“When asking industry leaders for advice, people always hit on the same things: get hands-on experience, educate yourself and get a network in the field that you can talk to. That’s the number one advice industry leaders collectively share.” Speaking is Kyle Barnett. Last year he joined the online podcast CropTalk and ever since he's been hosting his own show #KyleTalksAgTech, where he talks with industry leaders about their journey in the indoor and vertical farming industry. We took the opportunity to turn the tables and ask him about his journey in the vertical farming industry.
“You’re listening to CropTalk – the podcast for agricultural leaps.” That’s the start of each of the by now 77 episodes of this digital radio show for the agricultural and horticultural industry. CropTalk was set up by Charlie McKenzie and originally focused mainly on hemp, IPM and cannabis. With the addition of new hosts, the media company is looking to broaden their spectrum. Bobby Shearer will soon launch a new series on the platform called #CropCareConvos, and also Kyle Barnett has joined the team, making podcasts focusing on Ag Tech, Vertical Farming and Indoor Farming, industries that he knows very well - also thanks to his job at HortAmericas and earlier experience in the industry.
In the show, Kyle invites a diverse group of people and shares the story of how they got into horticulture, and how they are solving challenges in the industry. From Taiwanese company YesHealth to Japanese indoor growers and Graham Dungling from Dubai, thanks to the modern ways of communication Kyle invites them all to discuss challenges and opportunities in the industry. “We want to educate, but also make sure people can enjoy what they are listening to. Create content that is informative but also fun to watch – something enjoyable to break up your day”, he explains. So what has he learned himself, so far?
How to get involved?
“When asked about what advice the people that we interviewed would give to people willing to get involved in agtech, they always hit on the same things: Get hands-on experience, educate yourself and get a network in the field that you can talk to”, Kyle says, going on to explain how that was also a challenge when he joined the industry almost a decade ago.
“I myself had to hang out in the lobby before I was finally hired at an aquaponic place and started there as a cleaner. I worked my way up in the industry and eventually saw how the company went bankrupt. It is an experience I learned a lot from – but also back then I had to persevere to get that experience.”
The situation has changed a lot since then: new companies entering the industry are set up in a different way. “Now we see many millennial companies coming into the space and they add great value to existing ideas with their new ways of thinking and new ways of management. At the same time, also in the vertical farming industry, we do have to value the old school way of thought and use the decades of experience that can be learned form conventional horticulture. We shouldn’t forget to mingle with the older craft as well, to learn something new. So trying to get that hands-on experience is of great importance”, he agrees with the industry leaders he's talked to during his podcast.
“Then there’s educating yourself, something that we of course try to help with by making this podcast. With CropTalk Media we strive to empower horticulturalists and innovative agricultural industry leaders with knowledge and resources through insightful digital content. But in this you would also have to know who you are listening to and check the things that are being told. There’s a lot of false data out there on vertical and indoor farming, and whereas it might seem like people are growing money, that for sure is a misconception. In order to survive in this industry you have to be passionate and be grounded. Don’t lose the passion, but be aware of the reality, where we are today and what is possible now. If you are an individual looking to start something in the industry and it is not VC funded, I would advise to start small and think big: start in your room, rent a small space and make it possible to scale. And if possible, always try to make sure to sell before you grow. Setting up contracts for the food that you are growing is something not to be overlooked and might even be the biggest piece of advice for new entrepreneurs in the market.”
Is that also where the industry is headed? It's one of Kyle's favorite questions in the podcast, which we're happy to put to him now. “I think that especially after everything that’s happening with Covid, we will have to look more at the distribution channels in the industry and solve this problem, including a higher level of traceability. We currently have a focus of course on how people are managing their company to get them through the Covid crisis and learn how the virus affects them, in order to get both an anecdotal and a global perspective on the developments. In addition to the management solutions they are sharing, most indoor farmers see that mainly the distribution is what needs to be adjusted from the situation in the old days.”
“We can develop further to make sure our production is optimized and is as efficient as possible. Technology will fuel this fire and with emerging techniques and the internet of things, a lot of adjustments will be going on that are currently being done in different areas or industries – and we will need this information to get to the next level.”
Find the #KyleTalksAgtech podcast on iTunes or on Spotify: