With support from the partner organizations of the PrecisionAg Institute, Millennium Research conducted a survey of 215 farmers from around the country to find out who they trusted with their agronomic data, and who helped them move their farm technology and their farm forward.
Of course, we all know that technology adoption varies greatly between crop types. Some crops have very little technology developed for their use, while others, like corn and soybeans, have the most technology, from high-tech seeds, new innovations on applying fertilizer, variable rate seeding, spraying and fertility, and automatic GPS steering available for each and every machine that crosses the field.
We asked farmers how far along they were to developing a complete “data driven system” agronomic decision-making framework for their farm. Only about 5% say that is where they are, while one-fifth to one-third are still doing the best they can with individual tools, such as GPS steering.
For this process to accelerate, farmers need trusted advisors who can show them the way, who know how technologies work together for the benefit of the farmer, and who can communicate those strategies in a meaningful way. Growers have high expectations, but also recognize the value such a supplier brings. Here are some of the things they told us about the retailers they considered to be trusted advisors.
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“This retailer has worked with our farm over multiple years and knows our ground. They are more concerned with our overall success vs. making the sale every time.”
“He gathers and provides information that simplifies my life and helps with choices.”
“One person who knows my operation and my preferences. Applicators that know my fields. Provide compliance information to NRCS for program participation.”
Room For More Trusted Advisors
There is certainly room for agronomic retailers to increase their role in production as a trusted advisor. Almost one-fifth of farmer respondents said they had no one to assist them in understanding and assimilating agronomic data to make better decisions, and 38% rely on family members. We asked who helps them with this task:
Among row crop growers:
- 34% are assisted by one agronomic retailer to collect field data and using it to make better decisions.
- 27% use a private crop consultant.
- 24% use an equipment dealer.
- 14% use new innovations like Climate, FBN and Winfield R7.
But working with and being a trusted advisor are two different things. Of those working with one agronomic retailer, 29% say it’s a trusted advisor, and 44% say it’s a positive relationship, but not quite a trusted advisor. Of those using services like Climate, FBN, and R7, 12% say it’s a trusted advisor relationship.
So what does it take to be a trusted advisor to your growers? Here are nine important rules of engagement we discovered in our research.
1. Be impeccably honest.
Generally farmers say something like “don’t sell me what I don’t need.” Growers talk, and it’s important to be honest with everyone, even if it means not selling something.
“Don’t screw me and tell me the truth.”
2. Be on the same page with your grower.
Generally that means higher profits, lower costs. But it must mean whatever the grower wants it to mean.
“If someone is to become a trusted adviser, they have to prove to me that they have superior knowledge and can offer outstanding service to my operation. They also have to be able to communicate with me and others in my operation in an honest and professional manner. Once they are able to do this, the products and services that they offer must provide value to my operation. That value can take many forms, but it ultimately has to lead to me being more profitable and more efficient.”
“Someone who: 1) Listens to what I have to say. 2) Makes their own observations. 3) Assesses the situation objectively. 4) Is able to analyze the information above and come up with a plan.”
3. Have extensive agronomic knowledge and judgment, plus some high tech skills.
Some growers have a preference on which university their advisor went to, or how many years of experience they have. Many need proof that an advisor has more knowledge than they do.
“You have to earn the trust by demonstrating your ability and your judgment that will give advice that is timely and appropriate for the situation.”
“Knowledge of Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Circuitry analysis, Digital coding, Boolean Algebra, and Analog coding.”
4. Be willing to commit to the long term.
Good farms aren’t made in a season, and neither is a trusted advisor relationship.
“Show me you know what you are talking about a little more each year.”
“You have to prove yourself and that takes a lot. I really don’t trust anyone.”
“Relationship must be forged over time. Not coming to visit or meeting over something to sell. A genuine desire to see operation succeed. Not just be looking at quotas met.”
5. Emphasize strategies to increase return once you are on the same page.
“Time and an intimate understanding of business goals and aspirations, creativity and a strong desire to drive profitability through pursuit of increased margins.”
“Bring me information that helps me make better decisions on our farm. Know my farm inside and out.”
6. Bring good ideas and research to back it up.
Farmers need results to stay in business, and these days that means trying new things, and managing risk, and working as hard as a farmer does.
“The ability to consistently and confidentially provide value to the operation. Being honest in all recommendations. Realizing when they or their product are not the correct fit for our operation or the issue at hand. Having a solid knowledge of our operation and processes so we’re not constantly trying to educate them. Them not wasting my time when they have little/no value to offer.”
“Experience, knowledge, ability to get away from what the neighbor is doing.”
“Advice that is up-to-date with research. Not feeling like the only reason something is suggested is to sell. Talking to one another on a regular basis and about more than fertilizer and seed, but about soil health, environment, etc.”
7. Work hard. Then work harder.
Farmers are looking for a partner, someone who is there until the question is answered, the job is done, the problem fixed.
“Someone who is proven themselves in the real world and will work 15 hour days, seven days a week, until the job is done, kinda person.”
8. Be a friend, not just an agronomic retailer.
“Willingness to show you are there to help me and not just make a buck.”
“A level of trust where it makes you feel that that person is in it for the betterment of the farm not just trying to make a sale.”
9. Communicate clearly, succinctly, and timely.
Being a trusted agronomic advisor takes a lot of intelligence, knowledge, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. One farmer sums it up quite well:
“Don’t just try to sell me something. Demonstrate how there is value to me in a particular product or service. Offer me a chance to participate in discovery trials. Always follow through and do what you say you will do. Be competitively priced. Service what you sell. Be available when needed.”