Nestled in the Red River Valley, one of the country’s richest agriculture areas, Fargo, ND, has been building a name for itself outside of the corn rows and wheat fields for which the area is most known.
The city has grown itself into a powerhouse for start-up businesses and technology. Now, a new local initiative is combining the area’s agriculture roots with its tech and entrepreneurial-focused mindsets to help drive the future of agriculture.
Just south of the bustling city of Fargo is a 45-acre land plot that’s a site for the Grand Farm, an exciting initiative that intends to create a fully-autonomous farming operation. This notable project has five key, strategic parts, and is designed to be a site of innovation and education.
While the Grand Farm is an exciting project in my eyes, as it’s happening in my backyard, it’s exciting for the agriculture industry in that it represents where we’re headed, the future of agriculture. Autonomous farming concepts are coming, but they’re also already in place in a lot of ways and on a lot of farms across the U.S.
As conversations around fully-autonomous farming continue, everything from driverless tractors to UAVs taking over crop scouting, there’s an aspect of the business that’s often left out of the conversation but is just as important as all the data, edge computing, and technology opportunities: people.
Autonomous farming can’t exist without people, the kind of people who understand both the aspects of precision technology and crop production. Whether it’s the Grand Farm or other initiatives that move the industry toward full autonomy, people aren’t going away. They become even more crucial.
That’s not to say there won’t be change when it comes to people, there certainly will be. What I see though, isn’t a shift away from the need for trusted advisors like agronomists, precision product specialists, and crop input advisors, rather a shift in the skillsets and education needed for these professional roles to remain as trusted advisors.
Why People Matter
Farming equipment and methods have evolved a lot since a blacksmith named John Deere invented the first steel plow in 1837.
I think we can all agree that one of the most notable game-changers in somewhat recent years was GPS, the spark that ignited the precision agriculture fire by allowing us the simple, yet important ease of knowing where we are on the earth, across numerous acres, and within each field.
GPS was crucial then, when it drove the earliest precision opportunities like Auto-Trac and is just as crucial as ever, as more and more decisions are made on the farm as a result of data and analysis.
While one might worry that evolving technology and creating more data-driven decisions on the farm would start to phase out the work needed from farmers and trusted advisors, this is where I believe the opposite to be true.
Machines will need a plan and program to operate effectively. An agronomist will still need to provide insight into the soil and other unique variables that differ from field to field. A team will be needed to monitor the machines and make sure they’re operating properly. And people will still need to manage, review, and analyze data to make the best decisions.
Hand-in-hand with how machines and technology are going to advance farming is the discussion of how we, those working in the business, are going to adapt to this new normal.
New Education Opportunities
In the early 1990s, the American Society of Agronomy established the Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) certification for practicing agronomy professionals. Last year, the International Certified Crop Adviser program developed the Precision Agriculture Specialty Certification (PASp). Both were developed to address changes in the industry, with the recent PASp very much focused on the demand for qualified advisors with focused knowledge and skill in precision agriculture.
I point out these two, in particular, as they’re two I hold and I encourage our agronomists at RDO to obtain their CCA as well. It’s important we have the skills and credibility to back up recommendations we’re making to growers. More than that, it’s important they know those recommendations are coming from a data-driven place, one of agronomic impact, and one in time with trends – and not one of sales commissions or goals.
As with any certification or title for that matter, you get out of it what you put into it. If the certification is used as an opportunity to advance skills and keep up with the times, as well as continue education to stay current with trends, it can be valuable, both to the trusted advisor and grower customers.
Trusted advisors hold a unique place in the agriculture business. There are the companies innovating machines and creating opportunities, and there are the growers putting those solutions into practice. As advisors, we’re the go-between, the ones in the middle making the connection between those two happen.
It’s our opportunity to embrace both the new solutions, as well as educational opportunities to help us best keep that connection strong. And it’s crucial we do both to keep, perhaps the most important connection in this business strong: the one between the people and the land.