability not only as a challenge but also as an opportunity. We need new ideas and innovation, an industry willing to test, invest and pick them up and customers valuing quality in products, from substance in basic supply to high quality ingredients. There is not just one solution, but many angles to work on, and that’s what we are aiming to do.
What does BayWa’s open innovation strategy look like, what successes are you seeing now and what kind of companies are you particularly keen to connect with at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit?
M. Meyer: We see innovation as something which should be given room to take place in all areas and all levels. To support with extra room and capacity, we established our own small innovation team of dedicated venture architects who are able to pick things up and bring them to the next level, stand-alone or in cooperation with BayWa. Further to this, we work with start-ups openly on all levels: within the Agro Innovation Lab, the joint acceleration program with RWA, as well as directly. In 2017 we started investing in and working with start-up Evologic Technologies, and this year they will be presenting their bioreactor design at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit Tech Showcase. Field testing, marketing pilots, mentoring – most important is how we can jointly create a new step forward. With BayWa Venture we also invest in start-ups, but with clear awareness for the venture shareholders role. At the summit we are open to meet with businesses from all angles – sometimes the most interesting opportunities are the most unexpected!
Gunnar will join a panel discussing ‘Digital Frontiers: Integrating digital tools for smarter field systems’ on October 15 at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit, where Marion will later act as a roundtable host, chairing a conversation on the topic ‘Startup/Corporate interface: Integrating new solutions into traditional businesses’.