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Q&A: Indiana Farmer Kip Tom

Editor’s Note: If you’re still awaiting an announcement on the next USDA Secretary, you’re not alone. The latest word from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is that Kip Tom visited Trump Tower Thursday. Tom was a member of Trump’s ag advisory committee and is a large farm operator in Indiana.

The interview below was published in the Mid-November issue of Successful Farming magazine.

Farmers who don’t learn about new technology will get left behind. As an early adopter and a seventh-generation farmer, it’s a statement Kip Tom firmly believes in. 

“My grandfather was one of the first in our community to get a tractor,” he recalls. “There were a lot of naysayers who questioned his decision, but that innovation led to the mechanization of farming. What we are seeing now is somewhat similar. We need to look at technology and embrace it.”

SF: How has technology changed ag?  

KT: When we look at a technology to deploy, we ask what its utility is and what it does for our bottom line. With earlier technology like auto steer, it was easy to figure out because we needed to reduce overlap and be more efficient when diesel fuel was $4 a gallon.

Some of today’s technology is a bit more difficult to calculate in terms of ROI, so it’s a harder sell for farmers used to devoting dollars to iron and dirt. We operated with the same belief, but that has changed.

As farmers, we tend to do things the way we always have because we know we only get about 40 opportunities to produce a crop. We don’t want to risk failure in any of those years. I think that has made us a little shy to invest in new technology. The reality is, these technologies give us the ability to ensure we won’t fail and let us trial things in ways we weren’t able to before.

SF: How has Tom Farms employed ag technology?  

KT: We’ve used a variety of ag technology for 20 years, which means we’ve failed a lot along the way. We haven’t always been successful in the betas we’ve invested in or participated in to examine their utility and functionality. Yet, getting involved is the way we find the ones that work.

SF: What technology has been most beneficial?  

KT: The old standbys like a yield monitor and auto steer will be here for a long time. It’s the new stuff and how we leverage it that is most appealing to me. 

We’re working with Granular, who is developing a farm-management software platform or enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool to deliver more analytical results into an accounting system. Every other manufacturer has an ERP. Ag has yet to develop one. I like Granular’s path, because it lets us bring all of the data in and really understand what is making a positive or a negative impact.

SF: What challenges is ag technology facing?  

KT: Technology changes so fast that understanding what to invest in and what offers a return or utility can make for difficult decisions. 

It’s important to make sure you are investing wisely in a technology that will span time.

You also need a better understanding of the data that is proprietary to your farm. You need to own it and control it. There are a couple of initiatives developing data repositories, which allow you to decide what, if any, information can be passed on to a company. If you do pass it on or you try to trade it, you have to figure out what the value is because there is value.

People say it will be used to trade the market. I believe there are other things it can be used for that will benefit companies more.

At the same time, we don’t want to be so sensitive that we outleverage the data with partner companies, because we still want to help them build a better tool or seed that we’ll all benefit from. 

biography

Name: Kip Tom

Title: President, Tom Farms

Home: Leesburg, IN

Background: Tom Farms grows corn and soybeans across seven counties and is one of Monsanto’s largest seed producers. It employs, tests, and invests in the latest technology to continually move the operation forward while being as transparent as possible to consumers. 

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