Manufacturers, industry expects and dealers see growth potential for technology in underserved markets. 

Jack Zemlicka, Technology Editor

Throughout the Midwest, adoption of precision farming technology continues to increase evidenced by many equipment dealerships rapidly expanding their staffs to accommodate the growth.

Corn and soybean farmers have traditionally had the biggest appetite for technology, which has prompted manufacturers to focus their efforts on the central part of the country. But industry experts say there is increasing interest and opportunity to broaden the scope of precision services offered in the southern U.S.

At this year’s Farm Progress Show, Precision Farming Dealer spoke with an established precision systems manufacturer that is looking to expand its dealership network in 5 southeastern states. “A lot of areas in the Midwest are already saturated,” says the manufacturer’s territory manager. “We’re sitting here looking for new niches and untapped markets.”

One of the driving factors is that southern farmers are diversifying their crop rotations, notes Dr. John Fulton, associate professor and extension specialist with Auburn Univ. While many farmers grow cotton, more are incorporating corn, soybeans and wheat, which is growing interest and need for precision technology, he says.

“In the past, when I’d talk about cotton yield monitoring, farmers would say, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ which was odd,” Fulton says. “Now, farmers are getting a taste of precision because they are growing more grain crops and understanding what the technology can do, and some are even applying it to their cotton program.”

While not yet widespread, according to Fulton, more cotton farmers are utilizing yield monitors to do on-farm research, fertility trials and to fine tune input management.

He recently worked with a cotton farmer who used auto-guidance to plant skip-row cotton.

“They built their system to be picked by a John Deere picker, but left out a row because that picker can cover more acres,” he says. “They aren’t seeing a yield drag and those are the kinds of things this technology can do, so it’s opening some eyes down here.”

Some area dealerships with established precision offerings are looking to capitalize on the growing interest in precision among southern farmers. H&R Agri-Power, a 12-store Case IH dealership network with locations in Tennessee and Alabama, is looking to establish a cellular RTK base station at its Brownsville, Tenn., location.

“If we have a customer with a $20,000 base station and he’s got 4-5 other farmers around him who may all put up their own base stations, they’re spending a lot of money when we could spend the money, put one there and cover those farms with a subscription,” says Jason Moore, AFS specialist with H&R. “Those individual farmers don’t have to take that big hit, and it allows us to expand our service and customer base.”

But not every dealership has the resources to pour into expanding its precision reach. For the manufacturer looking to partner with southern dealers, it comes down to whether or not there is a commitment to sell and service the products.

“It’s going to be a matter of picking the right dealers and I want to make sure they have a dedicated precision person,” says the manufacturer’s territory manager. “If he’s a full time equipment salesperson who is going to try and do precision on the side, usually that doesn’t work.

“He’s more likely to focus on the iron and when the poor customer who bought our product is down, he’s calling me and I can’t afford the black eye, so I’m hitting the road on a Saturday or Sunday morning."