As technology advances, alliances are key in hemp agriculture

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By Susan Barnhardt SHEMP Yarn Co.

The fourth industrial revolution is changing the landscape at every level of the agricultural value chain – from farmer to processor to manufacturer to customer. Factors including fast moving technology, climate change, the drive for the development of ‘clean’ products and technologies, and exit from the COVID-19 pandemic, place the industrial hemp value chain in an enviable position to create and deliver win-win solutions.

According to the Democracy at Work Institute, a new generation of farmers are using cooperatives to build successful farming enterprise. As producer co-ops, they each own and operate their own farms and come together seeking to create sustainable and financially rewarding businesses.

These cooperatives are dedicated to revitalizing the local farm economy. Many are taking the matter of grow-local-sell-local seriously, creating craft products that sell in local groceries and farmers markets. Some are also working at scale, envisioning broader possibilities.

Millenials know hemp

Highly concentrated among millenials, this new generation of farmers is technology savvy, applying sophisticated solutions to their business challenges. They have a proven mindset to act on and expand market opportunities through strategic alliances both within their farm community and with the vendors in their supply chains. Most importantly, there is a high level of awareness of industrial hemp among these young farmers. Many understand and were drawn to hemp because of its promise to help reverse climate change.

Bringing multiple stakeholders in a cross-functional collaboration delivers better solutions for the problems that farmers face by figuring out what data they need and helping them to develop it. This kind of collaboration delivers efficiency; creates marketplaces; and helps to manage logistics, pricing, performance and more.

The complexity

Here is an example relative to the hemp farm. Consider a solution aimed at improving agricultural yields. Sensors gather information about nutrients and moisture in the soil. This is combined with weather forecast and general climate data and then delivers to farmers on their smartphones while they are in the field making decisions about irrigation, planting use of fertilizer, and harvesting. To accomplish this, multiple suppliers are involved including:

  • Genetics
  • Seed producers
  • Testing equipment
  • Sensor vendors
  • Drones
  • Feed suppliers
  • Pesticide and fertilizer companies
  • A connectivity provider
  • A weather service provider
  • Farm equipment with data management services

Making use of these innovations is leading to increased yields, lower costs and reduced environmental impact. But imagine having to deal with each of these suppliers and making the right decision on each alone. It is impossible for any one farmer to gather, manage, develop and make use of all the sources of data that are emerging.

Farmers need to produce, and suppliers need to make the job easier for them. The right approach is not the old plug and play, but is in building new models of working together with suppliers. The successful solution will bring together the best products and services based on the various factors that impact farmers including climate, soil type, water supply, location – from multiple companies rather than just one.

Stronger together

This collaboration must be grounded in an objective assessment of your strengths as a hemp farmer and then deciding where you will be better off leveraging the strengths of external partners. While you may be strong in your capability as a farmer, you need help in getting your products into the market channel. In the hemp world, this is challenging. As an emerging industry, supplier collaborations will lead to innovative business models based on the core strengths of each supplier.

Monetizing your farm based on growing a crop based on sustainability is one of the largest profit opportunities for agriculture today. To ensure sustainability, you will need valid data and analytics, collaboration, and good old-fashioned innovation, all capabilities that are becoming foundational in the hemp industry.

Where to start?

So where do you start? First, you have identified and know that your intent to be a hemp farmer is a great idea. That’s done. Second, assess your strengths and weaknesses. Third, research external suppliers that fill in the needs for you to succeed; Fourth, have a specific investment agenda; and fifth, take what you have and leverage it to create successful alliances with suppliers who share your vision, the impact you want to achieve, and with whom you have mutual trust.

Finally, make sure you have a good facilitator on board who is focused on the task of bringing together individual assets of the group members; who is business and industry smart; and who can work in both a big picture and a detailed manner; and encourage a shared vision to move forward.

Susan Barnhardt has more than 40 years’ experience working with emerging companies and Fortune 500 brands such as Campbell Soup Company, Kraft Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Constellation Brands to develop and execute going-to-market plans. She has a long and successful  track record in multi-stakeholder collaboration. Barnhardt is the founder of SHEMP Yarn Company (SYC), a Florida, U.S.-based producer of worsted textile yarn made from hemp and wool which is set for a market debut this year.

Part ISmall hemp players can capitalize on ‘multi-stakeholder’ model
Part III: Alliances in processing (upcoming)

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