Farmers are better at digital than the art world 

The digital landscapes of two unique sectors have piqued my interest recently: the tech-infused agriculture industry and the conventionally-bound art world. Each of them stands at a distinct point in its digital journey, revealing a compelling contrast.

John Deere, the nearly two-century-old American agricultural equipment manufacturer, has reported impressive gains in a challenging economy. As per a report in The Economist, Deere’s positive trajectory stems from elevated crop prices, linked indirectly to geopolitical tensions in Ukraine. The confluence of high crop prices and the alleviation of pandemic-induced supply chain issues has spurred farmers to invest in upgraded equipment, leading to a 34% year-on-year sales increase for the first quarter of 2023.

However, robust crop prices aren’t solely responsible for Deere’s share price doubling since pre-pandemic times. The company has integrated digital advancements into its products, introducing driverless tractors, drones and weed-detecting sprayers to its offerings. John Deere’s successful pivot to digital, bolstered by its talent acquisition from Silicon Valley layoffs, signifies the powerful intersection of traditional businesses and digital innovation.

One can observe similar digital transformation within South Africa’s agricultural auction sector. At Twisted Toast Digital, we’ve witnessed this first-hand through our involvement in the high-value game industry. Our development of a large-scale, efficient digital system for mobile app bidding on live game auctions has helped to revolutionise the auction process. Speed, live-streaming capabilities and fast bid incrementation are now integral elements, fostering greater bidding activity and making ours the first system in the high-value game sector to have supported remote bidding via mobile apps during live auctions.

However, this tech-driven shift in the agricultural industry isn’t mirrored in the art sector. On attending a prestigious art auction at one of South Africa’s leading houses recently, I found the digital experience underwhelming. Despite the hype about online bidding, the auction felt like a journey back in time to a pre-app era. The online platform was sluggish, bids were displayed in the wrong order, the live-stream quality and sound was poor and there was no video promotional material for top lots running within bid screens, revealing a stark digital gap between the art auction and its agricultural counterpart.

This disparity underscores a broader lesson: digital innovation can transform any industry, including those perceived as traditional or old-school. As demonstrated by the agriculture sector, businesses can significantly benefit from digital opportunities if they embrace them. As for the art world, it needs to recognise that an enhanced digital revolution is now underway. Implementing a sophisticated and user-friendly digital app platform can only enhance their offerings, attract a larger audience and ultimately, elevate art sales. Perhaps they can take a page out of the tech-savvy farmer’s playbook.