Farmers not rushing to grab digital tools: survey

What has become known to many as “big data” has promised to transform farming by optimizing crop inputs and yield.

Yet a recent survey by Glacier FarmMedia shows farmers are slow with the uptake.

The survey of 428 prairie farmers conducted this fall indicates that half the field data collected is not downloaded or expected to be used in future planning. Even farmers with clear access to their data collection still expressed considerable confusion over how to put that information to use, or how to apply a specific technology to help their specific farm.

Only six percent of farmers rated data technology as a high investment priority compared to other uses of time and capital. For all the attention given big data in recent years, there was a clear lack of enthusiasm for investing in the technology. Most farmers say they recognize the benefits of farming the data, but do not see a strong enough return on investment to justify the cost. Budget constraints were cited as the main barrier.

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As well, a large percentage of farmers view data technology as too complicated. Nearly half the respondents chose as barriers to adoption factors such as “too complicated” or “don’t know how to use the data” or “I understand equipment but not data” or “I can’t get help when I need it.”

Surprisingly, farmers younger than 45 are more likely than older farmers to say that the major barriers are knowledge or support issues. Compared to the overall survey group, more farmers in the higher income group are further along in testing the technologies or have fully adopted digital technology. Although they are less likely to cite financial constraints, they are similar to the overall group in their lack of comfort with understanding digital technologies.

According to the survey, 10 percent of respondents are now using data technology, 20 percent say they are testing data technology and 30 percent say they will be ready in two years. The remaining 40 percent of farmers are not committed. The report summary states that simply promoting the benefits of big data in managing their farm is not enough to cause them to buy in.

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