The Precision Ag Paradox

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A few weeks back, CropLife hosted its annual PACE Council meeting in Chicago, IL. Now in its 18th year, the PACE Council brings together various industry leaders from ag retailers, trade associations and product suppliers for a day-long roundtable discussion on the new trends and topics currently shaping the ag retail marketplace, as well as a brief look forward on what should be watched in the coming months.

At the 2012 meeting, the topics that came up weren’t all that surprising – how well agriculture weathered the drought, the unrelenting spread of resistant weeds and worries about new local/state/federal legislation and its impact on the industry. But there was one point I found very interesting regarding precision agriculture.

As one of the participants on the PACE Council pointed out, the adoption of precision agriculture has seemed stuck for many years now, ranging between 49% and 56% market penetration based upon various Purdue University surveys of ag retailers and their grower-customers. Talking with council members, there seems to be no consensus for why this is the case. Some said their customers thought precision ag systems were too expensive; others thought the problem rested with unfulfilled technology promises.

In truth, the problem probably lays with the views of the grower-customers themselves. In the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with a few growers about precision agriculture and their views are fascinating, to say the least. On one hand, growers want very comprehensive precision ag systems that will provide them with an almost endless stream of hard data, allowing them to better manage their overall operations. But on the other hand, growers seem to like using precision ag systems that are easy to install, simply “plugging into” their existing equipment without any extra fuss.

It’s an interesting paradox for precision ag system manufacturers – create products that provide tons of information, but don’t require hours of effort on the user’s part to figure it all out. How the precision ag industry ultimately addresses these opposing demands will be very interesting indeed.

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Sfiligoj is the Editor for both CropLife and CropLife IRON magazines. He travels regularly to cover industry events and has been dedicated to the ag retail industry since he joined the staff in 2000.

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