Entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector is lost. Over the course of a couple of generations, many farmers have decomposed into contractors, taking whatever offer the market will give them. Combine that with safe-side advice on business development from agricultural optimisation engineers, and what we have is today’s water treading strategy, producing ever-polluting and larger product volumes against declining margins.
The conventional response by farmers is to look to the sector and government policy for support. But with the level of interaction there, the support that results is naturally too generic to create real change. Yes, the pricing system in agriculture is in-transparent, and yes overproduction needs to be mitigated, etc. But the real problem isn’t a matter of rewiring systems, and unclogging some pipes. The real problem is that entrepreneurship in agriculture is broken.
There are few farmers out there who consider the product they produce as a meaningful experience they can bring to a customer, something that is actually valued, instead of something which is constantly bargained with. We only know “The Sector”, and it drives itself through technocratic developments that compete with the experiential equivalent of Soylent in the long run. That is an unwinnable competition.
“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.”
– William Hazlitt
One of the most confronting causes of this entrepreneurial immobility is that there is no conversation in the agricultural value chain. Even the slightest step to having a conversation about something more than price, quantity, or quality grade, is too much. “We already know what the other person is going to say” is generally the response. And so the farm is placed in a single bet to survive the tread in the current system that is governed by a handful of business models, which are at least 50 years old.
It seems like an insignificant event, a conversation. Particularly when you look out over the sheer scale of sector and the mountains you feel that need to be lifted to change it. But I have seen what difference it made when a new entrant to farming had to question everything before understanding the system. It ended up in quite a few profitable market insights; blind spots to the great majority, but findable in plain sight for anyone who would stop to look, ask, and enter a conversation.
Such conversations have an impact. Especially when things like ICT are coming out of agriculture’s left field and start to amplify those conversations, they will change a system.
Conversations and ICT together make a combination that can fix entrepreneurship. Solutions can be as simple as connecting with chefs by using Twitter to sell your catch from sea. Or it could be new entrants, and creators at the periphery of the agricultural system, who will make existing dysfunctional value chains obsolete.
The change is fundamental. You can now make things and connect with a profitable market yourself, or borrow stuff from other industries and put them to use to compete in your own. The rules are what the farmer- entrepreneur makes of them.
The farm of the future is going to be bet in multiple ways, not just the one. I think that agriculture will benefit from that. It’s all waiting for the start of the right kind of conversation that builds an experience.