The Automobile, Not So Crazy Now: When is it too good to be true?

We are always looking to the future. The future holds unknowns in terms of new challenges and new solutions. We hope that the future brings growth for ourselves and our businesses. What does the future look like for specialty crop farming? Where is the industry heading as a whole? Does change always mean improvement?

From day one, the 2nd Sight team wanted to bring technology to an industry that often falls behind the curve in terms of what technology is available and how quickly new tech is accepted and adopted. However, initial enthusiasm is often followed by apathy, skepticism, or rejection altogether. Our story often feels like one of Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill. Will the adoption of new technology “make or break” a farming operation in the next few years? Or will growers get by with the same methods? Will these “tried and true” systems, tools, and methodologies work despite changing circumstances?

Over the last year and a half, our engineering team has been hard at work developing a vehicle that will have various attachments to automate labor-intensive jobs associated with growing hops. The most important innovation of the MAV (Multifunctional Agriculture Vehicle) is the automated tying mechanism that will attach twine to the top trellis cables. This job has always been done by crews of workers tying hundreds and thousands of knots by hand every spring.

Using automation equipment and new technology to decrease labor expenses is a common theme in Precision Ag conversations. If crop prices remain the same and expenses are increasing, a farm only has one option to increase profitability—decrease expenses. Labor will almost always be a company’s biggest expense.
2nd Sight reached a big milestone this month by performing field trials of the MAV and its ability to consistently tie hundreds of knots to trellis wires in a hops yard with only one vehicle operator. It was a first for the industry to see this in action after previous failed attempts at a machine. During a grower demo in Prosser, we ran the machine down a few poles, and it tied wonderfully. When the machine was turned off and the Q&A began, our CEO/President asked what everybody thought about the system. The most audible comment, “Too good to be true”.

I found an interesting article that was written by Alexander Winton who built and sold the first automobile in the US. This is what he said as he reflected on his work:

When I first contemplated the application of gasoline for vehicles, I had a bicycle plant in Cleveland. Because bikes interested me, my mind naturally turned to something a rider wouldn’t have to push and keep pushing if he was trying to get some place. But the great obstacle to the development of the automobile was the lack of public interest. To advocate replacing the horse, which had served man through centuries, marked one as an imbecile. Things are very different today. But in the ’90s, even though I had a successful bicycle business, and was building my first car in the privacy of the cellar in my home, I began to be pointed out as “the fool who is fiddling with a buggy that will run without being hitched to a horse.” My banker called on me to say: “Winton, I am disappointed in you.”

Change is the only constant and there are a lot of companies out there striving to ease the pain points of the specialty crop industry with new technology. The numbers may pencil out for an acceptable ROI, but it still takes a shift in one’s mindset to adopt a new tool or piece of equipment. This can be hard because of minimal empirical evidence of success. It takes a leap of faith from a few to change the industry. It also takes trust that somebody’s idea is a good one. Or, should we go back to using the horse and plow?

How the InstaCaliper and TallyTrak can Work to Fully Automate Inventory Capture at your Tree Nursery

We have worked with many fruit and vegetable growers over the years to build custom reports using the data captured by our labor tracking systems. Custom reports are often commissioned so that growers can directly import 2nd Sight data into their payroll software. This ensures a fast, simple, and seamless payroll process during harvest, the most hectic time of year.

For our customer support team, September is a welcomed month with small fruit harvest (cherries and berries) wrapping up in the Northwest. We start to shift gears, working with nurseries who begin their fall inventory. Our TallyTrak and InstaCaliper systems help commercial nurseries capture the counts and sizes of their stock so that they know what they can sell. Every data point uploads to our Portal, tagged with size, variety, location and often a grade. From there, a grower can filter a log and download entries into a spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel. Eliminating manual data entry increases accuracy and saves time. Both aspects are important for a nursery trying to be more efficient and productive.

In the last couple of years, we have worked more with nurseries to setup and build reports that streamline importation of 2nd Sight data into nursery inventory management software. Our software allows the user to define the data fields that need to be associated with each measurement or count. We have become familiar with ways to set up these lists of information to be more conducive to importing and still make sense for the operator out in the field. The InstaCaliper and TallyTrak software can produce files that import successfully into inventory software packages such as GrowPoint, eGrow, and SBI software.

If you are currently hand calipering, using pen and paper to record, transcribing hand-written notes to an electronic spreadsheet, then hand-entering your inventory counts into an inventory software program, imagine the time savings by recording your inventory electronically with the InstaCaliper and TallyTrak systems. Capturing inventory is as easy as tap, swipe, sync, generate, download, import.

Some nurseries even think about doing inventory more often since its less of a time investment. At a minimum, current employees can spend less time doing such a monotonous task and more time on other jobs that are better suited for humans. Electronic data capture improves accuracy and recordkeeping so nurseries can maximize profits by knowing exactly what they have to sell. Pushing inventory data from 2nd Sight systems directly into an inventory management software is really the icing on the cake. Sometimes it can be a challenge to change a process that has not changed for decades, but I urge every nursery out there to “take a leaf of faith” on this technology.

Specialty Crop Trade Shows Go Virtual: Now We’re Talking About the Digital Age of Farming!

In the last couple of weeks, I have received news about many annual agriculture and specialty crop industry conventions, conferences, and trade shows going virtual (the Lynden Ag Show, the NW Hort Expo, and the Great Lakes Expo to name a few). As an exhibitor, I do not know exactly what to expect and I am sure that many attendees are wondering what these virtual events will look like, too.

How do I prepare for a virtual trade show? How do I reconnect with current customers and meet new growers in the same way? How can farmers learn and evaluate technology that becomes more tangible on a show floor? Will communication on a digital platform give our company enough credibility that may be more easily established in face-to-face conversations? For a new adopter of technology (someone who might be more hesitant to jump on the bandwagon), will it be enough to only meet virtually? Will these people even "attend" virtual events?

I did a little research on what people are saying about virtual conferences and trade shows. One positive, there is a lower cost to entry. The traveling can be a fun part of attending a show—as an attendee and exhibitor. It is a great excuse to get out of town for a change in scenery, try new restaurants (often on the company’s dime), and meet up with industry colleagues and friends. However, these benefits do come at a cost. Without these travel expenses, more exhibitors and more attendees can potentially benefit from the virtual event.

Another positive, flexibility. Often, you can view content on your own time when it is more convenient for you. No need to block two or three full days out of your busy life to spend dawn until dusk at the convention center. Access industry specialists, exhibitors, and the content you are looking for while at home (for many of us right now) or in the office.

I came across a video emphasizing the importance as a virtual exhibitor to, “think out of the booth.” Do not expect an in-person trade show or exhibit hall because you will be disappointed, or have a mindset that prevents you from taking advantage of the opportunities a virtual show offers. Shifting expectations can be a challenge. Many of these Ag shows have taken place for decades. However, I would argue that 2nd Sight, and many other Ag tech companies, are trying to do just that—shift the mindset of the specialty crop industry in terms of new technology applications and adoption. As an exhibitor, our goal is to “think out of the booth” and use technology and virtual platforms to better justify the case for technology in the farm environment.

I think the specialty crop industry should get on-board with virtual. Farming has entered the digital age. It is time to use online platforms to more easily demo, well, online software and platforms that will help farmers better manage their fruit, vegetable, nursery, or greenhouse operations. This year, the physical 2nd Sight booth will be less of a booth and more like a solution center where product demos and video content can more easily be shared, viewed, and discussed.

Why do you attend conventions and conferences? Do you enjoy the travel, the camaraderie seminars, and industry updates? Or do you see these events as an opportunity to make new connections, reconnect with current suppliers and customers, and learn about new products? Or, do you go to stock your desk with vendor pens and other swag (send me your address and I will send you some pens)? 2020 has been a year of challenges, and a year that has pushed our resiliency, adaptability, and creativity. The only constant is change, let’s embrace it.