There are many agtech products out on the market now, so how do you ask the right questions to get the product that suits your needs? We spoke to Tim Rethus, a cropping farmer near Horsham who has been an early and avid adopter of agtech on his family farm. Tim is also on the Board of the Birchip Cropping Group and is formerly an engineer by trade, so knows his way around tech.
On the family farm Tim has been using a range of agtech tools and products including weather stations, soil probes, VR, John Deere management software and comparison tools, precision planting and optical sensors on disc seeders, and Taranis drones, to name a few!
Here Tim covers his top 6 of what farmers should consider when considering agtech so they get the right product or service that is fit for purpose and ensures the supplier can deliver on their promises.
1. Is the tech solving a specific problem for you?
Make sure you know where you are going with your farming enterprise. There is so much agtech out there that can help you farm better, but it really depends on where your business is at, your vision of where you want to go to, where are the gaps, and from there working out is this agtech solving one of your problems. Make sure you are driving the decision making process, instead of the product salesperson.
2. What stage of maturity do you need the tech to be at?
The agtech on offer is often at varying levels of maturity. It might be a prototype in development or fully mature technology, like GPS guidance. Mature technologies are ready to go, very reliable and well understood – they don’t need a lot of help from vendors to work well all the time. Early development technologies will require a closer working relationship with the vendors and you can expect it may not do exactly what you wanted first off, or not work at all sometimes! In your business do you have the time and resources to dedicate to newer technologies (and hopefully get better solutions) or do you simply want it to work? It’s an important question to ask The vendor should be open about where their product is at, their confidence level regarding workability on your farm, be willing to show you how to get the best out of their tool, and their future plans for improvement of the technology.
3. Is the vendor transparent and willing to engage with you?
I can’t stress enough how important the agtech vendor and farmer relationship is to getting a good outcome. Your vendor should be proactive, willing to come to you on-farm, spend the time to answer your questions and understand your business and where your comfort level is with agtech. It is critical to have good product support and a good working relationship. They need to make that commitment to work with you for the long haul, so make sure you can work with the vendor.
4. Does the vendor have case studies and people on the ground locally?
Find out who they have been working with so you can get an idea of their experience and follow up on their reputability. As agtech companies are spread nationally and globally, does the supplier have a local on the ground that you can connect with for immediate support. Being remote is not a problem but having that local second tier support person is essential to get timely support or information. Time is money after all!
5. How does all the tech work with my other systems?
You might have other agtech systems, tools and software you are using, so how do they talk to each other? The aim is to make life easier for you, not harder by having multiple tools that can’t work together. Again, it all comes back to the problem you are trying to solve. The tools you use the most will integrate with your current tech.
6. Find out who is the real customer?
An agtech vendor may have the tool, but who is the real customer and how are they making their money? The agtech may have been invented to solve a third party problem and farmers are receiving a spin-off benefit. This means the product may not be as intuitive for farmers to get the maximum benefit and you could struggle for product support. Look at the vendors business model and make sure you will be getting the support you need.
As Tim points out: “The focus of agtech should be on farmer driven solutions not vendor driven solutions, so you need to be certain about what the problem is you want to solve and where your business is heading. Sometimes the payoff for an agtech solution may be over years, so it’s really all about what you are trying to achieve, can you be in it for the long game, and can the vendor too. It all boils down to relationships – any supplier of agtech needs to be able to put that commitment in and give you the one-on-one support you need so you can get a product that works for your specific situation."