Experts predict challenges ahead for ag tech adoption

In today’s tough economic climate, farmers will be more hesitant than ever to deploy new technologies. As farmers focus on near-term cash flow vs. maximizing profit long term, Aaron Rudberg predicts there may be a short-term slowdown in technology adoption.

“We believe the top-performing farmers will continue to look for digital solutions that improve their business,” says Rudberg, COO and managing director, S2G Ventures. “However, those farmers will be focused on the ‘need to have’ rather than the shiny, new toy. Specifically, products and services that drive yield improvements and reduce input costs will be more compelling than technologies that just provide data without clear insights toward actions.”

Going forward, Arama Kukutai also believes ag tech companies will need to meet an even higher bar before farmers are willing to change how they operate. 

“Given the longer adoption timelines, ag technology players will need to actively incentivize corn and soybean farmers to minimize adoption risk,” says Kukutai, cofounder and partner at Finistere Ventures. “Innovation in-field or in the supply chain usually involves time, investment and risk taking – all of which become greater barriers in a situation where people cannot interact freely and may also be facing supply chain pressures of their own.”

Control ­= Success

For Ryan Christensen being successful in the current environment is all about control. 

“No longer can farming be just about going for the biggest yields,” says Christensen, who is a fifth-generation farmer in Idaho. “You have to also understand what is going to help you gain the biggest profits and capture that return on investment.”

What that means is using technology to hone exactly where to reduce or best utilize inputs while maximizing outputs for the myriad crops his family grows.

“Applying 200 pounds of fertilizer might increase my yield, but if it doesn’t increase my profit, I have to question whether that investment is really worth it,” he says.

By using Zone Economics, a tool from Conservis that analyzes input costs against yield performance using data from the John Deere Operations Center and/or Climate Fieldview, Christensen can get a concrete answer on how much, dollar-wise, is attached to that application. The technology allows him to perform cost-based financial analysis for an accurate picture of how in-field decisions affect his bottom line.

Because Zone Economics allows him to compare and evaluate the financial efficiency of his field practices, Christensen says tools like this are even more important in the current economic climate.

“If I cut my input costs, I may save $100 per acre,” he says. “While I may lose yield, if I can keep that number proportionate, then I can take that money and put some of it toward the technology that helps me make those decisions.”

Back Up the Buy

While sales of new technology have definitely slowed at HTS Ag in Harlan, Iowa, service has not. 

“The technology is only as good as your ability to run it. If you don’t know how to run the technology ­– no matter what brand it is – you’re not going to do very well with it,” says Adam Gittins, general manager, HTS Ag. “When I step back and define what our business is, we do sell precision ag hardware, but a farmer can buy that from a lot of different people. What really differentiates us is our ability to train customers, to understand their problems, and to help them keep the technology moving.”

Leaning on technology that helps his team provide that exceptional customer service is key, especially given the uncertain times we are in due to the coronavirus. 

“We believe now is the time for technology to shine,” he says. “Instead of jumping in the cab with a farmer to troubleshoot a problem, we are using services like Ag Leader’s AgFiniti remote support, where we can log in and see the monitor as if we were in the cab.”

Another technology that is proving useful is AgriSync

“I had a customer about three hours away who was having problems with his auto steer system,” Gittins says. “Even though I could log into his display using AgFiniti, I couldn't see how the tractor was reacting, which makes it really hard to tune steering.”

Using the AgriSync video call feature, Gittins was able to get a complete picture of the problem. Not only was the farmer up and running again in about 15 minutes, but also the cloud-based communication software saved Gittins six hours of windshield time.

“With the ability to do video chats through our smartphones, we can still provide the service and solve problems by seeing what the farmer sees,” he says.

While AgriSync is free for farmers, HTS Ag does pay a yearly subscription fee. When you consider the time and resources the company’s five advisers save on field calls as well as the level of support customers receive, Gittins says the investment quickly pays for itself.

“Farmers are still interested in efficiency, and technology drives that better than any other investment on the farm,” Gittins says. “Going forward, tools like AgriSync and AgFiniti will be incredibly valuable.”

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