Precision Farming Dealer interviewed 5 farmers from across North America to learn what standards of service and support they get from their precision farming specialists, how much training and education is useful and available and what their biggest point of pain is when integrating precision farming technology into their farm operations.
Q: Define and explain the expectations of a precision farming specialist on your farm today. How do you expect those will change in the future?
Cade Bushnell, Stillman Valley, Ill.: “My expectation of a precision farming specialist is that he pays for himself. The amount of data we’re generating and have generated over the years requires a lot of time and energy from someone to go through. And quite frankly, I don’t do a very good job of it. I’m a farmer because I enjoy raising crops, not because I enjoy sitting at a computer. So my real expectation is that a precision farming specialist is someone who can analyze the data like I would, but actually do it, which I wouldn’t.
“I think the expectations will be changing, though. For one, I’m going to get older. Two, it’s going to change because the way we analyze data is continuing to change. The kinds of data we’re gathering are also changing. For example, down force monitors on planters. That’s data I hadn’t gathered in the past. It may be pertinent in the future, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it now. As we move forward, we may be able to understand more of the interrelations between the data we’re gathering and dealers will be able to help make those connections.”
Mark Richards, Dresden, Ont.: “I expect the precision dealer to have knowledge not only on his own equipment brands, but also what else is available. Specifically, if they’re an Ag Leader dealer, I would expect them to at least be aware of what the capabilities are of the GreenStar system or Raven or Trimble. They don’t have to know the intricate details, but they should know how it compares to the services they provide. And they should also be knowledgeable enough to know when their system does not do something as well as another system and admit it. Honesty and integrity are important. I don’t like to hear the words, ‘I’ve never heard that before.’
“There are techs and then there are salespeople, and I think up until now those roles in precision have been somewhat blurred or combined. Don’t send a salesperson to troubleshoot a technical issue. And if you do, make sure they’ve got some technical know-how.
“As we go forward, dealers need to have precision specialists who aren’t necessarily a jack of all trades, but a master of at least a few. They have to know their equipment and how it compares to the competition. We use Deere for auto-steer because I have green tractors and the system just plain works. But any time I want to do something else, like variable-rate fertilizer application through a cart or variable-rate planting, I won’t even look at Deere because I know my precision dealer doesn’t know how to tie stuff in. They’ve lost a few thousand dollars in sales because of that.”
Paul Anderson, Coleharbor, N.D.: “My expectation is that the precision specialist will answer the phone or try to get back to me somehow within an hour of when I call.
“I purchased some precision equipment from a dealer and the support I got during the first year to get the section control going was abysmal. I struggled with it for about a week before I got to talk to a junior technician who just read out of the big phone book-sized manual and that was the support I got. Their main AMS techs at that dealership were tied up starting new sprayers for guys so the support I received really disappointed me and I won’t buy from that dealership anymore.
“Phone support should get better, though, over the next couple of years for me. I’ve found a precision specialist who regularly answers his phone, so I feel like I’ve found someone I can rely on now. He’s from a different dealership than where I purchased my last piece of equipment.”
Willis Jepson, Orlinda, Tenn.: “We’re leaning on our suppliers to help us understand where new technology fits into what we’re doing and where there are new opportunities. Right now, there are a lot of opportunities to gather better data. Once I gather that data, I have to get it into usable form. I have to have someone who I feel comfortable with and who I can rely on to take the data and use it to help me make better agronomic decisions and better financial decisions.
“This year, we integrated the Climate FieldView data with our other systems and our dealer helped us get that going. It would have been very difficult to get everything coordinated without him.
“I think the next big thing will be real-time data. Just 20 years ago we began collecting data and that was a big deal. And then 10 or 12 years ago we were able to start really analyzing the data to make agronomic decisions. Most recently, we’ve been using the wireless cloud to have access to the data. In the future, being able to see and analyze data in real-time will be an adjustment that everyone will have to make.”
Bret Margraf, McCutchenville, Ohio: “I expect precision farming specialists to know everything about their product and how their product will mingle with whatever color or brand of equipment that I’m asking them to install it in.
“I think this will change somewhat because of the push for the industry to be more compatible overall. The whole ISOBUS thing has started to change things. What they have to know or are expected to know is changing as a result of that and I think that will continue. The whole goal is the old adage of ‘plug and play.’ Everybody wants to be able to have any company’s stuff, plug it in and be good to go.”