Nov 20, 2020
By Paul Schrimpf • From Fall 2020 American Soybean magazine
Paul Schrimpf is Group Editor at Meister Media Worldwide, an agricultural media company based in Willoughby, Ohio. He has managed the company’s PrecisionAg brand for more than 20 years.
After more than two decades of covering precision and digital technology adoption on the farm, I’ve come to appreciate the difficult challenge that both farmers and suppliers have endured to get where we are today.
The quantity of great ideas to emerge from individuals and organizations over this time has been staggering. But the ability to scale products and services that create consistent value is a monstrous mountain to climb. It’s true for most industries, but agriculture’s immense diversity in farming operations—even among farmers in single crop categories like soybeans—creates significant hurdles for established ag giants and venture capital driven entrepreneurs alike.
About five years ago, investment in agriculture from outside the industry went wild. Over that time, the best ideas triumphed, or were acquired and absorbed. More recently, investment from the outside waned in technology for the traditional commodity crop markets. And in 2020, in addition to dealing with the pandemic, farmers and suppliers have been busy sorting out and digesting all the technologies and systems that emerged in the last half decade.
I’ve experienced a few of these cycles of relative “quiet,” and from my viewpoint they are among the most exciting times in the development of agriculture technology. Given the time and space to sort through the rubble of ideas and products, real breakthroughs emerge. Below are three segments of technology that blossomed this year, and I believe will continue to impact soybean growers in the years ahead.
Everyone to varying degrees shared the disruptive effects of social distancing requirements during the pandemic. At a minimum, farmers were not able to engage with their advisers and suppliers through the critical planting and early scouting months. Suddenly, smart phones, apps and software systems were leaned on heavily to keep lines of communication and access to information open.
With help of research conducted by the PrecisionAg Alliance, an education and advocacy organization supported by ASA, producers and suppliers shared their experiences from this past spring. Overall, two-thirds of surveyed farmers engaged in some measure of e-business, from researching and purchasing products to accessing and managing field data.
In general, these experiences were viewed as positive by farmers, and all indications are that use of digital tools for business will continue to increase. Suppliers are recognizing that this is indeed a watershed season for electronic business and will continue to invest and tune offerings to the needs of farmers. Next year should see plenty of enhancements to the digital user experiences tapped into this season.
Next year should see plenty of enhancements to the digital user experiences tapped into this season during the pandemic.
I recently completed some research on imagery for an article, and what impressed me is how it has evolved from stand-alone product to an integrated agronomic tool.
This is especially true for imagery that aids directed scouting for the agronomist. Successful systems are providing clues to variability within the field in season that, often combined with other field data, help the scout to recognize and prioritize field issues to follow up with boots-on-the-ground observation.
Some suppliers are working on algorithms that could further tune imagery to help get more specific about the type and severity of crop pest and fertility problems as well, which could further improve its value. But after so many years of waxing and waning value, the benefits of imagery service are finding a meaningful place in the crop production system.
The venture-driven tech company Indigo has kept a steady spotlight on the concept of rewarding farmers for engaging in practices that maintain and regenerate soil health. In 2020, we’ve seen a groundswell of support of these initiatives emerge from agriculture companies, including Bayer, Land O’Lakes, and Corteva, focused on giving farmers a clear path to meeting criteria that would provide a premium.
I’ve been impressed with how fast this movement is progressing, and the race to mainstream protocols has certainly heated up. Undoubtedly, these systems will require a base level of valid field data for farmers to enroll once they become available. Now might be a good time to engage suppliers and trusted advisers to discuss the possibilities for your operation, and what you can do to prepare.
One final thought—it’s been wonderful to witness the sustained attention that the need for rural broadband has been receiving over the past few years. Legislative action that began in 2017 has been kept active by USDA, led by Secretary Sonny Perdue, and also by the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee and legislators at the state and federal level who continue to work on ways to accelerate the process.
The pandemic has shone a bright spotlight on the devastating effects of poor internet access, in particular for schools and healthcare facilities, in addition to farms and agricultural businesses. We need to keep this issue at the forefront with our legislative leaders and be active on local initiatives that will make broadband connectivity a reality.
The planning season ahead is going to be very interesting indeed, from the uncertain political and regulatory climate to international trade and industry consolidation. Emerging technology is only one thing you’ll be looking at among so many pressures and forces impacting your farm operation. But I am heartened to see a greater focus on delivering real value and improving collaboration among key suppliers.