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Sustainable agriculture design: Good for the planet, good for farmers

Paul Hunter
machine working planted field

Recently, Kin + Carta hosted the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Ag Sustainability Exchange at our headquarters in Chicago, which provided the opportunity to meet directly with 10 farmers who are at the forefront of sustainability in Illinois. Paul Hunter, Global Sustainability Manager at Kin + Carta, recapped his findings below. 

As the world becomes increasingly digital and environmentally conscious, the intersection of user-centered design and sustainability in the agriculture industry is necessary and inevitable. Right now, agronomists and farmers alike require modern, data-driven solutions that address their challenges. 

At the same time, the urgency of global sustainability initiatives calls for a technological revolution that incorporates environmentally-friendly practices at every stage of product design and implementation. Kin + Carta is at the forefront of this transformation. 

Our team of experienced consultants is dedicated to working alongside our clients in the agriculture vertical to create digital products that serve the requirements of farmers and satisfy the very real need for sustainability. We believe this dual approach embodies the true essence of user-centered design. Because ultimately, a sustainable design doesn’t just improve effectiveness and efficiency for farmers, it also benefits the planet.

The nexus of sustainability and agriculture

Today, agriculture is not just about cultivating crops and rearing livestock. The industry is inextricably connected to technology, data, and more recently, sustainability. As demand for food increases and the planet's resources deplete, technological advancements are providing us with innovative ways to support our food system by optimizing farm operations, reducing waste, and promoting a more sustainable future.

At the heart of this digital evolution are the agronomists and farmers who are adapting their practices to support that ever-growing need. Although some have been working toward this goal longer than others, recently there has been a global realization of the immense potential for data and technological solutions. Whether the problem is the inability to aggregate data from different sources to gain more comprehensive insights, lacking a viable alternative to a complex data collection process when applying for government subsidies, or difficulty collecting data to verify carbon credits, the need for simple, cost-effective solutions is undeniable.

There are hurdles on the path to sustainability and digital transformation, though. While many solutions promise long-term benefits, farmers often struggle with implementation due to typically complex technology, the obligation of significant upfront investment, and concern of the inherent risk associated with significant change. 

Of course, the very nature of these challenges underscores the necessity of user-centered design. After all, a truly worthwhile digital solution that solves a practical problem has to be easy to work with, affordable, and relatively risk-free.

Discovering the challenges faced by farmers

Visiting with the Illinois Farm Bureau brought farmers and industry professionals together to learn more about the difficulties farmers face and why they may feel hesitant to adopt sustainability practices. What we discovered has had an incredible impact on how we design products for the agricultural vertical.

Primarily, we heard uncertainty about the assurance of a return on investment in sustainability projects. Farmers, especially the small shareholder farmers who don’t have access to capital and rely on short-term gains. Predicting a reliable return on investment, particularly around sustainability initiatives, is a challenging and long-term process at odds with this need. 

Furthermore, many farmers feel left behind by the current carbon credit systems. Those who proactively shifted their farming techniques towards sustainability found the reward didn’t justify the risk. They realized that, because these systems are incentivizing behavior change rather than rewarding established sustainable practices, long-term adopters are left out. Add to this the confusing standards and varying prices across carbon markets, and the reason for their ambivalence is clear.



machine working planted field
Kin + Carta hosted the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Ag Sustainability Exchange at our headquarters in Chicago

Understanding the farmers' perspective

The news is not all negative, though. Many farms remain multi-generational, reflecting a significant regard for the vital role farming plays in the food system. Farmers have always been good stewards of the land and are acutely aware of the long-term benefits of sustainable farming practices.

This respect for and understanding of agriculture is exactly what needs to be factored into user-centered product design and development. With an understanding of the farmers’ perspective, we can create digital solutions that meet their immediate needs, overcome their long-term challenges, and align with their deep-rooted values.

Tech solutions and user-centered design

At Kin + Carta, we're dedicated to creating the kind of solutions that solve real-world problems. Our focus on user-centered design leads us to work closely with our clients and their users to fully understand their pain points. 

Our goal is to create tools farmers can easily use to solve the problems they face every day as they work to support the food system. The digital products we design and deliver genuinely address their concerns, whether a farmer is struggling with streamlining data aggregation, collection, reporting, or uploading.

The future of sustainable farming and user-centered design

Simply put, there’s more to sustainability than just environmental friendliness. New practices that can be implemented and maintained into the future are needed to provide a steady income for farmers and a reliable food source for the world. With this in mind, when we create solutions that help farmers adopt sustainable practices, we go beyond solving the existing problem. We also consider how we can safeguard the long-term health of their farms, their families, and the environment.

Eventually, user-centered design and sustainability will naturally unify into a single powerful approach to securing farmers’ livelihoods and addressing the inevitable increasing demands on the food system. In the rapidly evolving world of agriculture, sustainability is not a passing trend. It's essential to preserving our future and is a critical aspect of user-centered design, especially for agriculture. By addressing both the immediate needs and long-term goals of farmers and agronomists, we’re creating the kind of digital solutions that incorporate sustainability and truly make a difference. 

At Kin + Carta, we’re committed to this approach and will continue to work with our clients and their farmers to build a positive, stable future for agriculture.

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