Grower and Precision Ag Services: Opportunities Lost

I often spend time with growers, talking about their operations, and the processes they go through each season to do what they do on the farm.

Reflecting on the content of these discussions, it’s obvious to me that the volume of data being collected by producers that ends up either completely unused, or seriously underused, is even larger than I once thought.

As an industry, we continue the push to get growers to invest in more and more technology — technology that is capturing valuable data about what’s happening in producer fields. However, it’s clear to me that this data is not only being allowed to lay fallow, but the level of apathy among producers about ever being able to realize the promise these technologies are supposed to deliver is growing.

That’s disappointing. The best quote I heard from recent discussions was this: “I’ve collected yield data for 12 years and planting data for six, but still don’t think the data has brought me any value!”

Service providers today have the ability to access more data than ever before to help producers make data-driven decisions. Every grower I meet with is asked the same question: “If your data identified changes in your operation that could increase efficiency or increase profitability, would you make the change? “Eight out of nine growers said “YES!”

So, why is data not being used today? Reading between the lines of producer comments, and based on my own experience, these are the top four reasons:

  1. Data is too difficult or complicated.
  2. It takes too much time or effort to incorporate data.
  3. There’s no understanding of where to begin.
  4. And in some cases, people aren’t even sure where “their data” exists for them to get it.

Topping it all off, producers see in the agricultural press all the time where massive amounts of money are changing hands in the name of bringing innovation to agriculture. But somehow, it never ever seems to impact a producer’s operation to the extent it helps them, the producer, to be more successful.

Someone, somewhere else it seems, is benefiting from these headline-making transactions. This adds to this apathy and feeling of helplessness so many of these producers I visit with are able to articulate.

What’s Next?

So what is the future for producers and their use of data technology?

One thing is certain: producers will have many opportunities to continue to invest in new hardware and data systems in the future. These systems will likely continue to ingest increasingly large amounts of data coming from the farm. Sometimes it will be with the assistance of the producer while at other times, it will occur in spite of the producer. It’s likely in the future these “systems” will, in fact, know more and more about a producer’s operation, putting these “systems” in a position to generate revenue in many different ways.

Some will get better at making farm information visible to the producer. But if past experience is any guide, producers will be left to themselves to figure out what to do ­if anything — with what these “systems” tell them.

This recent round of visits with producers confirms one thing: there is opportunity for those who want to help producers be more successful, not only by selling a gallon, ton, or bag of something that someone else manufactures, but by demonstrating real, sincere commitment to creating value for the producer by supporting their decision-making processes.

The service provider of tomorrow will find ways to offer more consultative-type services to growers. And I would argue that growers today have the data to begin to analyze their operations to bring greater profitability and/or efficiencies.

So, what’s the first step in this process? Go talk to your growers and find those who are wanting to take a deeper look into the data they have collected. It’s likely to be an interesting conversation.

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