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Terry Griffin delivers the keynote address at the Precision Ag Summit on Jan. 15, 2018, in Jamestown, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

One farm data platform will rise

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The telephone wasn't a very useful invention until there were enough of them to require a phone book, the keynote speaker at the Precision Ag Summit told attendees.

Similarly, Terry Griffin explained, a farm data management system needs to include a "critical mass" of farm data to become so important to farmers that they feel they must join. The number of data platforms has grown to more than 100, Griffin said. But he expects that number to dwindle in the next few years.

"How many farm data platforms do we need?" he asked. "In economic terms, it's a natural monopoly. In the long run, there will be one."

Griffin, cropping systems economist at Kansas State University, on Jan. 15 outlined the past and present of precision agriculture, along with making some predictions about the future.

The first precision agriculture tools to become popular with farmers were things that made life easier, like automated guidance and automatic section control, Griffin said. Going forward, he sees tools that use to require more knowledge to use properly becoming easier to manage. Data will flow freely to "the cloud," and there will be clear benefits for farmers to join a certain platform, Griffin predicted.

At some point, he believes farmers who don't join up with a platform and are the last standing will go the way of those who refused to move away from animal-powered implements. However, he said that day hasn't come yet, and he recommends that farmers who don't see a clear benefit in joining a platform should hold off.

The growth of precision agriculture will depend on adequate cellular capabilities.

"If there is a farm for rent in the county where you know your cell phone doesn't work, and there's a chance that you're not able to monitor your equipment, you may not be willing to pay as much for that farmland as you would if there was adequate cell phone coverage," Griffin said, noting that probably is not very far away. He expects farm bill legislation at some point to offer incentives for expanding cell phone infrastructure.

Following his talk, Griffin moderated a farmer panel, featuring Kevin Skunes, of Arthur, N.D., and Levi Taylor, of Ypsilanti, N.D. Skunes and Taylor answered audience questions and some from Griffin about how they use precision agriculture technologies, what they find most valuable, their predictions for the future of precision agriculture and more.

After the panel, Taylor explained how he grew up in Minneapolis with little knowledge of farming but met a farmer's daughter and began farming. Conferences like the Precision Ag Summit allow attendees to learn and gain insights while networking and catching up with fellow farmers, he said. Anyone with questions about precision agriculture should consider attending such seminars to learn more and ask questions in a nonthreatening environment, he said.

On his farm, Taylor doesn't see much change in precision agriculture equipment in the next three to five years. But he is hoping for advancements in service providers and software that will allow farmers to make decisions, identify savings and become more profitable and sustainable.

Ryan Aasheim, event coordinator for the Precision Ag Summit, says farmer panels tend to be popular with attendees, as they give people a chance to learn what has and what hasn't worked for someone else.

Attendance at this year's event, held Jan. 15-16 at the Farmers Union Conference Center in Jamestown, was about 225. Aasheim said that's down a little from past years, but there were other ag shows going on in the region and weather may have kept some people away.