Working the National No-Tillage Conference this year with my colleagues from No-Till Farmer, I probably heard as many different opinions on the benefits and challenges associated with precision farming technology as there are brands of equipment on the market.
There were no shortage of sessions and speakers who shared their experiences — both positive and negative — with technology. But for me, the big takeaway was how much conversation, whether formal or informal, centered on where precision ag is headed in the future.
At the top of this list, as least for the majority of farmers, dealers and manufacturers I spoke with at the conference, is data management. There was widespread acknowledgement that leveraging precision data to improve on-farm management is critical. But how farmers actually do that remains a bit of a mystery.
In trying to get a handle on his data management strategy one farmer asked, “Do we need a new kind of professional on the farm? Somebody who can take all of this data, understand it and integrate it all together.”
The answer was a resounding ‘Yes’, whether this role is filled by a retailer, consultant or precision farming dealer. Having an intermediary to connect the data dots cannot only make sense of it for farmers, but also keep them invested in the outcome.
An Indiana farmer admitted that at times, “data depression” can set in, especially if the number crunching doesn’t translate to a return on investment.
“After I see all that we’ve done on our farm, with the technology or soil sampling and yields come in far short of what I’d hoped, it can make you think a little,” the Indiana farmer says.
But some in the precision industry forecast a cure for what currently ails farmers with precision data management. One precision consultant I spoke with at the conference suggests that within a few years, software will advance to the point that data analysis will be largely automated, essentially giving farmers an “easy button” to manage information.
“Fundamentally, farmers don’t want data, they want a decision. They want a recommendation,” the consultant says. “We’ll get to the point that companies will say, ‘We know enough that anybody can do this if they use our software.’ That will take an average farmer and add 8-80 bushels to his yield.”
Perhaps this is a bit of a utopian view, but still interesting food for thought as farmers, dealers and other trusted advisors work toward a simpler solution for turning precision data into profit.