Pictured Above: As next generation technology continues to infiltrate dealerships and their customers’ farms, Chad Colby with Colby Ag Tech has 3 pieces of advice to guide decision-making when choosing the right tools to sell and support.
Anticipation can be a frustrating and ambiguous objective when it comes to forecasting the when and how the next ag tech innovation will influence a dealership’s precision farming business.
But as autonomy, machine learning and electrification of farm equipment gain momentum, dealers can maneuver their business plans to ensure the next disruptive technologies don’t disrupt their precision progress.
“When we talk about disruptive technology and new technology, there’s nobody who’s going to argue that this stuff is available and it works,” says Chad Colby, ag entrepreneur and owner of Colby Ag Tech in Goodfield, Ill.
At the 2020 Precision Farming Dealer Summit, Colby shared 3 tips and advice for how dealers can adapt their precision business to accommodate and capitalize on the next-generation tech tools that will help define growth.
1. Electrification is More than Buzz
Will farmers one day be plugging in their tractors, rather than filling up with diesel fuel? It’s possible, Colby says, and manufacturers are investing in and engineering more electric models of farm machinery.
He cites some of the electric machinery displayed at the 2019 Agritechnica show in Hanover, Germany, including John Deere’s one-axle electric tractor design and also its push-button planter simulator which Colby tested at the show.
Chad Colby’s Technology Checklist
1. Have a yearly plan.
2. Realize your time is the most valuable asset.
3. Invest in items that provide “real-time decisions.”
4. Push the limits and calculate your results.
5. Don’t be afraid to fail.
“Basically, the system simulated me pulling into a field, communicating with the other operators in the field via FaceTime or Skype and we walked through the process of what this looks like, then the planter folds out, I push a button, it goes and plants,” he says. “We verified the field we were going to plant, the settings and it didn’t take a PhD to do this, and I didn’t need that big 3-inch-thick manual. Other manufacturers are going down this path as well, much like what the automobile industry is doing with automation.”
2. Smarter Smart Devices
When it comes to consumer smart devices, one of the main selling points is their simplicity. The same isn’t necessarily true of ag technology, says Colby, but there is an opportunity to better adapt everyday capabilities of tools like smartphones and tablets to improve on-farm decision making.
One of the areas where there is room for improvement is in communication. Colby conducted a recent online survey through his social media channels asking farmers how much business they do by text today. About 80% indicated they do business via text, with 14% noting they prefer a phone call and 6% said they prefer email.
While texting isn’t sophisticated by today’s technology standards, the ability to maximize the value of that communication is reliant upon the sender and receiver’s comfort with advanced application of smart technology, Colby says. In another online survey, he asked farmers how long ago they had updated their smartphone. The results were almost evenly divided between upgrading in the last year (36%), 12-24 month ago (31%) and more than 2 years ago (33%).
The results correlated with research from hardware performance supplier, Geekbench, which benchmarked iOS smartphone performance speeds, finding a dramatic disparity in the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 10 in capabilities — despite being only 1 model apart.
Chad Colby conducted a recent online survey through his social media channels asking farmers how much business they do by text today. About 80% indicated they do business via text, with 14% noting they prefer a phone call and 6% said they prefer email. Courtesy of Geekbench
Colby acknowledges that frequent smart device upgrades are often an afterthought or low priority for dealers, but he puts the cost of doing so in context. “People will say, ‘Chad, I’ve got an iPhone 7. I’m not spending $800 to upgrade, that’s crazy.’ That same dealership will spend $1 million on a new facility or buy a $70,000 new truck for one of their specialists, but won’t invest a few hundred dollars to dramatically improve the ability of that specialist to serve his or her customers. That’s frustrating.”
3. Testing Technology
One of the adoption barriers with new technology is an unwillingness to understand it by embracing it. To overcome this, Colby suggests dealers proactively target and test new ag technologies.
“We’re talking practical applications. If you’re going to communicate with a farmer, if you’re going to communicate with your team, you’ve got to have technology to do so,” Colby says. “Get your leadership team together, get your sales team together. Ask everybody in the room, ‘What thing should we try?’ Get everybody’s opinion and put 10 things on the board. Then as a group, everybody picks three and there you go. Odds are, the manufacturers that make the equipment, they’re likely to come and help you.”
But he also reminds dealers that as intuitive as new technology is today and will become in the future, the ability to support it will still be the differentiator for dealerships.
“We’re talking practical applications. If you’re going to communicate with a farmer, if you’re going to communicate with your team, you’ve got to have technology to do so…” – Chad Colby
Colby shares a personal experience that solidified his loyalty to an auto dealership, not based on the high-end product, but the exemplary service.
“I bought a used $32,000 BMW X5 with about 30,000 miles on it. When it was time for its first oil change, I walked into the service department and the guy at the counter says, ‘Before we go any further, how would you like us to communicate with you?’
“I said, ‘Well, I don’t know, what works best for you?’ He goes, ‘No, what works best for you?’ I said, ‘Just please don’t call me, ever. You can text me.’ He’s like, ‘No problem. We will never call you.’ I thought that was fantastic.
“But what I’m going to tell you is the expectations of your customers are higher than ever. The dealerships that embrace that are the ones that are going to win in the future. It’s not going to be an easy fight.”