In-house agronomic knowledge and proving value to customers are keys to adoption.

Jack Zemlicka, Technology Editor

When on-the-go crop sensors began to pop up in precision farming a few years ago, Tim Norris, owner of Ag Info Tech in Gambier, Ohio, acknowledges that he had his doubts about the technology.

“As a dealer, when we looked at with this technology, I was very skeptical at first,” Norris told Precision Farming Dealer while attending the National No-Tillage Conference last week in Indianapolis, Ind. “I had to prove it to myself and to my customers that it worked.”

In 2010, Norris tested a mobile crop sensing system on his own farm and did 11 trials. The results showed promise and in 2011, one of Norris’ customers purchased an Ag Leader OptRx crop sensing system from Ag Info Tech.

“We tried to start out small and get our feet wet with a couple of customers, so we did some trials and looked at about 1,000 acres of corn,” he says. “Between 2010 and 2011 we had about a $49 per-acre advantage where we used the sensors, vs. where we didn’t.”

Being able to show customers the value of crop sensing technology went a long way in Norris’ ability to successfully sell the products.

But carrying crop sensor systems is only part of the equation, he says.

Dealers need to be able to support the technology, so that customers maximize the potential of the systems.

“A big hurdle for a lot of dealers as they start looking to adopting this technology, will be the fact that they may or may not have an agronomist on staff,” Norris says. “If you have a dealership that does not have an agronomist on staff, it’s going to be a hard technology to really grasp, sell it and promote it to the grower.”

Ag Info Tech has two agronomists on staff and is planning to hire a third, says Norris.

“The more certified crop advisors you have on staff, the better understanding they are going to have of agronomics and how to utilize and implement a system like this in a grower’s operation,” he says.

This is key to selling a precision farming technology that is growing, but still in its infancy, Norris notes.

Products like Ag Leader’s OptRx and Trimble’s GreenSeeker are emerging as mobile crop-sensing options for farmers who want to accurately predict the amount of nitrogen a crop needs while moving through the field.

“I know it’s been a little slower to catch on than what some of the manufacturers expected, but I really think we’re going to see a rapid uptake of this technology,” Norris says. “We’re going to start to see that curve grow and see a lot of the sales coming out of this technology.”

While Norris doesn’t envision mobile crop sensors will be “the next auto-steer” in terms of popularity, he does see a bright future for precision farming dealers that are equipped to deliver the technology to customers.

“I think we’re right at the bottom of the adoption curve,” he says. “We have a few people using it, but it’s a technology that definitely works. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the grower and it’s good for the dealer who sells it.”