Unique blending of computer maintenance and protection business with precision farming sales builds customer base for a Florida dealer.

Today’s precision farming specialists tend to have a blend of agricultural experience and electronic expertise, which allows them to relate to customers, while troubleshooting complex technology problems.

But one company in Florida is taking a unconventional approach to build its precision farming customer base. For nearly 10 years, Scott Graddy owned and operated Augustine Computer Services in St. Augustine, Fla., which primarily provided computer service, maintenance and repair to a wide range of customers.

Working with a handful of local farmers, Graddy realized the growing importance of securely collecting and storing farm data, and at the start of 2014, integrated his computer service business into a new precision farming company, Ag-Tastic Solutions.

“What I kept hearing is that farmers want to manage data, but they have to be able to access it to use it,” Graddy says. “A lot of the problems farmers are having with precision comes from not collecting or properly securing their data and this is a service I can provide.”

On the hardware side, Ag-Tastic is an Ag Leader Technology dealer and also sells Greentronics yield monitoring systems for potatoes and vegetables, the primary crops grown in the area. Graddy acknowledges that adoption of precision farming practices by farmers in Florida isn’t as progressive as in other parts of North America, but his goal is to carve out a profitable niche offering field mapping, soil sampling and data management services.

His entry point into the precision market is leveraging the computer service part of the business to help farm customers protect their data. The company offers a range of computer services, including PC repair, data recovery and data backup, for $70 per hour for on-site service and $50 per hour for remote service.

Graddy also offers tiered monthly service plans — ranging from $10 to $30 — along with anti-virus, malware and web browser protection offerings. He eventually wants to model his precision data services in a similar fashion.

“I’m pretty conscious of pricing and there are plenty of people that charge more than I do, but I’ve got a loyal customer base,” Graddy says. “Word-of-mouth is helping develop my precision business, but both sides feed off each other.”

He recently installed an auto-steer system on a customer’s tractor and asked how the farmer backed-up his yield data. “He’d often forget to take that data off his thumb drive, so I set him up with a month trial of a service that schedules back-up reminders,” Graddy says.

That led to sales of additional computer services, including a hard drive clean up and web protection on the customer’s daughter’s computer. But one of the challenges Graddy faces on both sides of the business is convincing older farmers that collection and protection of their computer and data is worthwhile.

“The younger generation understands, but it’s an evolving process because they aren’t always the decision makers,” he says. “It’s convincing that customer who spent $250,000 on a tractor that another $300 to protect their PC is a good investment.”