From dirt to shirt and seed to shelf, The Seam acknowledges that traceability and transparency in agriculture production is essential to each step in the value chain.
With innovations in agtech and the implementation and adoption of data standards throughout the supply chain, consumers are now able to trace the source of the agricultural products they purchase providing assurance through digital accountability. Technology has become more accessible, capable and affordable, which lowers the barrier to entry for farming operations to embrace digitization that will ultimately convey their story of continuous improvement in sustainable farming.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE?
Essentially, it is the ability to produce enough agricultural products to meet present needs without endangering the environment, public health or economic profitability. If food and ag products are not produced with care, future generations of farming will be at risk. The big idea behind sustainable farming is to minimize one’s environmental footprint and enforce good stewardship of the land and natural resources.
To accomplish such a lofty goal, leaders in agriculture continue to develop more ecological solutions in production and trade. Unlike industrialized farming, sustainable farms utilize methods such as crop rotation, pasture-raised livestock, conservative tilling and precision agriculture to assure that the environment is protected, and the process is as natural as possible.
If one part of the production process is not performed using sustainable practices, the entire supply chain is at risk. From planting to harvesting and ginning to classing – or shelling to warehousing – each component of agriculture production must follow specific practices for the end result to be considered more sustainable.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES
There are many innovative solutions in agtech that work in concert to enhance sustainable farming. From evaluating soil health to managing water infrastructure, technology provides the tools that help maintain healthy yields with more precision and efficiency. Drones and other equipment are now able to conduct data analyses, and GPS-enabled tractors help plant crops more precisely and efficiently. Technology allows farmers to streamline their processes and care for the environment during production.
The importance of upholding sustainable agricultural practices comes down to simply caring for the environment. No matter what crop you’re farming, sustainable practices facilitate economic profitability and create social and communal equity. Small decisions lead to large improvements in farming practices, and technology forges the undiscovered path that leads to worldwide solutions. While the journey is still in its adolescence, developments in agritech are already cultivating better crops and building a more sustainable future.
In our data-driven landscape where consumers can compare products and make informed decisions about their food and clothing purchases, we can expect to see an explosive growth in technologies that advance traceability, transparency and agriculture sustainability.
Kristi Lofton works in agricultural technologies. A graduate of Tech901’s Code 1.0 course, Kristi works as a software engineer for The Seam, a locally based software company focused on agricultural commodities trading and sustainability efforts. I’ll get back to the concept of “agricultural technologies” a little later on (it’s a big deal, I promise).
Let’s get back to Kristi.
This time last year, Kristi was working at a veterinarian clinic, working as a Vet Tech, manning the front desk, and managing the accounts. In her “spare time” she found herself tinkering with their administrative systems.
She liked the job, and she liked the clients.
Until her current job at The Seam, Kristi’s problem wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy her job- she just felt like she could be doing more: “Everyone has to figure out their life,” she told me. “I was always interested in a lot of things- but not interested enough.”
You see, Kristi had mastered the pivot long before she made the shift from Vet Tech to IT. Kristi Lofton grew up in Hughes Arkansas, just 40 minutes outside of Memphis. She worked for her father during farming season, helping with the soy beans and wheat their family grew. Her father and mother still own the farm to this day.
“I drove a tractor on my father’s farm growing up, and I always told myself that’s not what I want.“
After graduating high school, Kristi left the farm for New York. She attended Colombia University, and majored in neuroscience. You know, no big deal. She followed her studies with a brief stint as an EMT, and by the time she had made her way back to Memphis, she had narrowed down her career choices to just two: vet school or pharmacy school.
That’s when her brother-in-law (a programmer) decided to throw her a curveball. “He was like, ‘listen- I know you’ve been getting ready for this pharmacy thing for a while, but I want you to try something new. I think you be good at it’.” He told her about the growing need for coders, and the local schools geared towards training them. Schools like Tech901.
I asked Kristi why she chose Tech901, and she was frank with me: “with Tech901, I could keep my job.” The clinic supported Kristi, moving her to the night shift so she could attend morning classes. Code 1.0 wasn’t easy- as Kristi puts it, “Code is 100% what you put in.” But Kristi likes a challenge.
The Seam met Kristi through a mock interview coordinated by Tech901’s career services, and they liked her right away. When the job offer came shortly after, Kristi found herself making another big decision: “Do I want to keep going down the path to grad school, or do I want to pursue this new path- this career in coding?”
“If you don’t feel complete, like you’re struggling or you’re not meeting your potential… try something else.“
Kristi decided to take the tech leap.
When we met up recently, Kristi told me she hasn’t once questioned her decision. She’s flourished during her time with The Seam, thanks to her drive and the support of her coworkers. “When it comes to my team, I can’t overstate how helpful and approachable every member is. Having coworkers you can lean on if you’re having trouble is priceless.”
But what exactly does Kristi do? What is Agricultural Tech (See? I told you we’d get back to it)? If you’re interested in web programming or code, you’ll want to pay attention to this next part.
The Next Tech Frontier
Let me get right to it: agriculture is the next technological frontier: for Kristi, for Memphis, and for the global market.
Those fields of peanuts, cotton, and soybeans, along with the generations of farmers who cultivate them, have long been subject to traditional methods when it comes to production and exchange.
Local relationships are important. Trust a handshake. Honesty matters.
But these traditions also include file drawers full of paper receipts and physical records, which means it’s sometimes difficult to follow a product from its origins to its end-user.
Cue Agricultural Technology, often shortened by in-field players to “AgTech”. AgTech is a growing field focused on addressing issues at every stage of the agricultural process using modern technologies. From seed and plant health to issues of transparency and sustainability: the goal of AgTech is to make agriculture more efficient, more sustainable, and more transparent.
Agricultural transparency issues in particular have historied roots (Egyptian cotton of dubious origins, suspect spices) and modern implications (the great romaine recall of 2018).
That’s where software engineers like Kristi have a part to play: in the records, trading, and sustainability efforts of modern agriculture. Famers are able to grow more efficient and sustainable crops using monitoring technologies. The advent of blockchain means we can track cotton from the field to the store you’ll eventually purchase that sassy t-shirt from.
The AgTech Market is indeed booming- and more importantly, it’s making its home right here in Memphis, Tennessee.
Memphis in particular has been on top of the AgTech boom for the last few years. Uniquely situated in both farming and city spheres, Memphis is at an advantage when it comes to those businesses developing around global agriculture markets.
For example, Agricenter International has brought in $524 million to the Mid-South region annually. The Seam is revolutionizing global trade transparency, with over 8 billion in platform trades. Indigo Ag intends to bring 700 new jobs to Memphis as their workforce continues to grows over the next three years.
As businesses like The Seam continue to invest in Memphis, the demand for locals with tech training will continue to rise. They’ll need more coders, and more developers, willing to learn on the job. You know, people like Kristi.
Kristi Lofton is particularly well suited to the local AgTech boom. Growing up, there was a lot of talk about inheriting the family farm- but Kristi knew that wasn’t what she wanted to do. But while Kristi left the farm, she hasn’t left agriculture entirely- in fact, she’s returned to it with her work at the Seam.
As of November 5th, Kristi will have been working at the Seam for one year. Kristi beams with engagement talking about her day to day work.
She loves her office, and her team.
She loves her job.
She’s just coming off of peanut-shelling season (or for Kristi, troubleshooting season), which means she’s getting started on the next big project: cotton sustainability efforts in collaboration with the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.
AgTech is a whole new frontier for Kristi- one she finds challenging, but also familiar. She’s had to learn a totally new way of thinking and problem solving. “I think my neuroscience background helped with that,” she laughs. “I mean, I majored in problem solving.”
But Kristi is also a Mid-Southerner. She grew up on the farm. She knows how farmers get work done. Now she can help them do more.