In a world where food security reappears as a strategic priority along with health, making the best decisions to drive a profitable and sustainable agriculture will necessarily involve increasing reliance on technology. The ambition of itk is to make North America in addition to Europe one of the priority targets of commercial development. At itk, two new directors were recently recruited to lead this development: Xavier Wagner joined the itk group as Group Strategic Marketing Director and General Manager of itk in the USA and Bennet Holmes joined us as Business Development Director itk. In this cross-interview, they both share their journey and their vision for itk.
Why did you choose to join itk to develop the company in the agritech market?
XAVIER WAGNER, Group Strategic Marketing Director and General Manager, itk USA
The United States is a country in which I studied and have family ties. It is a country that I also know from my experience working in the energy sector and especially in the water industry. The US agriculture and livestock market is complex and requires on-site operations.
Itk has experience working with companies such as Land’O’Lakes, Verizon and IBM, such agreements with such corporations take time to transform.
Itk has a strong expertise in the irrigation prediction of field crops, vines and arboriculture, through its VINTEL service. Being French is an advantage as it brings credibility to the wine sector. We bring our technology and APIs that make us interoperable with connected water metering objects for example, as well as our farm management software. Our services make it possible to fight against excessive consumption of the resource during irrigations.
BENNET HOLMES, Business development director, itk
For more than four years working as a consultant for itk, I got a close up look at the company’s highly innovative tools and competencies. I was able to see that its unique value proposition could be rolled out on the international stage.
What do you think is the main challenge for the development of itk in the coming years?
In France and Europe, itk has relied on organic growth thanks to the commercialisation of its decision support tools for dairy farmers, wine producers and annual crops (wheat, maize, etc.). The challenge now is to deliver exponential growth, which will enable itk to become a leading agri-intelligence ETI on an international scale. This is the main challenge entrusted to me by Aline Bsaibes, the director of itk.
To do this, itk will on the one hand continue to build on its strong presence on its historical market using agronomic modelling and artificial intelligence to anticipate the risks of disease or nutrition in animals and plants, and thus optimize performance, in a way that respects the environment. In parallel and in order to accelerate our growth, we are close to signing a number of important strategic alliances with large international accounts, not all SMEs are able to transform such deals to open new markets. We have already started an innovative project with Airbus Defence & Space on a long-awaited offering for the management of carbon sequestration in the soil, one which gives agriculture a key role in the fight against global warming.
Environmental awareness and consumer expectations are changing in the United States, but there is less regulation than in Europe. Farmers’ appetite for precision agriculture is real, but there are market disparities. Potential distribution partners in viticulture for example are only at the beginning of the phase of adopting digital services and creating customer loyalty through these digital service offerings.
To develop further, we need a strategy of market penetration, one which is adapted to an intermediate size structure like ours.
Our short-term objective is to identify the most suitable distribution channels to reach the market efficiently and sustainably for both the vineyards and almond production, high-value crops that are very present in California where itk has is already established.
What is your vision for this new challenge?
I have often explored the creation and development of new B2B markets with new offerings on an international scale. The challenge for itk in the market is realistic as our development will form part of an 18-month plan, one which builds on the value created by our services and our ability to quickly test product offerings supported by technology and our artificial intelligence algorithms. This new marketing process, combined with our agility, will consolidate our presence on the various parts of the value chain that we have chosen to develop, through our agri-performance offerings on yield prediction, resource control and the sustainable supply chain in general.
I’m first and foremost an entrepreneur. Throughout my career I have always worked in business development in the broadest sense of the term. This is demanding as you need to constantly draw out the best in yourself in order to create the best business relations and to present your work in a manner which makes your company relevant in an ever-increasingly competitive market. The ambitious growth that itk aims to reach will not be achieved alone. I am always keen to develop meaningful partnerships with key stakeholders at all strategic levels. That is why we have a pipeline of significant partnership opportunities one of which included a global partnership recently signed with Airbus Defence & Space.
In addition, we have been working with insurance and reinsurance companies to create some exciting insurance product offerings for agriculture.
These products cover yield losses due to climate hazards for example. Itk’s capacity to predict crop yield means we can evaluate the risks of reduced crop yields and critically make the distinction between reduction caused by climatic factors and the so-called moral causes, that is to say, related specifically to agricultural practices. Itk will make an important announcement in the coming months in this area. As you can see Itk continues to go well beyond what is normally expected of a company of our size. We can do this thanks to the extraordinary work done by our agronomists and developers but also because Agriculture is a global industry and itk has a key role to play in its digital evolution.