October 31, 2016

Exploring Opportunities in New Frontiers

By Nancy Appelquist, Director of Operations

Sometimes you have to take some time away from your everyday life to really appreciate it. There’s nothing like staying in hotel for a few days that makes you appreciate your own bed. Or leaving home for a couple of weeks to make your kids appreciate all you do for them.

And there is nothing like going to a country where agricultural practices are vastly different to appreciate all that our industry takes for granted here in the United States.

You might be an ag professional if, when taking an exotic trip, you spend 20 percent or more of your time checking out the local agricultural practices. (C’mon…I know I’m not the only one.)

On a recent trip to Morocco, I had the opportunity to witness some of the nation’s agricultural infrastructure and practices. It was fascinating.

The contrast is stark. Take irrigation for example. There were no center pivots or traveling gun systems to be found. As a matter of fact, there was no evidence of any type of equipment other than a pumping station we found in the Draa Valley (pictured).

I also visited a cooperative where Berber women were “manufacturing” argan oil which is used to make the much sought after “Moroccan Oil” hair products so popular today. The process involves manually peeling away the outside layer of the argan fruit and then cracking the argan nut to get the argan kernels. The women then put the kernels in a stone grinder and crank it by hand to produce the final product. And they did it all day long. No wonder Moroccan Oil is so expensive! 

I wasn’t really surprised by what I was seeing—I mean, technically speaking Morocco is considered a developing country—but it has progressed more than many nations in that category, so modernization seems within reach. I couldn’t help but think of all the ways we could bring them closer to the 21st century.

Meanwhile, in the United States, we have such a plethora of advanced systems and equipment and technologies that it can sometimes seem too complex to manage. Our greatest challenge is getting these systems to integrate, which is assuredly a first-world problem when viewed in contrast with what lesser developed countries face.

Agricultural initiatives like the ADAPT and PAIL projects conducted by AgGateway members are ways we’re tackling those integration challenges domestically. Both initiatives are about standardization to improve efficiency of the resources used in agriculture. ADAPT (Agricultural Data Application Programming Toolkit) is a framework that enables seamless interoperability between precision ag systems, so that all the farmer’s equipment and software can work together to make better use of data, regardless of the brand. The purpose of the PAIL (Precision Ag Irrigation Leadership) project is to provide a common set of data standards to convert weather, soil moisture and other relevant data to help growers achieve smarter water and energy use. 

So while we’re worried about fine-tuning our systems and practices—figuring out how to tie it all together and make it more efficient—there are places in the world, like Morocco, where modern manufacturing and irrigation equipment and systems are not even used yet, much less tied together. 

My takeaway?

We’re fortunate in the United States to have the infrastructure, technology, equipment and systems in place that allow us to produce crops efficiently to feed ourselves and a good part of the rest of the world. 

But there’s opportunity to do even more.

There is so much opportunity around the world to bring improvements based on what we have already mastered in the way of process improvements, technology, systems and equipment. Just think of how others could benefit if we apply what we know to those pockets of the world that need it most.

What frontiers are you exploring?

What new countries and regions are you focused on?

How will your company help bridge the gap between U.S. practices and emerging markets outside our borders?

Is there a trade-off between bringing new markets up to speed and continuing to make advancements in our domestic market?

These are the kinds of questions we’re addressing as we work with clients to think beyond our borders, advising them through global expansion strategies.

PAIL and ADAPT are great examples of major strides toward making U.S. agricultural processes and systems more efficient. And there are so many opportunities for building upon our success. We’ve come so far, but we can’t risk losing momentum when we still have much further to go to meet the food and energy demands of a growing population. 

If you’d like to talk through exploring new global frontiers, contact me at nappelquist@entira.net.