Farmers, Founders and Funders Need to Find Common Ground as Expectations of Software World Meet the Time Scales of Mother Nature

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New Growing Smarter report from Orange Silicon Valley connects the voice of the Farmer to Silicon Valley’s Tech community

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“This is nothing more or less than applying the product management disciplines of Silicon Valley, with the core principle of user-centric design, and understanding the customer journey first.” -- Georges Nahon, CEO of Orange Silicon Valley

Food and venture capital: California has 50% share of both of these national categories. So it’s no wonder that, along with startups wanting to disrupt how consumers buy, deliver, even cook food, that how California grows food should be on the list of industries to optimize. As a member of the California tech community, Orange Silicon Valley (OSV) made a contribution to this growing interest in applying tech to agricultural production—often referred to as AgTech—by sending a seasoned product manager, literally, into the field.

“We decided that we would walk the terroir, and talk with growers about their challenges,” said Georges Nahon, CEO of Orange Silicon Valley. “This is nothing more or less than applying the product management disciplines of Silicon Valley, with the core principle of user-centric design, and understanding the customer journey first.”

User-centered design in this case cannot be conducted online, and there are no focus groups for farmers. Orange SV teams went into growing operations covering more than 50,000 acres of arable and grazing farmland across eight distinct growing areas. Over a period of several months, researchers spoke with growers, agronomists, ecosystem suppliers of machinery and inputs, and trade groups.

The lessons from those conversations are distilled in a new report, entitled Growing Smarter: What Tech needs to know about Ag, released today by Orange Silicon Valley. The key findings of the report are contained in four narratives, each focusing on today’s realities on the ground.

Supply chains are fragmented: By following the journey of an orchard of California oranges from the field to the distribution center, and beyond, one sees how retail channels impact the entire upstream supply chain, without paying for any of the product requirements.

Labor-intensive manual processes are getting more expensive: Labor is the #1 cost category and rising, putting pressure on the growers to search for automation as an offset. This is fueling discussion and development of robotics for row crops, which is much more difficult than for cereal crops, already highly automated. Automation and labor also connects deeply to the next narrative.

Data about the farm is hard to come by: Farming has gotten by fine without Big Data, but labor and resource scarcity is making the case for optimization. Silicon Valley knows how to collect, compute and visualize data, so the case for data-driven measurements of work, water, soil content, weather is becoming clearer to farmers, whose livelihood is based on empirical observation.

Getting data in and out of the farm is even harder: Only by walking in the fields can one really appreciate how much of our agricultural acreage is disconnected. Tech lives in offices with broadband Wi-Fi everywhere, and too often designs with this environment in mind. That’s not the reality on the farm.

“We are bridging the gap between farmers and investors, helping them to fund the right startups, and help shape the right expectations in terms of outcomes,” said Micki Siebel, Principal Orange Sustainable Food Systems Initiative.

About Orange Silicon Valley

Orange Silicon Valley (OSV) is the Bay Area division of Orange, one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators, serving 263 million customers across 30 countries. Through research, development, and strategic analysis, OSV actively participates in the disruptive innovations that are changing the way we communicate. OSV contributes to and engages with the regional Silicon Valley ecosystem through numerous programs, such as the Orange Fab startup accelerator, Orange Institute, and ongoing collaborations with OSV partners.

OSV thrives on collaboration, working closely with Silicon Valley & San Francisco to foster innovation and seek out disruption. In an accelerating present OSV anticipates that the future is closer than we think. OSV acts as guides to the digital revolution occurring in the San Francisco Bay Area, regularly hosting startups, businesses, and corporate leadership from around the world.

Orange is listed on the NYSE Euronext Paris (symbol ORA) and on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol ORAN).

For more information on the internet and on your mobile: http://www.orange.com, http://www.orange-business.com, livetv.orange.com or to follow us on Twitter: @orange, @orangegrouppr, @orangebusiness.

Orange and any other Orange product or service names included in this material are trade marks of Orange Brand Services Limited.

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