Empowering People: Three Insights from Sentera Principal Scientist Zach Marston
A lot goes into turning agronomic data into actionable insights, but that’s all in a day’s work for our principal scientist Zach Marston and his teams at Sentera. Each day offers new opportunities for discovery, and it’s the people part that drives his work in technology. He provides three insights into digital agriculture and the tools he’s helping create.
One: Accessibility Is Everything
“In agtech, if it takes a Ph.D. to understand or use something, it’s not going to get adopted,” Zach observes. And this is coming from an ag scientist who earned a doctorate from the University of Minnesota and even holds a patent!
Zach keeps it real by testing all aspects of ideas and implementation. “When an agronomist and grower are talking, you get to ‘here’s what we need to do’ really fast,” Zach notes. “My goal is to create tools that help agronomists talk to growers in that moment.”
He adds, “We do a lot of usability testing and trials to figure out what’s working and what’s not. That’s the key to building easy-to-use tools that provide the info agronomists and growers need to make better decisions.”
Two: Real-World Input Drives Development
“The most rewarding part of my job,” Zach continues, “is hearing back from users that we listened to and helped them figure something out. Customer input is invaluable. In fact, it’s the most valuable input of all. Yes, I follow academic journals and read scientific literature. But the big win for us is learning what people need and knowing I’m providing solutions for problems they can do something about.”
Three: Machine Learning Means More Than Machines
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are hot buzzwords in agronomics right now, and “precision agriculture” as a trending topic has been around for a while. But as Zach emphasizes, people want simple solutions—and it’s people ultimately doing the work.
“Machine learning is not going to replace people. It’s going to empower them,” Zach states. “As we bring together all kinds of inputs from interconnected technologies, the real breakthroughs come from identifying the right inputs that reduce effort instead of creating additional work. The output data is the insight you can use. Simple as that. In the middle is data science, my field. Every day, I’m working to unleash the power of data science in simplified ways that are easy to understand and adopt.”