This is a transformative time to be a crop consultant. With low commodity prices driving consolidation at every level, the consulting model of high service, high margins is breaking down as you’re faced with competition from chemical and seed manufacturers, co-op groups and other consulting offerings, as well as growers deciding to forego consulting partners altogether. Whatever your competitive set may be, the pressure is on to improve and demonstrate the value of your service. There are four key reasons farmers should be working with you and those reasons cover a vast number of benefits from access to the latest technologies to zero-bull relationships, and everything in between.
Ability to work efficiently and effectively
A recent study by Cornell researchers found that most farmers recognize the benefits that could be gained by adding new technologies to their farms. Higher profits, time savings, and opportunities to reduce the environmental impacts of farming operations are some of the largest motivators, and nearly three-quarters of those surveyed believe that using technology can provide efficiencies and environmental benefits.
Tapping into someone like you who works day-in and day-out with the technology can be a real benefit to growers. When Dorian Gatchell, founder and owner of Minnesota Agricultural Services, recently invested in new technology, efficiency was top of mind for him. He had three criteria for the system he would invest in: One, he needed the ability to work offline. His work puts him in remote fields where data connectivity is often nonexistent. Two, the system had to be simple to use. Three, it had to have GPS tracking capability.
Gatchell uses an online scouting system that allows him to access just about everything he needs to know about any one particular field in real-time on his mobile device, saving him and his clients time and money. A GPS tracking feature allows him to better manage his and his team’s progress in a field so that their survey work is done efficiently and accurately.
“When a customer gets my real-time reports, they can see exactly where we were in the field,” Gatchell says. “Not just where we found an issue or observation, but they can see where we were and that’s efficiency I think they very much appreciate.”
Access to new technologies
Venture capital firms are betting on agricultural tech and have been investing at an annual rate of approximately 80 percent beginning in 2012, with investments totaling $3 billion in 2015. Even if only a small portion of these investments produces successful technologies, the resulting wave of innovation could increase farm yields to an extent unmatched since the early days of mechanization.
With so much available technology and data, there’s a lot that could make a dramatic difference for growers and those resources will continue to become more plentiful. With the right data, growers can make more informed decisions to help them service crops more efficiently and ultimately create more value and higher profits. As an independent resource, you can choose the right technologies for the right jobs and create the system that works best for you and your customers. By proactively looking at all the available tools that enable you to bring more data to aid your customer’s agronomic decisions and how you service acres more efficiently, you will create more value for growers and ultimately capture more service revenue than the alternatives. As Gatchell says, “Using technology makes me look better to my growers. The latest technology makes me look more professional, and that’s a big deal.”
Create more value for farmers
The Cornell researchers also found that even with all the excitement surrounding new technology, farmers aren’t always sure how to make use of the data. About one-third of farmers surveyed said they received insufficient technical support, and half reported they weren’t sure how to best use technology in a way that would ultimately lead to more profitable farming.
That’s where you can come in and demonstrate the value in the technology. For example, Gatchell says he can provide more data to his farmers to help them best manage their fields and quickly confront issues when they arise. He knows, for example, if there is an insect problem, he’ll use the latest technology in which he’s invested and analyze the best course of action. “You put in your cost of whatever commodity you’re looking at and the technology gives you a report if, OK, now this is what’s going to happen potentially if you do not treat, or if you treat,” he says. “It’s just another layer of information to be able to bring to the grower.”
Almost 20 percent of farmers say they have no one to help them understand and apply data to their operations, and more than one-third of farmers rely on family members to help make decisions. The PrecisionAg Institute survey found that, of growers working with a crop consultant, nearly half say it’s a positive relationship, but not quite a trusted advisor relationship.
Any investment made by a grower needs to lead to higher crop yields and more efficient and effective crop management. You are the one who understands best how technologies work together for the benefit of the farmer, and who can offer meaningful insights that interpret the available data and can build on previous experiences. Growers have high expectations, but also recognize there is value if you can help maximize their yields. The bottom line is that it’s not just the insights and experience, or just the technology and tools. It’s the combination of those resources that define the value you bring.
The PrecisionAg Institute study clearly shows that the people behind the technology are just as important as the technology and tools themselves. There were two main themes that were identified by growers on the qualities that contribute to a positive grower/consultant relationship.
Experience. First, was that you need to have the experience and knowledge to interpret the data and provide expert counsel. Growers are looking for a partner who clearly understands their business goals and can come up with creative ideas to drive yields and profitability for them. It’s important for you to listen to the grower and support his or her business goals, whether or not you agree on them.
Good partner skills. All of the great data and experience in the world is no good to a grower if there’s not a good person behind it. Growers see a relationship with you like a successful farm business. It’s a partnership that isn’t made in a season; it needs to build and grow into something trustworthy and long-term. You need to offer good ideas and have the research to back them up. This will instill confidence in growers with proof that you have more knowledge bringing together data and your personal agronomy experience.
The old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts really holds true when it comes to farming. By combining your insights and experience with the latest technology, data, resources, and service providers, growers get the total package, and they can focus on what they do best: farm.
About DTN Agronomic Platform
The DTN Agronomic Platform (AP) empowers a crop consultant’s best decisions. It is a comprehensive agronomic software tool that integrates precision ag technology into a single, easy-to-use interface. With DTN AP, a consultant can operate more efficiently while helping growers protect critical yields and profit margins. There are a variety of tools and functionalities available in a wide variety of packages, so there’s something for just about every business. Find out more about the DTN’s tools here or click here for a free trial.
Digital Agriculture in NY State, 2015, https://fieldcrops.cals.cornell.edu/extension-outreach/meeting-and-training-archives/2015-precision-agriculture-workshop/
USDA, Economic Resource Service, The Fern, Successful Farmer article, https://www.agriculture.com/news/technology/corn-farmers-lead-in-adoption-of-precision-agriculture
Precision Ag Institute: https://www.precisionag.com/institute/9-rules-for-success-as-a-trusted-advisor/