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Soybean association connects tech companies, farmers

Soybean association connects tech companies, farmers

Laptop in field

The Ag Tech Connect program was created after seeing a need for ag tech startups wanting farmers to test and gather information.

Connecting companies and customers can be a challenge, especially when it comes to smaller businesses. A program in Illinois hopes to add another layer of communication for ag companies looking to add data to their portfolio and farmers looking to try out new technology.

Ag Tech Connect was introduced this past January by the Illinois Soybean Association, posting opportunities for farmers to test and gather information for innovative technology in agriculture.

This program figures to be a boon for smaller ag-tech companies who might not have the same budget as bigger corporations.

“There’s a lot of people who will do trials if you have the money to pay,” said David Stark, president of Holganix. “For smaller companies, that can be a challenge. We can’t come close to competing with the kind of (research and development) budgets of large ag companies.”

By using a program like Ag Tech Connect, Stark hopes he can be more strategic in the way Holganix, a fertilizer company that specializes in soil health, can target the people that will give him the best data possible. In turn, farmers also gain that data, which is becoming more and more of a valuable commodity in the agriculture world.

“A grower wants to see data,” Stark said. “They want to see what a neighbor does with technology and try a little more themselves. Whatever we do in the trials, we have to get real customers to use the product and see how it works. Getting it into the hands of people that can be customers sooner, frankly, skips a lot of the need to spend money on a lot of years doing trials.”

Linda Kull, director of ag innovations for the Illinois Soybean Association checkoff program, said the idea for the program was created after seeing a need for ag tech startups wanting more input on their new ideas.

She said conversations with those companies made her realize some were unable to crack into farms in the Midwest, despite having good ideas.

“They just hadn’t had a chance to visit with a farmer to look at the convenience or logistics of actually implementing the technologies moving forward,” Kull said. “We realized we had access to farmers and could try to make those connections.”

While the program is based in Illinois, other states have taken advantage of it. Kull said some of the contacts they are working with are from neighboring Wisconsin and Missouri.

Stark said they have yet to see much response from farmers through the program, but noted the company got into the program later. He expects to continue utilizing it in future years.

“Guys are going to sit down in the winter and plan out what they are going to do on the farm,” Stark said. “We just got in way too late. It’s not the program, just the time.”

Kull said they are continuing to reach out to ag tech companies for opportunities to boost the program, and she hopes to see it continue growing.

“Ag technology and those new innovations coming to our industry are critical,” Kull said. “They are very important and it is the future. We see value in making those connections.”

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