07. January 2020
Interview with Joe Bassett, Dawn Equipment
We have to stop talking about saving the environment
Joe Basset will open the fifth Farm & Food congress in Berlin.Programm 2020
We have to stop bugging farmers with discussions about protecting the environment, say Dawn Equipment’s CEO Joe Bassett. Instead we should be talking about smart ways that can make more money for the farmer. Sustainability will naturally come follow in our tracks.
By Sarah Liebigt
Farm & Food: What does the future of farming look like?
Joe Bassett: I guess, the future of farming that I want, versus the future of farming that I think we’re going to get are two very different things. I think, the main reason for that is that there is a lack of alignment between the objectives of farmers, the objectives of consumers and the objectives of water and soil. We have a world today, where farmers are being sold evermore technology. Every new thing promises to be that little bit more and nobody ever gets anywhere, and I think that’s largely a waste of time. It’s an entire system which is setup mostly to benefit shareholder values. That’s fine, making money is great.
I do think, however, that it is possible to design an agricultural system that is profitable for everyone and dramatically more profitable for farmers – yet at the same time it has a positive effect on the environment.
The future of farming for me would be a mixture of modern and antique technology. Where we farm in a way that is in greater synergy with the soil, that completely reduces chemical input and is profitable for farmers. There is a beautiful balance that can exist between the digital and the biological world.
I am bored to make high tech products just to make high tech products. I am inspired to make very smart but very simple products. The intention of the design is about how the product engages with the plants, the soil: Creating the innovation at that interface rather than creating it somewhere higher up the hierarchy.
What can companies like yours do to improve the creation of value on farms/for farmers?
There are two brands in our portfolio, Dawn Equipment and Underground Agriculture. Dawn Equipment is largely a vision of the future which is the status quo, which is increased automation, digitization and machine control. – I am working in an environment where we keep selling more products to the farmers, but the farmers are not making more money.
Our job as technologists and product designers in agriculture is it to serve our customers. You cannot design in a vacuum; we have to design to serve someone. So, the question is, when we are developing agtechnology, who are we serving? My overall thesis is, that we can be very intentional about choosing who we are serving.
Can you give us an example?
About five years ago we became interested in cover crops and what at that time was sustainable agriculture, now the buzzword is “regenerative”. But I am not necessarily coming at it from an environmental perspective. I think that you can find a win win where you have less impact on the environment and you make far more money for farmers. Our current strategy on how to do that in short term, in an achievable way, is with organic no-till soybeans. We’ve demonstrated that this is possible: You grow a dense cover crop stance, then you plant the soybeans directly into them and you are going to do no other weed control. This way you are growing organic soybeans, that you are getting twice the market value for. You only need to make two passes across the field, maybe three, but you have nothing in the cost of the product other than the cost to seed the cover crop. You are dramatically reducing inputs and you are increasing the value of your output commodity at the same time.
Why are you investing in and developing no-till-tech? What made you go into this direction?
From an American perspective there have been conservation farmers trying to compel farmers to change their practices for a hundred years. Largely they haven’t gone anywhere. The reason is simple: farming is a business. Farmers naturally are going to gravitate towards what makes more money. That’s why in my opinion we need to shut up talking about the environment and instead talk about ways that can make much more money.
I truly believe that no-till and regenerative systems are going to be the highest profit systems. That’s where I see things going long term.
Do you already export your tech? If so: who is your biggest client?
We have done business in France, Ukraine, we are starting to look at Brazil – but to your question: I do feel like Germany would be a strong place for us. I think that the German political climate is going to be more receptive to some of these radically different conservation practises.
What you see in Europe right now would not be reproduceable in the United States in terms of some of the top down regulations impacting how farmers farm.
What are your expectations from participating in the next Farm and Food conference?
I would like to network with people that are interested in fostering innovation at the intersection of agriculture and the environment. I would also like to see if the would be an opportunity to meet an investor who would bring Underground Agriculture to Germany.