JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Industry has provided plenty of interesting and exciting technology options to agriculture. But the challenge continues to be making that technology useful enough for farmers to adopt it.
Technology adoption goes in phases, Chad Godsey of Godsey Precision AG, explained at the eighth annual Precision Ag Summit at the Farmers Union Conference Center. Early adopters take it on, then there's a stage of discontent before the technology becomes useful enough for the majority to use it.
Some technology over the past 10 years has never made it to that "plateau of productivity," Godsey, the keynote speaker at the event, said. And that's why industry needs to look at issues through the "farmer's lens."
The 2019 Precision Ag Summit's theme was "Real World Strategies for Yielding Results." Speakers on the first morning of the Summit on Jan. 21 focused on how precision agriculture can - or should - create on-farm efficiencies. Organizer Ryan Aasheim said 150 people registered to attend the summit, down quite a bit from past years. Aasheim didn't know exactly what to attribute the decrease to but assumed the poor farm economy and a multitude of other January agriculture events might have played parts.
"We just never get that commercialized or at least commercialized in a way that could benefit consultants or farmers," he said.
For instance, imagery has been a big buzz; however, it needs to be something useful for farmers.
"We've got to tie a solution to that. We can't just hand farmers an image with no solution tied to it," he said.
Godsey and fellow speaker Paul Schrimpf both said "autonomous" technologies have caught on faster than "agronomic" technologies. Things like autosteer, which quickly became affordable and made tasks easier for farmers, caught on easier than things that require the capturing and analysis of data, Schrimpf said.
"Farmers want to farm," Godsey said, not focus on data collection and analysis. He said "boots on the ground" are still needed, even with technological advances, and he doesn't see that changing.
Schrimpf is the group editor of the Agribusiness Group's domestic brands at Meister Media Worldwide. In that position, he leads the CropLife and PrecisionAg editorial teams. He said technologies that try to revolutionize or change the basics of farming don't seem likely to succeed. Full automation doesn't seem like something likely to catch on, but he can see some automation that would help farmers do more with less becoming popular. Sensors, such as ones that could provide real-time irrigation information, seem like the next frontier of technologies that will find favor with farmers, he said.
Schrimpf also said industry needs to stop looking only at the "alpha dog" farmers - farmers who can afford to try every new thing that comes along and have the acres to make it worthwhile. Instead, companies should consider ways to find solutions for everyone.
"The rank-and-file farmers are really the ones we have to focus on," he said, noting a Twitter poll he conducted that indicated most farmers are looking to maintain their size, not expand.
Godsey and Schrimpf see technology becoming more commonplace, but only the technologies that will solve a problem or make farmers' or agronomists' lives easier. Schrimpf suggested that discontinuing use of the phrase "precision agriculture" might help make things easier. Agronomists and vendors who simply offer technological solutions as part of their offerings should become more commonplace, he said.
"We're going to get to a point where technology is something everybody wants and needs to use," Schrimpf said.
Matt Wiebers, an independent agronomy consultant and owner of CropCentric LLC in Minnesota, gave a presentation during the first morning of the summit on conducting on-farm trials and later gave a hands-on presentation on how to set up on-farm trials. Using precision agriculture tools, Wiebers has been able to test things like the optimum amount of nitrogen fertilizer on corn.
Wiebers has received grant funding from the Minnesota Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Council, which has allowed him to offer financial incentives to farmers and vendors involved in his trials. Precision agriculture tools have allowed them to vary the amount of fertilizer in a grid formation in portions of fields, which allows Wiebers to look at and evaluate the effects of different pounds of nitrogen on yields.