Roadblocks To Precision Ag Innovation

Roadblocks To Precision Ag Innovation

On August 29, I got to preside over the PrecisionAg Innovation Series event, “Game-Changing Advances in Precision Farming Technology,” developed under our sister brand, PrecisionAg Media.

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This was the fifth day-long meeting on precision agriculture that we’ve held since August 2014, and from a coordination standpoint the most challenging.

Our first event, designed specifically to attract growers who were showing rabid interest in issues of data privacy and ownership, attracted more than 350 people who were pretty much everything BUT growers. From ag lenders to retailers to precision consultants and equipment dealers — not to mention the odd venture capitalist and business consultant — showed up to learn and network.

Events we’ve done since that time more or less gave up on trying to attract the farmer populus. Instead, we’re engaging all the stakeholders and working to bring a better understanding of the technologies, the pain points being experienced among those integrating technology in the field, and what we can do better to attract more growers to precision farming.

Still, farmers have been an integral part of the discussions, serving on the panels and providing a “reality check” for the practices and products being discussed during the meeting.

Which brings me back to the August event. I was in charge of putting together the day-long agenda, which I intended to sprinkle with case studies of farmers and consultants making solid headway on a variety of technology fronts.

And there were a number of successes. We had a great presentation on taking a zone approach to farming the marginal acre, and two terrific sessions on irrigation, including the use of drip irrigation technology on row crops. Ohio State’s Scott Shearer did a terrific job summing up the potential of robotics, and our panel of four tech-savvy farmers did a great job of pulling everything together.

Two things though — first, assembling the agenda was excruciating. The truth is, there are very few farmers who feel confident about what they are doing with technology. Even the presenters we had got to agree to take the stage did so with the caveat, “I’m not sure I’m doing as much as I should be.”

The session I hoped for on weather data never really materialized, as I was unable to find even one grower who felt confident about their use of the weather tools that have rolled out in recent years. Nitrogen management went much the same way.

The panelists who eventually agreed to participate in what became a general “opportunities and challenges” session without fail added, “I hope to learn as much or more as I contribute.”

Despite the challenges we pulled off a solid event and managed to accomplish what we set out to do — present relevant topics with interesting and thought-provoking speakers, then adjourn to cocktails and meaningful networking to address the real challenges that exist in technology integration.

When we started these events, I believed we were ready to bring more farmers into the fold, but the technology isn’t ripe enough yet for most farmers. The technology needs to get simpler. To add clearer value. To move across platforms. As trusted advisors, we help farmers negotiate the complexities of precision farming, but need to urge our partners to make technology easier to use, and value simpler to demonstrate.