Henry Ford supposedly remarked, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Now, there is no real evidence that he actually made this observation, but the quote does illustrate one of the dilemmas our industry faces these days: We view technology through the lens of the past and not from a vision of what is possible.
Agriculture is accustomed to a world of defined roles — retailers, equipment manufacturers, seed suppliers, and information technology companies working independently, essentially in their own silos, not connected to each other except through the farmer. The farmer has stood in the middle of that mix, attempting to integrate the value that each of these separate entities brings to the farm operation. It was not a role that farmers necessarily were prepared for, or even wanted. It just happened.
That world is changing. Those defined roles are blurring; the silo walls are being eroded by the need to exchange data easily, seamlessly, and cheaply. It means that relationships are changing, and that includes the interactions between farmers and retailers.
So how does a retailer start the conversation about precision agriculture with a farmer? It starts with a self-assessment. The retailer needs to ask himself or herself some questions. How important is it that I offer these technologies to my customers? Where do I fit in the precision equation? And, how committed am I to making the investments necessary to be a successful partner?
These are not rhetorical questions. Farm operations are diverse, and not all farmers will want or will be willing to pay for precision farming technologies delivered by retailers. That retailer self-assessment is the foundation for the conversation with the customer. As a farmer I want to know what my retailer can do and cannot do as well as their plans for the future. This is the place where the farmer-retailer conversation starts. Among the challenges that retailers must manage are the diverse skills, experience, and expectations that famers have regarding precision farming. I do not anticipate my dealer will be able to answer all of my questions, but I do have expectations they need to meet.
Here is my list of what I want from my retailer:
- Knowledgeable people. Employees who understand technology and what products are available in the market.
- Help make it easy. This stuff is complicated. Anything you can do to make it simpler helps. Wireless data transfer, prepopulating existing databases, and good software and web design are all part of easy.
- To be impressed. Tell me something I do not know about my farm in a way that I understand. Tell me something I can do better.
- Value. I understand what you do costs money. I just need a return on my investment in your services.
- Partnership. Precision agriculture is not just a transaction between a retailer and a farmer. Do not treat it that way.
- Commitment to learning and change. Technology and knowledge change rapidly; you need to partner with me to manage that evolution.
- Collaboration, not just with me, but with all the other parties I need to work with.
Precision farming has been with us for more than 20 years. This technology is a great opportunity for retailers to add real value to the farmers they serve. Let’s just not be satisfied with faster horses.