Only the farmer can choose: The Transformative Mindset or The Disruptive Mindset

Most farmers that I talk to these days, particularly those who are under the age of around 45, immediately understand that farming as we know it today is going to change forever.

It is never a question of “if” with these guys, it is only ever a question of “when”. They know, and wholly accept, that Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Data Science and the Internet are things that are going to completely change how we view and think about our farm.

However, some are more reluctant to talk about the change that is also going to happen to the role of the farmer.

I think the language that we use when we describe things is crucial in driving how we think. Part of our uniqueness as human beings is our ability to imagine a future that is different to the present we are experiencing and therefore the language that we use to describe this imagined future is crucial to shaping our feelings about it, either positive or negative.

Some farmers talk about Robotics and AI as being very “disruptive” technologies. They look at themselves at this time of year (Harvest Time, in the Northern Hemisphere) and they see a tremendous amount of busy activity on the farm; the farm feels at its most purposeful and focused with machines and people buzzing back and forth.

The farmer often places themselves right at the centre of this, like a grand orchestra conductor controlling first this operation and then that one. Farmers at this time of year are often ridiculously stressed and overworked but most of them love it. They think, “I would never want this to change. I don’t want the farming that I love to be disrupted by new technologies.”

And of course, it is completely understandable to think like this. No-one wants to feel disrupted. If you were to come to me and tell me that you were going to disrupt my way of thinking and working, I would feel threatened, maybe even scared.

Which is why I am going to suggest that the technologies being developed by Small Robot Company are not going to be disruptive; they are going to be transformative.

They are going to allow the role of the farmer to be transformed. They are going to allow the life of the farmer and the farmer’s business to be transformed. Through our user
centred design approach (farmer centred design, if you will) and our Farming as a Service model, it is up to the farmer to choose how they want this transformation to take shape.

The main reason for me wanting to become a co-founder of Small Robot Company was that I wanted to be part of developing technologies which will in time create huge amounts of freedom for farmers.

Dan Sullivan often talks about the Four Freedoms  (Freedom of Time, Freedom of Money, Freedom of Relationship and Freedom of Purpose) and we are trying to deliver an equivalent for our farmer customers.

Running a farm business to date has always necessitated giving up a certain amount freedom or accepting certain restrictions.  There are geographical restrictions, time restrictions, financial restrictions, machinery restrictions, access to market restrictions and so on. Often these are limits that the farmer willingly accepts in return for simply being a farmer.

Our aim is to transform the farm businesses of the future so that we are not forced to live within these limits. I think the young farmers or aspiring farmers reading this will be able to forge a career with a much greater degree of freedom, due in large part, to the availability of transformative technologies. They will live where they want to live and still have control of what happens on the farm. They will spend their time in ways that reflect their own interests and talents, which always add value to the business and they will take holidays at whatever time of year suits them and their families best. They will run operations that are more productive and more profitable than previous generations, not less, and they will be always working towards a future for their business which is much bigger than its past.

The first, and most significant, difference will be a big increase in Freedom of Time for the farmer.  What if new technologies were used to free up huge chunks of time? What if a farmer was able to carefully and proactively choose where their time was spent so that all of their time was adding value to the business?

If you asked a farmer today how many of the myriad hours they have spent at work over the last six weeks were hours that really added value to their business, I think they would struggle to answer it. Essential to ongoing operations - Yes! Adding value to the business or the product - Probably not!

We are working to create some of these new technologies at Small Robot Company. As well as this, we are working directly with farmers to help them to develop the mindsets and thinking tools that will enable them to make the most of technology and to shape their businesses so that future generations have more freedom. We are helping them to stop thinking about being “disrupted” and to start thinking about being “transformed.”

If you like what you are reading and you want to get involved with our work, please do get in touch with me at sam@smallrobotcompany.com.