Looking at the history and evolution of precision farming technology, it’s easy to pinpoint the innovations that proved to be game changers for the industry. Talking with dealers, farmers and suppliers throughout the last year, I asked many to identify the most impactful piece of technology in agriculture.

For some, it was arrival of auto-steer. Others vouched for the infinite value that GPS systems have provided. Still a few more advocated for the advancements in planter technology (namely row clutches, section control and hydraulic down force).

All of the above are valid answers and can be defended as revolutionary advancements. But the response that most intrigued me came from an experienced precision retailer, who suggested that the most important technological innovation has yet to be introduced to agriculture.

The dealer emphasized the word “innovation” rather than product, suggesting that it may not be a gadget, widget or gizmo that will be the next transformative technology.

Will it evolve from the data and analytical side of the industry? Perhaps it’s autonomy? Or some creation that an ambitious engineer is just discovering?

But rather than look too far into the future or dwell on the past, perhaps it’s worth a taking a few words to understand the present. During my annual conversation with the judges of our 5th annual Most Valuable Dealership program (full coverage to appear in our Winter print edition), there was considerable discussion about the quality and depth of the nominees.

As one judge noted, “We’re seeing dealers move away from the bells and whistles approach to precision and looking beyond the hardware to service and analytics and decision-making.”

There is an ongoing transition within some dealerships; for those that understand pre- and post-season inspections are standard offerings, installations are expected and technology troubleshooting is an increasingly competitive market.

But for many, component sales are the only measuring stick for the success of a precision farming business. Diminishing or neglecting the support side is far too common a practice and the judges went so far as to question whether precision is being held hostage by its own technology?

How much of the business is driven by those products vs. the support? Retailers might be collecting the data, but is anything being done with it? In many cases, that support isn’t there in a dealership, the judges say.

However, it’s encouraging to see that some dealers are moving toward a model where product support is starting to be the driver of success, rather than just the products themselves.

Reading though the nominations again, phrases like “collaborating with our customers” and “helping farmers make decisions to improve farm management” were more than empty words. They were supported by examples of off-the-clock training initiative by precision specialists and internally built analytical tools to help customers apply their collected data.

Thinking about the dealer who anticipates ag’s definitive game-changing innovation is still on the horizon, I hope that he and his more progressive peers will contribute to the next precision inspiration … whenever it strikes.