Sitting down with an innovator in agricultural technology, it struck me that farming is another form of investing. Farmers plant seeds without certainty of how much they will yield. It can take a while for their hard work to pay off, and some years are more profitable than others. But they stick to it, thinking practically about the future, and quite literally try to capture some long-term growth. 

It’s a mindset not all that different from mine, as I work to identify small- and medium-sized businesses that are best positioned for long-term success. They may just be seeds now, but it’s my job—and my passion—to select the ones that are most likely to bear fruit. So who better to talk to about how to think long term about innovative technology and disruption than Eric Adamson, whose job is to do this work on behalf of the world’s farmers? 

As someone deeply invested in creating quality jobs, I’m always thinking about ways that technology can improve life for workers. And so I made sure to ask Eric how new agricultural technology is affecting farm work, arguably some of the toughest and most difficult jobs in America. His take is that these technologies are much more likely to augment rather than replace human workers on the farm. New technology might allow farmers to automate a certain task, but the bigger responsibilities, like long-term planning, will always require human judgment and discretion. And right now, some tasks are still beyond the skill of robots—humans still outperform machines on dexterity and handling unexpected situations. 

Labor automation is certainly a fraught topic, but I found Eric’s perspective on man and machine to be quite hopeful. Automating certain tasks on the farm, especially the ones that are dangerous or repetitive, could free up workers to do more complex, rewarding work. We can envision a future where workers are less exposed to pesticides because machines do the spraying. But the benefits of automation aren’t automatic! It’s on all of us to make sure that workers get the skills and training they need to actually excel in those roles. 

Eric and I also discussed how data informs how farmers get their crops to market—exciting changes in volume and packaging that can reduce food waste and better meet customer needs. He says that we see one- and two-pound containers in the supermarket because they are easy to pack into, not necessarily because they are what the customer wants. But we’re not too far off from a future where farmers could sell a sleeve of fresh, tasty fruit that competes with candy bars on price and volume. 

With so many innovations underway, I wanted to know what about the future of ag tech excites Eric most. In response, he discussed regenerative agriculture—the idea that better soil management can lead to greater crop yields, more profits for farms, and even less carbon in the atmosphere. One tool for soil management is crop biologics, where farmers introduce living things like bacteria or fungi into soil, which can help crops grow and help the soil itself recover more quickly after a fire or flood. It’s a surprising new approach in one of the oldest industries, and it has the potential to protect the food supply and help the planet.

As grandsons of farmers and ranchers, Eric and his co-founder both grew up admiring their families’ values and stewardship of the land—so even as they innovate, they’re honoring their ancestors. I can relate to how Tortuga’s leaders look to their elders for guidance and inspiration. My dad owned a small men’s clothing store in Queens, and he always kept a black-and-white notebook where he tracked sales against the weather conditions. Our generation has more sophisticated tools now, of course, but we’re all still finding new ways to create long-term growth amid a changing world. For Eric and his fellow innovators in ag tech, that means advancing our progress toward better farming and a healthier planet. 

Listen to our full conversation: Eric Adamson: The Future of Farming

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