Food Systems Podcast 54
In discussion with Aidan Connolly
Monday, Oct 16, 2023
In this episode we talk to Aidan Connolly, President of AgriTech Capital, about his recent book, The Future of Agriculture, which is a collection of essays reflecting the challenges and trends in a rapidly changing agriculture, from a pragmatic and practical perspective. He highlights the potential to make big leaps by embracing technology and discusses the drivers that will be important going forward.
Here is a summary of the conversation.
What inspired you to write this book?
About 5 years ago I started writing blogs on issues I thought were important – clearly, digitization. I wrote subsequent blogs on various topics, CRISPR, consumer behaviours, reactions to technology, and the use of technology in the food chain in general. When I got to about 50, I thought it would be good to have them all in one place. I’m not judging the technologies, or saying a company is good or bad, but I am highlighting the people to speak to.
Is agriculture a laggard in innovation terms?
We are the laggards. We’re head-to-head with the least digitized. It’s true that complexity of farming makes it harder to apply technology than other industries with nice, clean buildings. We are using technology in an extremely chaotic and complex environment – but the improvements we can make are huge.
You’ve written about robotics, data analytics, AI, blockchain, to name a few. What are the drivers behind those, and to what extent will they help transform agriculture?
The drivers continue to be the ‘3 Ps’ of performance, productivity, profitability, but maybe they haven’t been sufficient to encourage widespread adoption on the farm. The drivers accelerating at the moment are labour, a huge one, the need to measure climate change, and the impact of farming on food production and the environment. All ESG factors are major drivers of adoption. But, at the end of the day, if the farmer is not making money with it, it’s hard to keep on going.
How do you fund and sustain the transition, not just paying farmers for what they produce but for the sustainability attributes?
Clearly, we have to reinvent how the value is being shared. There are actors in the middle – various businesses who have taken a position of saying this is what we want to do, it’s the right thing, good for the planet and good for all of us.
What technologies are coming to the fore that are going to have the biggest impact?
It depends on different countries. I would say climate technologies, energy efficiency technologies, and continuing growth in the application of AI to make jobs smarter.
What about blockchain – can that play a role?
I’m very disappointed in blockchain. The concept and the technology of something like blockchain still has to come to create transparency in the food chain. But blockchain is not going to make it on its current trajectory.
Our supply chains in food and agriculture do have a very unique structure. With that, how do you create a more sustainable, resilient food system? What’s getting in the way?
I think it is happening. I’m very positive about climate change mitigation, the technologies and approaches we’re taking. Maybe people want it to happen overnight. It’s taken us 10,000 years to get where we are. These things can’t happen all in one go.
What advice do you have for us in Europe?
Innovation in Europe is tremendous, but scaling is disappointing. The best role for governments at EU or country level is to remove barriers to technology adoption. The speed of innovation will determine whether Europe continues to produce its own food, or imports it from somewhere else.
To download a free e-book of The Future of Agriculture, or purchase a printed copy, click here.
If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 24-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.
With more than 30 years of business experience, Aidan Connolly has successfully engaged with a full range...see more of executive and managerial challenges, including direct experience of greenfield start-ups, high growth environments, turnaround issues, challenging economic environments and a wide range of political and economic systems. Aidan held multiple senior leadership positions at the global animal health company, Alltech, over a period of more than 25 years. Currently, Aidan is President of AgriTech Capital, a US-based strategy and investment firm which supports innovation and technology in the agribusiness sector. He is also CEO of Irish agtech start-up, Cainthus, a company specialising in monitoring key farm management practices that impact nutrition, health and the behaviour of livestock through the use of computer vision and artificial intelligence. He has worked in over 100 countries, lived in six of them and speaks five languages. He has worked in political associations, with state and national governments in the US, China, Europe and Brazil and international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations. He holds positions as Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the Smurfit School of Business, University College Dublin and the China Agricultural University in Beijing. He has published over 30 academic articles and is a regular contributor to social media.