Topic: Digital agriculture infrastructure: Prospects for adoption, innovation, and disruption
New digital tools for farming will require development of new off-farm services and infrastructure. Infrastructure refers to material, organizational, institutional and human capital resources that support a set of functions for a given territory or community. Analysis of off-farm services and infrastructure complements empirical research directed toward farms and farmers/workers, as the cost, scale, and complexity of new digital tools suggest that the vast majority of farmers will not apply these tools independently (Wolf and Nowak, 1995). In this sense, the quality of available services and infrastructure will mediate farm-level adoption of specific technologies. Further, these off-farm elements of production systems – and the relationship with farmers – will mediate the development and socioecological implications of digital agriculture technology and practice.
There are indications that traditional agricultural service providers – e.g., cooperatives, local consultants, and retailers of genetics, chemicals and machinery – are developing new digital agriculture competencies in order to support farmers and add-value to existing relationships. There are also indications that multinational input manufacturing firms and technology start-ups new to agriculture are entering into these markets (Wolfert et al., 2017). Potential shifts in industrial organization linked to digital agriculture could have far reaching consequences for rural communities, the structure of agriculture, and perhaps policy networks.
The paper motivates and frames analysis of off-farm service provision and infrastructure as part of an institutional analysis of digital agriculture. This specific research thrust is envisioned as one part of a broader, critical program of Responsible Research and Innovation.