Ag professionals are nearly overwhelmed by the amount of precision technologies available. New developments in precision and connective technologies are turning the farm into a digital storm of data.

There are soil moisture sensors, satellite imagery, drones, autonomous tractors and artificial intelligence (AI) like Siri that will all supposedly increase profit per-acre. These claims have become commonplace in broad acre crop production. 

Even though I have a Ph.D. in Soil Fertility and have been researching precision technologies for the past decade, even I can become overwhelmed by the array of advancements. So, I go back to my Midwestern roots and keep it simple by asking the right questions to determine if a new technology proves itself trustworthy and has potential to make more money for the farm: 

1 Does the technology address or impact more than one pillar of agronomic management: planting, fertility, protection and harvest?

2 What is the perceived level of impact on profit per-acre by adopting the technology?

3 Are there any proven results to verify the profitability of the new technology?

4 What is the DNA of the company who created the technology? Do any of the executives and/or product team have an ag background?

5 Do I need a Ph.D. in order to use the technology?

These types of questions have served many ag professionals in the sea of products and services. Let’s consider the recent buzz over using drones for improving agronomic analysis. Drones were made out as the next big thing, and were supposed to increase farm profitability by unimaginable levels. 

I saw multiple ways for drones to improve farm profitability in nutrient management. However, rather than jumping on the train saying drones will save the world, I asked my questions. 

“Are there any proven results to verify the profitability of the new technology?…”

Drones have the capability to impact planting by assessing germination, fertility through nitrogen (N) management, and crop protection by disease and pest detection. Therefore, the perceived level for improving profit per acre is high.

However, there has been limited verification to prove the profitability of drones in any of these areas. Universities, companies and other third parties are continuously testing drone technology and are discovering more development is needed in order to get drones to improve farm management and profitability.

At the start of the drone “bubble” in ag, there were many startup companies that flooded the ag market, and very few of them had personnel with ag backgrounds. As a result, a lot of false promises were made on what drone technology was capable of simply because the companies didn’t have the knowledge base required. 

Asking the right questions revealed that drones have the possibility to improve items like N recommendations, but algorithms or easy to use software can make this a challenge. 

With anything new, there is always the hope that it could help your farmers be more profitable. Amidst this excitement, it is critical to ask the right questions, and make any precision technology and the company selling it earn your trust. 

Any new technology should be easy to understand and have your confidence that it will improve farm profitability. All it takes is asking the right questions.