One of the frequent observations I’ll hear from precision farming dealers is that customers rarely utilize the full potential of their technology after purchase. During demonstrations, dealers can showcase multiple features of a product or system, but once farmers get into the field — especially during planting and harvesting — they tend to focus on one, maybe two aspects of the technology.
Driving a straight line and accurately placing seed or harvesting crops is what farmers demand from auto-steer and GPS. Collecting yield data or tapping into variable-rate technology can be an afterthought.
One manufacturer I spoke with estimates that only about 10% of corn and soybean farmers do variable-rate seeding, in part because of the need to collect yield data and create prescription seeding maps.
“At the farmer level, it’s not clear what data should be used to generate those maps so that’s a hurdle in adoption of the technology,” the manufacturer says.
While some dealers are beginning to take a more active approach to educating customers on the agronomic benefits of precision equipment, many are still focused on the sales and service of the hardware.
Availability is a growing challenge for precision dealers, which means prioritizing is an essential part of the job. As adoption of precision farming technology continues to grow, dealers may struggle with balancing the advanced needs of the early adopters, with those customers who are just getting started in precision farming.
Recognizing a local need to help farmers get the most out of their precision products from the start, the Univ. of Minnesota is developing a program to increase awareness of the capabilities of precision technology. One of the goals of the program is to put farmers — especially new adopters of precision technology — on the right path toward realizing the full potential of their purchases.
During a recent trip through southeastern Minnesota, I spent some time with Brad Carlson, crops educator for the Univ. of Minnesota extension in Mankato, who is helping develop the program, planned for later this year. As precision technology adoption increases in the state, he says there’s a growing need to make sure farmers, especially “non-users and under users of precision technology” get up to speed on the capabilities of the products they’re buying, so they get the most for their money.
Helping dealers shoulder the educational load for precision farming customers seems like a good fit for colleges and universities and can strengthen partnerships going forward. An introductory precision farming program could also benefit dealers that sell used precision equipment, notes Carlson.
“Generally, by the third turn on that equipment, that technology is considered useless,” he says. “Extending the life of those products by showing customers who haven’t had experience with them the value, could help dealers be more successful.”
In an industry that tends to focus on promoting the newest precision innovations, dealers shouldn’t overlook opportunities to emphasize “all” the benefits of existing products.