A silver lining: how COVID could spark a fire in animal ag

Set aside the immediate pain in animal ag caused by COVID, and let’s talk about the silver lining of how post-COVID trends could mean great things for animal agtech, based on two assumptions about the world:

  • More people will work remotely
  • Tech adoption will continue to increase

Proximity. Tech giants like Twitter and Facebook are giving employees the option to be remote forever. Instead of an engineer making 180k and paying $3k/month for a studio apartment in San Francisco, that engineer can move to Denver or Kansas City or even smaller towns and do the same work remotely while lowering cost of living dramatically and, in some cases, maintaining their earning level. As evidence this is actually happening a mere 3 months into the pandemic, 1 bedroom rentals in San Francisco are down 10%. The exodus from urban centers like SF & NYC has begun. 

This likely means engineering talent will be closer to people who know animal agriculture. 

This likely means entrepreneurial talent will be closer to people in animal ag.

This likely means people solving problems will be closer to people who need problems solved. 

Which can only mean good things for the quality of solutions and rate of adoption.

Proximity means access to more prospective customers so entrepreneurs can avoid the “n of 1” problem, of building a solution for 1 customer that isn’t representative of the many. (A lot of folks attribute slow adoption in crop farming to the early assumptions made by entrepreneurs that all farmers are alike and all production systems are alike…a fatally flawed assumption.)

Proximity means the ability to actually get on farms, to gain direct visibility to the practical constraints of how a solution fits into a production system and a producer’s decision making process

Farmer Adoption. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, recently said “As COVID-19 impacts every aspect of work and life globally, Microsoft has seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in just two months.”

For example, many producers are getting a taste of new-to-them consumer technologies. The farmer who had never used Zoom just spent the last 12 weeks on Zoom for his/her Bible Study. Or the producer who always scoffed at urbanites ordering groceries online learned how to snag an elusive time slot for grocery pickup on Walmart’s website. Or they joined a Slack channel to access market intel from their risk management advisor. 

With tech merging into the heartland and producers increasingly using technology, this sets up a perfect storm. I really hate COVID-19 and its destruction, but these resulting trends should lead to good outcomes & new solutions in animal agriculture.

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