These days, it seems as though “Big Data” is on the tip of everybody’s tongue in agriculture.

For some, it may be nothing more than a catchphrase or coffee shop chatter. But for many in the precision farming business, the term holds as much monetary promise as it does mystery.

We’ve heard endless stories about the volumes of farm data collecting dust on farmers’ shelves. Slowly, but surely, we’re hearing more success stories about how that information is getting organized, evaluated and applied as decision-making tools on the farm.

Precision farming dealers are an increasingly critical link in the chain of in-field information being collected by yield monitors or wireless sensors, and then translated into timely, actionable advice for customers. How intimately involved dealers want to be in this process remains to be seen.

But it’s safe to say, dealers won’t be able to bank on traditional precision farming products to boost their bottom lines forever. As one precision ag engineer and farmer notes, “You are hard pressed to find people who don’t have GPS and some level of auto-steer. For those farmers, it’s table stakes technology.”

In fact, some of those early adopters and their dealers don’t even consider ground-level technology to be precision farming anymore. It’s just farming. However, those standard tools are also more important than ever, because they are the gateway to the future of precision sales.

“Today, GPS and auto-steer are table stakes technology for many farmers…”

Collection of in-field data is just the first step toward another buzz-worthy phrase that is becoming part of the precision farming lexicon — enterprise resource planning (ERP). These are essentially integrated management systems that companies implement to organize and access data on the go.

Some dealers are already moving in this direction, offering remote service or wireless transfer of precision data for farm customers. But further connecting the dots between the data collected by hardware and its practical payback for customers could present a broader sales opportunity.

“We’re seeing different companies build these ERP systems for ag and as a dealer, if I’m familiar with those, they become my sales’ pitch,” the precision engineer says. “The hardware I’m selling is what supports the data coming out of it.”

Products remain the backbone of precision sales, but results of the 3rd annual Precision Farming Dealer benchmark study inside this issue, reveal an ongoing integration of more service-oriented revenue sources by dealers.

Of the 25 questions included in this year’s study, one answer I was particularly interested in evaluating was the percentage of dealers who offer data management service in conjunction with sales of precision products.

This year, the percentage of dealers offering the service, 62.1%, equaled the combined total of those who provided the service, or planned to add it, in 2013. And a shrinking percentage of dealers — down to 16.7% this year — say they don’t offer any type of data management service.

Perhaps in the future, dealers won’t be pondering the importance or relevance of “Big Data” to their business, especially those who are savvy enough today to realize the opportunity is already imbedded in the precision products they sell.