3 minute read

In the 20th century, technological advancements in agriculture continue to change how growers put food on our table. Autosteer, variable-rate seeding, sensors, satellites, and drones are key variables in the future of farming. With so many advancements in such a short amount of time, understandably, not all growers welcome these new methods. At the same time, many growers realize they must start to invest in these tools if they want to increase their production levels and stay competitive in the industry. Here are three reasons growers and consultants love to hate precision agriculture.

Change is hard. 

Most growers who are technology averse have been doing the same thing for the last three generations and suddenly using computers, automation, and other technology can be really overwhelming. They don’t understand the technology and aren't necessarily interested in spending the time to learn it.  

Consultants often tell us that their clients are not open to change because they feel what they have been doing works well for them. And in circumstances where growers have tried out technology, they often feel it doesn’t give them any new information they couldn’t have collected out in the field themselves. Technology often makes us expect instant gratification and previously unattainable results and insights. While this is a fair expectation to have, managing expectations is important - often times a grower should try a product for more than one season to determine whether it holds value for their farming operation. 

Technology is expensive. 

Adopting new technology is far from free. Using new gadgets on the farm usually means investing at least a few thousand dollars to buy (or lease) the equipment. With the current cost of commodity prices, many growers don’t want to spend more than they have to and every penny counts. Like most farm equipment, new technology needs to be maintained and additional expenses like fuel and replacement parts can seem like "extra" costs compared to more traditional farming methods.

Precision Ag seems like “snake oil.” 

Unless it’s a product from a trusted manufacturer, purchasing new farm technologies can feel like a risky investment. After talking to hundreds of consultants, distributors, researchers, and growers themselves, we often find that people want to see research from an unbiased source (usually their state’s university or extension office) showing that a particular type of technology is reliable and efficient.

As with every industry, there are people who are trying to make a quick buck without actually helping those they serve.  But we know the agriculture industry especially is all about holding true to your word. It’s understandable why consultants and distributors are initially skeptical to work with a new technology because their reputation is on the line. When a product claims to provide an attractive return on investment or a significant yield increase and it doesn’t deliver as expected, the consultants and distributors are often blamed. So, they just go back to what they did before, because “it seemed to work just fine.”

So how do you decide which products to invest in?

Try out a product for more than one season. A product might not deliver perfect results the first season you use it, due to precipitation, significant weather events, and other factors both within and outside your control.  This doesn’t mean the technologies don’t work or can't deliver on their promises, but it just means you might need to be willing to try them out a different way or more than one time to see results. 

Do some research. Are universities or other organizations actively testing out the technology? This is a great way to get an unbiased opinion on how this product is actually working in the field.

Ask for references. Look for those testimonials on a company's website or, ask a sales rep for references who have used their product that you can talk to. Talking to one of your peers about how they used the product and what they liked/didn't like can help you decide whether it makes sense for you to try on your farm. 

Adopting precision ag technologies allows growers to "optimize" their fields to achieve the highest yields, with the lowest input costs, and the least on-farm chemical pollution. Growers who are willing to give technology a try are really starting to see precision agriculture as a new tool in their proverbial toolbox.