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June 25, 2021

Does investing in custom technology pay off for small farming operations?

All farmers feel a connection to their land and a desire to be good stewards of the resources available. A part of being responsible with what you have is making sure you’re getting the most out of what nature provides. Adding technology to the mix can help make sure your way of life can continue to be profitable and plentiful.

Small farm operations often back away from technology adoption because they’ve been successful for years, or decades, with the methods and practices that are in play today. The idea of paying for something new to optimize that, to them, often seems unnecessary. But, the idea of technology adoption goes beyond the stigma of paying for something you’ve had for free and acknowledges that the world is changing. With climate change, natural disasters, and dwindling amount of available land, the ability to optimize your business can only be done with technology. Yes, you’re running a successful business now, but what if you suddenly increased profits and the only change you made was adopting technology that works for your individual needs?

If you’re operating a small or medium-sized farm (less than 1,000 acres), you may think technology, like custom software, precision farming tools, or data analytics are out of your reach. These technologies may seem like an expense that only the largest farms can afford or see value from, but that’s not the case. Instead, smaller farm operations should look to the success that larger farm operations have had as a successful use case. According to a study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, nearly 95 percent of farmers using precision agriculture and data management technology said their investment was worth it. Most (70 percent) even said their profits increased because of their investments, so the opportunity to do more with what you have is there if you’re open to looking at your land a little differently.

What Processes Can Be Digitized?

We’ve hit the tipping point in this industry where digital transformation is critical. A few ways to adopt custom technology include:

  • If your crops could talk: Data can play a major role in the success or loss of crops, by giving you ample notice and information to make corrections if anything gets out of normal range. One team found that new technology allowed them to improve profits even with a small plot of land and water limitations. By gathering data from the fields, you can now determine which parts of your acreage require more attention, water, pesticide or herbicide — and apply only what’s required.
  • Make your water work for you: You could drive out and turn your water valve by hand or you could install an irrigation system that you can operate from a smartphone. Some smart irrigation vendors claim that by analyzing weather data, detecting leaks, and continuously monitoring system usage, they have been able to save some users more than 15 million gallons of water — $137M in cost reductions. With this type of tool, a farmer can get more than 60 percent of the unique maximum conservation potential for your farm; saving time, money and resources.
  • What’s your 20: Tracking logistics such as how to route delivery trucks, how to conserve fuel on those routes, and the best way to deliver specific products can benefit from data. For example, an international team of scientists found that using technology to create an optimized logistical roadmap minimized the distance their machines had to drive, therefore leading to cost savings. This technology allows you to be smarter about how you use your machines and harvest your crops.

Cost is always a concern when you talk about integrating technology into your operation, but if you make the initial investment in a custom-tailored system, you are more likely to end up with a solution/partner that can evolve as your farm changes. The easiest way to digitize is with processes that are already in place. Start with a smartphone app that gives you water readings, from there you can utilize GPS for mapping and then advance to a fully-connected farm that collects data and provides you with an operating analysis. This step-by-step approach will gradually show you how a better understanding what you have could enhance your profitability.

Over the next decade, the agriculture industry is going to see an increase in data application adoption. IBM estimated that in 2019, farms produced 500,000 data points every day while another company expects farms to generate 4.1 million data points a day by 2050. This data comes from what is being planted, to where it’s being planted and how it’s being harvested. There is no replacement for being hands-on with your land, but just think of what you could learn if every aspect of your farm were reporting back to you with status updates whenever you asked?

Jeanae DuBois is an accomplished marketing and branding leader with over 20+ years in the industry. Joining Bitwise Technology Consulting in September 2019, Jeanae manages an integrated marketing team, focusing on in-bound and outbound marketing strategy, campaign execution, branding, client development, public relations, corporate events and internal sales enablement.

This article was originally published on AgDaily.

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