Tech Tuesday

Farm Tech Change, Calling the Game

When do you make a decision on the farm to pull the trigger on one technology to move ahead with something new? Tough question.

The rising use of technology around the farm is creating a problem that may be new to many users - the need to switch from one approach to another. In a business where a hard-working tractor can still be on the job everyday even 30 years after it first rolled off the dealer lot, the idea of scrapping something to move on to something new is a pretty odd idea.

And it's a tough management choice. One area where this is becoming evident is smart phones. For those of you who are new to these handheld wonders, what I'm about to tell you may be a surprise, but for my early-adopting farm readers the idea of "moving on up" may be more familiar than ever before.

Last week, computer columnist Shelly Palmer ran a blog post that surprised me - but only in its directness. I've been saying Blackberry is dead for some time. It's nice to get some corroboration for it from another tech watcher.

The rise of new technology can quickly push away other tools - even if they're still working. We realize farmers hang on to working tools as long as possible. Based on a quick look at our Web stats, there are still a lot of Windows XP machines out there even though Microsoft is winding down support.

Technology just doesn't have the working life of a solid piece of hardware - like a tractor, a planter or a grain cart. Whether its upgrades to the computer innards or new software approaches that change how people complete a task, those changes can come on fast and strong.

Palmer's "you're dead to me" blog about Blackberry shows how a useful and usable technology can suddenly become worthless to someone. Farmers, and it will bring frustrations, will find the same is true for them as well.

Upgrading GPS tools may be your most direct link to this kind of hot tech turnover challenge. As makers of these systems aim for more precision, they've started pointing to more satellites (GLONASS for example) to enhance accuracy. Or the rise of higher-precision real-time kinematic systems forces you to change out not-cheap hardware to enhance on-farm efficiency.

This all goes back to a concept that should be familiar to anyone who reads this blog regularly. Technology purchases should be part of a buying plan that includes depreciation considerations, obsolescence planning and other tricks to make sure you're investing in working tools that have a reasonable field life.

My friend Max Armstrong loves his vintage farm tractor rides where excellent specimens of superb older machines are put on parade. We know many of them are still in true working order. I don't see Max heading up a parade of restored smart phones anytime soon.

Technology is fleeting, but with a little planning you can have a solid, well-though-out upgrade plan for your operation that'll help you maximize technology. The key will be knowing when enough upgrades have come along to make sure you can "call the game" for a current tool and move up. With harvest time already starting down South and planting time nearly wrapped up in the Midwest, thinking about fall software and tech needs now makes sense. Are you ready for an upgrade?

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