I recently had the opportunity to speak to a well-established group of farm equipment dealers at their bi-annual meeting near Chicago about the current state of precision farming, while also looking at what the future may hold.

In preparing for the presentation, it took some time to narrow down the number of topics ripe for discussion. But ultimately, there were three that stood out as timely and even controversial conversation starters.

Developing and implementing precision service packages are still squarely on the radar of dealers. During my presentation, I asked the group of 45 or so attendees how many had precision plans in place. While many had gone this route, I was a little surprised that more had not.

But talking with dealers afterward, they understood the importance of putting more attention on service, rather than a singular focus on precision hardware sales.

“Customers must realize that they need to start paying for services that we’re providing, because who else is going to provide these services?” says one precision specialist from South Dakota.

Tied to precision service is data management. Only a handful of dealers at the meeting raised their hands when I asked if they were currently providing these services to farm customers.

Some questioned if “it’s a sandbox they want to play in” given that local co-ops and retailers provide prescription mapping and planting recommendation services. But many heads nodded in agreement when I mentioned that some dealers are finding success partnering with third-parties to offer a robust data management package.

As one dealer from New York told me, “These partnerships are going to be popping up more and more and I think this is the way a lot of dealers are going to launch their data management offerings.”

The third topic I touched on with the dealer group was ag drones. Not surprisingly, this generated the most interesting back-and-forth, with very few dealers actively selling the technology, but many interested in it.

One dealer in Mississippi selling ag drones says, at this point, they are still “toys” and they are still figuring out how to capture meaningful data with the devices.

But some in the group are wary of the current regulations — or lack thereof — defining drone use. One precision manufacturer in attendance noted that there is a substantial “gray area” when it comes to what constitutes commercial use of drones, which is illegal.

Personally, it was a pleasure talking with the group and seeing pens being put to paper during the meeting and fielding some provocative questions afterward, hopefully dealers came away with a sense of where the precision industry is heading and also where they want to be in the future.”