Jack Zemlicka, Technology Editor

In talking with precision farming dealers, they typically acknowledge that the most common request from customers, is for auto-steer and GPS systems.

So what are operators doing in their cabs if they don’t have to drive the tractor and how is that impacting precision equipment dealers?

In some cases, farmers are spending that time on their mobile devices like iPads, laptops or smart phones — not to gossip on Facebook or Twitter — but to share farming notes via social media, according to Jeremy Wilson, technology specialist at Crop IMS, a precision technology dealer and farm management consulting firm in Effingham, Ill.

This is a tendency that precision farming dealers should pay attention to, Wilson recently told Precision Farming Dealer, because it reveals that the next generation of farmers — who are often already in those tractor cabs — will want more from their technology and the information it can provide.

“Farmers, especially the younger generation, increasingly understand the value of data, because they grew up in a data generation,” Wilson says. “Maybe it’s only 10% of our market, but that’s the 10% that is going to be here in five years and that is who is invested in precision technology.”

So how do precision farming dealers effectively cater to that emerging market of multi-tasking growers?

For Wilson — who’s father owns a farm in Illinois — it required an experiment in the field. He spent a day planting corn on his father’s farm using auto-steer and planter-control on the tractor.

“I took my smart phone and decided I was just going to sit on Twitter the whole day,” he says. “In a matter of three hours following #plant12, I saw about 18-19 tweets that said ‘Thank you auto-steer, now I’ve got time to tweet’.”

What Wilson learned from the experiment was that farmers aren’t simply sitting in the cab listening to the radio anymore. They are embracing the latest technology, even if precision equipment allows them to physically do less.

For precision farming dealers like himself, he says the takeaway is that they have an opportunity to proactively meet the technology needs of customers by looking beyond simply selling precision hardware and making a commitment to provide service for multiple products on multiple levels.

“The precision farming dealer of tomorrow has to be very comfortable not only in the display and on the widget side of the business, but also keeping abreast of the agronomy, the data management piece and in all reality, the communications element,” Wilson explains.

Another component for dealers to consider is that customers who want to make the most of their precision data, often want to do so on-the-go, which is why tablets and smart phones are often mandatory tools in the tractor cab.

“A lot of farmers want to get out in the field with a web-based application and be able to pull up their data,” says Mike Wilson, account manager with SST Software in Champaign, Ill. “Nobody wants a three-inch, three-ring binder full of their data. They will throw it in the corner and hope it doesn’t catch on fire.”

Precision farming dealers have an opportunity to simplify the learning curve for customers, if they understand the software themselves, Wilson explains.

But there is a safety net, in that dealers can call software providers to get support they need before tackling customers’ problems.

Even with manufacturer support, Wilson acknowledges that it won’t be easy for dealers selling a single line of precision products to keep pace with the next generation of tech-savvy customers who will demand more variety.

“It’s like the fast food industry where customers will want it their way with one piece of hardware, but manage the data with a different piece of software,” he says. “That’s a real challenge and it’s going to change us as dealers going forward to be well-versed in software platforms.”

Jeremy Wilson discusses the need for precision farming dealers to expand their services to include data management and agronomy to keep pace with customer demand in the future.