How many people are ready to turn the calendar to 2020? I won’t be taking a virtual hand count, but suspect there are plenty reading this who are mentally maneuvering toward what they hope will be a more prosperous fiscal year.

But it’s still worth taking stock of 2019 and for me, there were a few takeaways that came from conversations throughout the year, which could have a lasting impact on how dealers do business in the future.

Many of the most memorable interactions were also on some of the more abstract topics emerging in ag. The “what ifs” and crystal ball predictions always make for excellent forecast fodder. But there could also be some truth — intended or not — in philosophical back-and-forth.

It’s been nearly impossible to ignore the ongoing discussion (and in some circles, debate) over the advancement of autonomous vehicles in ag. Looking at results of our 2019 Benchmark Study, some 42% of responding dealers cited autonomous vehicles as an area of at least moderate importance to grow revenue during the next 5 years.

And during the Precision Farming Dealer Summit in Indianapolis earlier this year, 4 precision farming managers candidly shared their outlook on autonomy. The perspectives ranged from the practical to the pipedream, but one that stuck with me came from Jason Riseley, Integrated Solutions Manager with Cervus Equipment in Alberta. 

Talking about the timetable for widespread adoption of autonomous equipment, Riseley cites two customers who fit the mold for early adopters. 

“The first farm to get to 90% autonomous is at least 10 years away…”

At their peak, both ran 17,000-acre operations and endured constant labor challenges which ultimately forced the farms to downsize to accommodate available labor. 

“These customers will be our first to jump on the full autonomy bandwagon as soon as it comes forward,” Riseley says. “I still think that the first farm to get to 90% is at least 10 years away, but there will be certain areas of the farm that will make it to full autonomy before that.”

Another topic I solicited opinion on throughout the year was blockchain, and where dealers (and the ag industry as a whole) fits in. Several potential entry points came out of the discussions, including the role precision dealers can play in the certification of data being collected in the field. As was noted, if data accuracy is the first chain in blockchain, having unusable data can torpedo the rest of the process.

Growing consumer interest in tracing the origins of ag products from the farm to the table was cited as a motivating factor for dealers to play a critical role in validation of field data. A few real-world examples were shared, including a 4,000 acre vineyard in the Pacific Northwest which provides a scannable label on each bottle to track where grapes were grown and a Tennessee cotton gin utilizing RFID labels to trace bales used in clothing production back to their origin.

Dealers and manufacturers agreed that more acres — especially those growing specialty crops — will drive the development of blockchain in ag, but getting to the point of being able to accurately trace the origins of small grains will be challenging.

Odds are, it won’t be a single manufacturer or service provider that corners the market on any of the next-generation ag tech innovations. Company collaboration will be critical to commercialization and that could be transformational for the precision industry. 

It’s been happening for years, with subtle partnerships and also dramatic acquisitions. So what will be the next game-changer on the
horizon? Time will tell, but it’s something to think about as we close out this year.