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Ag leaders present latest technology innovations at summit

Jim Pollock, Prassack Advisors, speaks during the Agricultural Economic and Technology Summit in June.

Jim Pollock, Prassack Advisors, speaks during the Agricultural Economic and Technology Summit in June.

Ag producers perennially face challenges with the economy, weather, markets, technology, data and trade. These issues were among the topics June 13-14 at the Agricultural Economic and Technology Summit in Kearney, Neb.

The summit was presented through a partnership of Nebraska Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Rural Radio Network and the Agricultural Economics and Biological Systems Engineering Departments at the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The two-day event sought to bring participants in touch with the latest advances in agriculture technology and allow researchers and consultants to share their findings.

Opening speaker Dr. Michael Swanson, chief agricultural economist for Wells Fargo, noted that the United States has a dominant role in global agriculture.

“We need a global market, but are very susceptible to strength of dollar issues,” Swanson said.

He urged those in attendance to work on value-added products.

“Turn that commodity into protein such as poultry, beef or pork,” he said. “Protein consumption has grown twice as fast as the population in many countries.”

Swanson noted there is huge value in shelf life among consumers, another aspect of the value-added movement.

“Different markets have different opportunities,” he said, “but they also have different headaches. Maintain an adaptive type of attitude.”

Luncheon speaker Jim Pollock, a strategic consultant and partner with Prassack Advisors LLC, headquartered in Boulder, Colo., discussed the pace of change in agriculture technology.

He noted ag producers fall into five categories and those impact the speed of change.

“There are the innovators — they try new products or equipment as they are introduced. They make up 2.5 percent of the ag community,” he explained. “Early adopters comprise 13.5 percent, the early majority is 34 percent, while the late majority is 34 percent and laggards constitute 16 percent.”

Pollock showed examples of agriculture developments and where they are on the innovation scale. Hybrid seeds, which are well adopted, while phones and tablets are late majority. Yield monitors are mid-majority, while vehicle guidance systems are still early majority. GPS soil mapping, variable rate applications and implement guidance systems are still mainly used by early adopters. Innovators are using drone imagery, Pollock said.

Many of the above examples are the result of trickle down technology, Pollock added. They follow a line from the military to the consumer to the farm. For example, military satellites were the basis for GPS and various types of imagery used by producers to map yields, water use and more. Cell phones and cameras were developed for consumers and now are part of the ag producer’s daily life.

Adopting a new technology requires assessing the value versus risk, Pollock said. In addition, the motivation to adopt a technology revolves around the reward versus the difficulty.

“We need things that are well thought out and executed,” Pollock noted. “There are too many erector sets out there that hinder motivation.”

One example of that is the collection of “Big Data” in agriculture.

“It is easy to get, but how to use it is the problem,” he explained. “Trying to get a unified data platform is a challenge. A producer can understand each piece, but put them in a stack and everything gets lost.”

Pollock’s advice to manufacturers is a product must include ease of use, self-calibration, connected solutions, and integration through a third party to maximize value versus effort.

As for retailers and consultants, he urges them to differentiate themselves.

“Be the person who uses integrated solutions, fuse the data,” he said.

Finally, he noted farmers need to insist on ease of use, total solutions, data portability, and continually evaluate data privacy versus benefits.

Breakout sessions focused on technology use and applications both in livestock operations and cropping systems.

Kate Gibson of the Water for Food Institute discussed their database project that includes 150,000 field years of data.

“For each field we have the nitrogen application, seed type, planting date, planting population, tillage method and crop type,” she said.

The information has been compiled from data collected by Natural Resource Districts (NRDs) and researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“The project goal is to create a web portal for researchers, NRDs and producers to centralize data,” Gibson noted.

While there is plenty of fine-tuning to do, Gibson said they are working to address concerns of the multiple users they envision the database can serve.

“Academic researchers’ biggest pain point is access to more data. Typically they can handle data processing themselves,” Gibson said. “Producers, on the other hand, are skeptical of how their data is used and are not always interested in the latest technology.”

A producer dashboard was developed that serves as a home page for the producer. They enter data to see data, have comparison tools, part of a simple, straightforward interface, Gibson explained.

“They can look at five points: irrigation water, nitrogen, yield, water use efficiency and nitrogen use efficiency,” she said.

Because producers indicated a preference for mobile access for viewing and entering data, that is also part of the research, Gibson added.

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