Precision Vision: Cultivating The Right Business Plan

Precision agriculture clearly is one of the most exciting components of the emerging agricultural technology field. Yet, it is critical that producers resist the temptation to approach precision agriculture like a kid in a candy store, who grabs every piece of chocolate available. Impulses drive consumption — often with uncontrollable results. So, it makes sense that you start with the end in mind for developing your relative strategy for incorporating technology into your business plans.

Why not use this same farm business plan model to eveluate technology’s role in your business?

Let’s first take a look at your vision for technology in your business. Is your vision of the future that of an information intensive agriculture where those who know the most about how they produce crops will have the best chance at stronger marketing relationships in an increasingly contract-oriented, vertically-integrated agriculture? Or, is your vision that fundamentally most of what you’ve learned about farming and precision agriculture in the last 15 years will still carry you through the next 15-20 years?

The question here is not which of these visions is correct or incorrect. In fact, they may both be acceptable of compatible in the broader marketplace for farmers. The question is which one do you follow?

The challenge is to be consistent in your actions today with the vision you believe will materialize tomorrow. So, think about your precision agriculture plans in that context. Do you want to be adept at making choices about doing only those things that generate results and return? How precise do you want to be? How quickly do you want to utilize all types of precision services? How rigid a business orientation do you want to take in your farming operation and lifestyle?

It’s OK to not be the most skillful computer guru. As most readers will agree, you can still be a successful farmer so long as you can blend the way you approach your operation to generate enough profitability for your business and personal needs.

Now, to follow our business planning model, once you decide your vision and mission for the technology portion of your business plan, you need to decide what are your goals and objective, including:

  • growth of your business (e.g., more acres farmed or rented)
  • relative profitability of your operation (e.g., more profitability from the acres you already manage, access to contracts and value-added production)
  • need for cash flow (e.g., positive working capital, reduced need for outside financing)
  • desire for leadership/innovation (e.g., image as a leading edge manager)

Your objectives and goals provide the specific direction to your vision/mission. They translate your business plan vision into needed actions. Our marketplace rewards consistency of actions and visions. If you believe that in the future the “wins” go to those who have more or better information, then sitting around for a long time on the sidelines, watching precision technology, is not a good idea. Set your goals and objectives to be in line with your vision.

Once you have your business vision and set of objectives in balance, then you can make some choices about your strategies for implementing precision agriculture. Generally, these strategies fall into three main categories:

1. Fast Track

These producers can be generously called visionaries. With this kind of strategy, you’re eager to make investments in many, if not all, phases of precision. You’ll buy technology, not just yield monitors but GPS controllers and geographic information software. You’ll employ prescriptions to vary your seeding rates and make variable rate fertilizer and herbicide applications.

2. Cautious Investigation

These producers take a measured strategy to assess the value of precision agriculture before making significant investments in equipment. With this strategy, you’ll make use of precision services available from your input suppliers. You’ll become familiar with the lingo, knowing how to use precision agriculture buzzwords. You may take a lime focus to manage soil pH levels. If you have this attitude, you’ll want verifiable, economic proof that it works.

3. No Go

These producers believe that precision won’t help them reach their vision. If you subscribe to this strategy, you may believe that precision agriculture is, at best, ahead of its time, or at worst, a passing fad or fancy. On the other hand, you may believe that familiar, existing farming methods will serve perfectly well to accomplish your business goals. Either way, your response is, “I don’t want to play.”

Many farmers are opting for the cautious investigation approach because it blends well with several strategic objectives. Others have found that the fast track makes sense. Ellis McFadden, a corn and soybean farmer near Fort Wayne, Ind., describes his viewpoint this way, “It’s not that I want to farm more land; I just want to do a better job on the acres I already have. Precision agriculture is just another tool in the toolbox that I call management.” For any farmer, the key to successfully implementing precision agriculture is choosing the strategy that addresses your strategic objectives.

Make you choices about this new technology in light of your business plan and your visions of the future — then act accordingly.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the May-June 1997 issue of PrecisionAg Illustrated.

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