Josh Miller: Driving Innovation

The FarmShots founder reflects on his journey to the forefront of digital agriculture
Duane Hobbs: Finding a Place
On a hot summer day in 2014, Josh Miller stood on the side of a North Carolina highway, wrapping duct tape around a busted vent on his company’s 1989 Toyota Cressida. The sedan, nicknamed “The Tractor,” was the only transportation available to Miller and his small start-up, FarmShots satellite imagery provider service.

“We only had about a $1,000 transportation budget,” Miller says. “So, we had to use a car that broke down every three days.”

At the time, Miller was still an undergraduate at Duke University, interning at an agriculture firm. While many of his classmates in electrical engineering and computer science were applying for positions in Silicon Valley, Miller was busy spit-balling ideas about how to make positive change in the agriculture industry.

“I didn’t want to work for a tech company,” he says. “It sounded pretty boring. I loved ag, and I wanted to start a company in that space.”

Miller’s love of agriculture dated back to a high school summer he spent working on a poultry farm in Maine, a world away from his south Florida home. That experience helped him appreciate agriculture’s global impact.

“Agriculture is one of the most welcoming and open industries to new technologies. If someone has an idea, they shouldn’t be afraid to put that forward and try to implement it.”

Josh Miller
“Without agriculture, the rest of the economy couldn’t exist,” Miller says. “There’s no way you could have doctors, lawyers, bankers and everything else without everyone being properly fed. That’s something I found really attractive about the industry. Building technology in this space presented the opportunity to help a lot of people in the U.S. and around the world.”

A Bold Idea
Miller’s initial idea for FarmShots was relatively simple: He wanted to harness a recent uptick in quality satellite data to help agronomists conduct detailed scouting. To meet this goal, he spent nights and weekends working out of his dorm, developing what would become the first version of the FarmShots software.

Concurrently, he assembled a team of capable developers who could help him make the fledgling idea a reality. Then, he and the team loaded up the Cressida and took off for meetings across North Carolina, where they articulated their vision for a satellite imagery provider that would help proactively locate and diagnose problems in fields. As the meetings multiplied, Miller fine-tuned his vision, shaping the service into a leader in high-resolution satellite imagery.

All of the travel and development paid off in 2016, when Syngenta acquired FarmShots as a subsidiary for its robust digital portfolio. Today, as a key account manager at Syngenta, Miller leads efforts to help ag professionals maximize yield, efficiency and profits. Through integrations with Syngenta, the software has expanded to include two additional key value propositions: variable rate application and analysis.

Josh Miller, founder of FarmShots, encourages ag innovators to advance bold new ideas.

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“Now, FarmShots is able to make an impact across all parts of the value chain,” he says. “As a start-up, we wouldn’t have been able to impact hundreds of retailers and thousands of farmers.”

Miller’s role at Syngenta enables him to be at the center of the movement toward digital technology and data analysis in agriculture. He’s excited about the potential for this wave of innovation to cause a major yield bump.

“We’re using new tools to make sure we’re planting the right crops at the right time, and treating them the right way,” he says.

Miller knows buy-in throughout the industry will be crucial to any efforts to bring digital agriculture to the forefront. New voices need to come forward with new ideas, just as he did with FarmShots. And Miller isn’t one to pull up the ladder behind him. He encourages outsiders and insiders alike to advance fresh ideas without fear.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to try to make an impact,” he says. “Agriculture is one of the most welcoming and open industries to new technologies. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, you end up learning something.”