What motivates farmers to upgrade their tech?

Millennials are keener than their baby boomer parents to adopt new technologies.

Except for automated steering for farm machinery.

Why would that be?

Unravelling that mystery revealed much to Kansas State University agricultural economist Terry Griffin about the complexities of technology adoption on today’s farms.

Related story: When should farmers embrace new tech?

“What’s the value for technology that reduces stress for the rural household?” said Griffin, highlighting the prime benefit of auto steering for many farmers.

“Does the neck hurt?”

Older farmers have been quick to embrace auto steering even though they are much less enthusiastic than millennial generation farmers about adopting other kinds of today’s cutting-edge technologies.

Griffin thinks that’s mostly due to the aching backs and necks of aging farmers and the constant strain of turning in the cab to ensure that the machine is travelling in a straight line. Younger farmers don’t suffer as much from neck and back strain, so they have less of an incentive to focus on that as their key innovation on the farm.

“It makes life better,” said Griffin.

“It has to do with how unstressed you are at the end of the day.”

Technology adoption is influenced by more than an interest or desire to incorporate innovations on the farm. Millennials often want to employ new technology, but can’t afford it.

Baby boomer farmers can often afford the tech, but are unsure about what to embrace or how to use it.

That might be why Kansas farms with multi-generation operators tend to incorporate technology faster than either millennials or baby boomers operating sole proprietor farms, Griffin said.

As well, having multiple operators means that the individuals on the farm have increased need for information and monitoring systems because they aren’t doing it all themselves.

So a farm with both millennial and baby boomer operators probably has the combination of interest in technology, money to pay for it and the need to have additional management tools that leads to more technology being embraced more quickly.

Regardless of the specific influences each factor plays on the modern farm, technology incorporation reveals the complexity of on-farm economics and management.

Everything isn’t just about dollars and cents, but also about ease of operation, stress and comfort.

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