We recently launched the new #WTF: Where’s the Farmer Lab on the TFF Digital Labs. The Lab features content that teaches food and agtech entrepreneurs to design realistic farm pilots with measurable outcomes, develop a farmer adoption roadmap, and tackle real-life case studies with applicable learnings.
Alissa Welker, agriculture, environmental and farmers advocate, has contributed to the #WTF Lab with a ‘Farmer Interviews’ Guide, where she shares tips on how to best connect and lead interviews with farmers. We’ve talked to her about starting entrepreneurial projects together with farmers and what to expect from her course. Enjoy reading!
Why is it important that food and agtech entrepreneurs connect to farmers IRL?
After spending three years at Farmers Business Network, a fast-growing agriculture technology company and then beginning freelance consulting work with a number of startup agriculture technology companies, I have embarked on a journey to continue to learn and explore the world through the lens of food and agriculture collecting stories and insights along the way.
I realized that when working a desk job in agriculture you learn a lot about the industry and the macro-level trends but there is a big difference between understanding the trends and how they play out in reality on the farm. But talking to farmers to understand the day to day of a farming operation gives invaluable insight to any entrepreneur that wants to innovate to help farmers care for their land and run a profitable business.
What is the single biggest lesson you want to pass on to entrepreneurs innovating in the food and agriculture space?
I’ve learned that farmers are, in many ways, the ultimate entrepreneurs. Family farms that are running their own business have to be a jack of all trades. They have to juggle operating complicated machinery, managing finances and excelling at grain marketing. As soon as I understood the complexity of everything that goes into running a successful farming enterprise, I realized that any solution proposed has to take the complexity of the system into account. Everything is interconnected in a farming business so you have to create solutions with an understanding of the system as a whole.
What are some of the issues you see in the agricultural system and the disconnect between industry and farmers?
I believe that a lot of agricultural innovation right now is building off of a system that is built to benefit agri-business rather than farmers. In the United States and other places where agriculture has been industrialized a lot of the innovation is about how to get farmers to purchase more inputs or buy more expensive equipment year after year. This high-input model of agriculture is focused on helping farmers achieve the highest yields rather than running farms that balance profitability with environmental stewardship. We need more technology that helps farmers think outside of the box rather than just going along with the high input and high yield system.
What can people learn from your course and what excites you about the #WTF: Where’s the Farmer Lab?
Interviews are a useful tool to better understand farmers’ needs and challenges. When done the right way, you can gain firsthand insights that will help you create a business that is built with the farmer at its core. I hope that my course will teach many food and agtech entrepreneurs out there to lead effective interviews.
I’m excited to see TFF put an emphasis on understanding where the farmer is coming from because that is where the innovation has to begin. There are a lot of agtech companies that get an idea and run with it without ever having stepped foot on a farm or in a rural area. The #WTF Lab will help ag entrepreneurs see the importance of starting the innovation process on the farm and in the field.
Find Alissa’s ‘Farmer Interviews’ Guide on the TFF Digital Labs here, and to learn more about Alissa, check out her work with Cultivate Conversation.