Tech Tuesday

Tech Challenges Companies, Farmers

All the razzle-dazzle of technology is worthless if companies don't get the support right.

You're facing a lot of change on the farm these days and not all of it is good, judging from the readers who bent my ear during the Farm Progress Show last week. There may be trouble brewing in technology land as major suppliers push the latest tools for your farm. Are they ready for prime time?

When I hear a farmer say they "missed a planting" window last spring, given the kind of year 2011 has been, it pains me. Major companies that push new auto-guidance and map management tools are making the investment in local support, but what if it doesn't work. That's the case for one grower I spoke with noting that modem troubles (the new one didn't work, so they reverted to an old one to get the system on track) and what he perceives as a "good enough" attitude by some in the field become a challenge.

It's great that I get to cover the best and newest technology hitting the field. Veteran farmers see the value and efficiency these tools can offer. Frankly, five years ago if I'd told you - dear reader - that today you might not consider a new tractor without auto steering you'd have questioned my sanity. Yet look at where we are today.

However, the high-level, across-the-board management systems promised by the latest in telematics and whole-farm communication systems are worthless if all the pieces don't work. During the big John Deere launch a couple weeks ago, that very topic came up. As these systems become more common, they will change the way you buy equipment and dealers are being forced (not always pleasantly by the way) to upgrade their offerings for training and tech support quickly. Dealers are challenged to find good field tech folks to make sure your systems work as needed.

So before you bet the farm - and you do that every spring - on the latest and greatest, it's probably time to evaluate your needs and the dealer's capabilities. As you gather more data, you'll have a need for more accurate systems to keep gathering more data, and you don't want to lose anything during the season.

One morning without maps on a major field, could have critical management impact on a crop of $14 soybeans later in the year. And while dealers understand the value of that information, you need to consult with your suppliers to make sure their tech folks understand it too.

When I sit with field tech people they tell spring stories of farmers whose main challenge is remembering how to turn the system on after a few months off line. Your challenges will grow and be bigger than this. Does the new modem interface between tractors to share information as promised? Is the mapping tool working properly to gather as-applied information for future decision-making? Can you keep the signal coming while you're in the field and if you lose it regularly, can the tech support person figure out why it disappears?

Keeping equipment running used to be the biggest chore during busy times. We're adding a layer of complexity never before seen in agriculture in an effort to boost productivity and that will challenge you further. For the farmer that jumps from dealer to dealer, that could be a challenge. For the dealer who opts out of making the tech support investment, that will be a problem.

The shape of the farm equipment industry is about to change yet again and if you're surfing on the front edge of this wave make sure you've got solid dealer support for the future - no matter what brand you buy.

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