From harvesting grain to harvesting data: The platformization and assetization of agriculture

Socio-Economic Research Seminar, Vienna University of Business and Economics (WU Wien), 30 April 2024

‘Disruption!’ extolled the business literature a few years ago, heralding yet another profound transformation of capitalist development. The relational governance that had given shape to the network economy was abruptly dislodged by a novel mode of algorithmic governance that ushered in the new phase of platform capitalism. Any doubt on this verdict was habitually dispelled with a brief reference to the disruption of incumbent markets by the likes of Uber.

Empirically substantiating such propositions, this talk analysed the platformization of one of the world’s leading agri-tech manufacturers, John Deere. The business model of John Deere is no longer confined to simply selling agricultural machinery. Rather, through each piece of installed machinery, John Deere has access to a sophisticated range of sensors that gather a broad spectrum of data on soil conditions, fertility, infestation, and agricultural yield while the machinery is in use. These data are processed in John Deere’s proprietary cloud and transformed into so-called prescription maps that are then marketed to farmers. Agricultural data, more generally, is turned into an asset that opens up lucrative future income streams.