The future of tech isn’t just in Silicon Valley – it’s also in the fields

Published: Dec 20, 2021

Brent Poohkay is Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Nutrien. For more stories and thoughts on the future of technology and agriculture, follow him on LinkedIn.

Technology touches every part of our lives. It’s changed the way we communicate, travel and work. But a lot of people probably don’t realize how much technology transforms the way food is grown.

At current population growth rates, farmers will need to feed approximately 10 billion people by 2050. Feeding the world’s growing population – and doing so sustainably – means helping growers produce more food using fewer resources, and that’s no easy task. It will take innovation and bold investments in technology.

Nutrien is a company driven by a purpose. We’re using technology to solve major challenges in agriculture. 

Nutrien is an agriculture company. That’s what we do. But over the last few decades, farming sustainably and efficiently has gone from a big tractor problem to a big data problem, and Nutrien is committed to being a big part of the solution. That’s why we’re as focused on being a technology leader as we are on being an agricultural leader, and we’re always looking for the best and brightest technology talent. Technology touches every part of what Nutrien does, from the bottom of the mine to the top of the silo.

Transforming production & distribution through technology

Through our NextGen Potash program, we’re leveraging autonomous mining and tele-remote systems, which are helping to increase the safety and efficiency of our underground mines by taking operators out of harm's way. Using a combination of cameras, communications systems and cutting-edge technologies, operators have an overview of the entire mining system in real time and can navigate massive underground machines remotely. Technology has also allowed us to stay better connected to our colleagues underground, and is helping us identify anomalous ground conditions and plan and forecast more accurately.

We’ve also implemented remote-control bulldozer technology at one of our above-ground phosphate mines, allowing workers to operate bulldozers safely from a few thousand feet away in an indoor control station. Operators have full control of the machines without being exposed to dust, noise, vibration or other hazards, which also results in increased productivity.

Above ground, we provide direct support to our wholesale customers through Nutrien Experience – a new digital platform that allows our nitrogen, phosphate and potash wholesale customers to access critical information on any device, anytime, anywhere. Taking a human-centric approach to design, we developed the platform by engaging with our customers right from the start, proactively seeking their feedback, listening to their needs and turning their suggestions into reality.

This has helped to ensure that our efforts are focused and tailored to the things that are most beneficial for them. The platform enables customers to see their purchases and commitments, check their account status, immediately access the status of their orders and shipments, search for and view the delivery status of railcars and more. The Nutrien Experience journey has just begun and we have some big plans in motion that will take the platform to a whole new level.

Sowing solutions in agriculture

In recent years, you may have heard about our industry-leading Nutrien Ag Solutions Digital Hub – a one-stop shop that helps growers manage their farming operations and do business with us. Through the Hub, growers can access ag-focused local weather stories, field-level insights (in the United States) and transactional services that are comprehensive, intuitive and flexible – from the kitchen table, the truck or the field.

The Hub’s field planning tool, in particular, is a game changer for farmers: it takes product information, sample data, weather history, pricing information and manufacturer programs into account and provides farmers and their Nutrien Ag Solutions crop consultants with a forum to build, update and execute a season plan for each individual field. The plans also integrate with our ordering and inventory systems to ensure seamless and timely delivery and application of products.

The Hub is a groundbreaking innovation in the digital ag space, and our Digital Product Development Team is constantly developing new features and functions that build on this foundation, to help eliminate both paperwork and guess work for our retail customers. Meanwhile, similar digital ag journeys are underway for Nutrien Ag Solutions customers in Australia and Latin America.

Nutrien is a farmer-first organization. Everything we do is aimed at enabling and equipping the growers who are feeding the future.

There are big challenges in the world and Nutrien is stepping up to find the solutions and investing in technology to make our industry more efficient, safe, and sustainable. The future of tech really isn’t confined to Silicon Valley, and if you’re looking for a purpose-driven career, my hope is that you’ll consider agriculture.