Winter Of Learning In Precision Agriculture

Winter time is meeting time, and it usually means that I get the chance to not only attend some terrific industry events, but also serve as a speaker or moderator for a session or two.

Participating in these events is a great opportunity for me to recalibrate my thinking … I dig up powerpoint presentations from past years, recall what worked and what didn’t work, where I was nails-on accurate — on some, I’m left to wonder what adult beverage I might have been enjoying when I made some of the assertions I made.

This year was no exception. For the second year in a row, I was invited to provide some remarks to kick off the Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase held in London, Ontario. I was also invited to speak to the seed sales force at AgReliant Genetics’ regional agronomy meetings.

What I really like about going to Ontario is the enthusiasm of the farmers for technology, and the thirst for new ideas and products. Retailers and cooperatives seem, in general, to have a more receptive audience for technology innovation.

At the AgReliant meeting, the emphasis was on making the most of the customer interaction. Really working to understand the customer’s needs and how the company’s evolving suite of tools can be employed to improve
agronomic practices and add value.

As I was going through presentations I’ve given dating back to 2008 in preparation for these engagements, one thing that’s struck me is that I no longer finish presentations to the sound of crickets. Event managers would ask me for an overview of precision technology, and I would do my best to throw in everything but the kitchen sink to make the point that tomorrow’s technology is coming, and it’s awesome. But I rarely got questions.

It occurs to me these days that I must have seemed like a technology zealot back then. The emerging technology was so wildly far ahead of our understanding of its place in agriculture, let alone its effective implementation, that my words either went sailing past the audience, or were dismissed as too pie in the sky.

We’re still out in front of a lot of things even today. The majority of farmers still do not georeference yield data. Adoption of variable-rate seeding, a practice that’s still in its relative infancy, is underwhelming. And the number of growers that are all-in with precision — in ourdefinition, using valid field data to make cropping decisions and establish a path to continiuous improvement of their operations — is somewhere south of 15%.

But as I said in this year’s round of presentations, I’m hopeful that some of the roadblocks we’ve been battling can be overcome. Connectivity and compatibility continue to advance, and there’s a spirit of cooperation among suppliers that was virtually nonexistent seven years ago. Data standards through the efforts of AgGateway and other organizations are moving ahead. Agronomy is the golden child of technology efforts aimed at a better understanding of soils and the interaction of emerging inputs such as biostimulants and new plant nutrient formulations — and so much more to come.

Here’s hoping your winter conference experiences net some great revelations that help you build business and create value for your farmer-customers.

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