Digital ag will favour early adopters

The author writes that the sudden wholesale switch to smartphones from flip phones will soon be repeated by the digital agriculture revolution. Farmers at the forefront have the opportunity to shape the transformation to meet their needs, and in doing so, reap the largest share of the benefits. | Getty Images

John Deere’s steel plow sparked the industrial transformation of agriculture. Norman Borlaug’s disease-resistant dwarf wheat launched the green revolution.

The next evolution of farming is digital, and progressive farmers who embrace it first will benefit the most, out-competing their neighbours and benefitting from the ever-improving advantages of digital tools.

Farmers who hesitate will have to play catch-up to survive.

Equipment and mechanical advances, as well as genetic and chemical improvements, kept the industry afloat for generations. But improvement in those areas has largely plateaued, and we no longer see the generous yield advantage that new hybrids once brought.

Meanwhile, costs continue to rise relentlessly. Today’s farmers can no longer bet on harvest gains or chase bottoming-out yield increases. They must find their profit, competitive edge and resiliency in operational insights.

By 2025, instead of asking, “why would I need digital ag?” farmers will wonder, “how did I farm without it?”

The engineers behind Google Maps set out to build an online mapping tool, but when users began engaging with it, they generated a plethora of new data and insights. It’s unlikely the developers intended to predict the busiest days and times to shop, but today, users depend on it for that exact information and more beyond simple navigation.

Similarly, as farmers use digital tools and shape the data landscape, that data can be aggregated and insights unearthed. Then, we can truly see the power of digital ag: the more these tools are used, the smarter they become and the more incremental value they provide. That’s digital’s fundamental benefit — it’s a self-renewing cycle of value creating more value.

And what industry is more primed to reap the unique benefits that data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning can provide than the complex, diversified world of agriculture?

Not long ago, experts predicted farmers would be slow to adopt smartphones despite their obvious benefits. While they were correct about initial lag time, they underestimated how quickly adoption would spread once it began. Practically overnight, farmers went from flip phones in their tractors that could only be used for calls to downloading combine harvest data on their smartphones.

Widespread adoption is on the horizon, and early adopters will only have a narrow but crucial time frame to leap ahead of their neighbours.

As American businessperson and billionaire Warren Buffet says, “The more you learn, the more you earn.”

Digital tools give farmers an opportunity to learn about their operation at a level they’ve never experienced. Taking an analytical, data-first look at your farm can deliver more bottom-line profit than even a five-bushel yield increase. Instead of chasing yields, farmers using digital are farming smarter, not harder.

And what do farmers with money in the bank do? They make an offer on additional acres. They qualify for better interest rates. They buy seed upfront and save the finance charges. They purchase next-gen tools that improve their field practices. And they analyze which investments make the most sense for their operation because they have access to aggregated machine-driven information to inform their decision-making.

Farmers will always march to their own drummer. That’s the beauty of the industry and what has always driven innovation in the sector. But farmers also know if they choose to ignore innovation, they risk becoming obsolete.

The farmers at the forefront of the digital ag revolution have the opportunity to shape the transformation to meet their needs, and in doing so, reap the largest share of the benefits.

Krista Klompstra is the digital business leader at Corteva Agriscience Canada.

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