HOW THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC WILL ACCELERATE DIGITAL AGRICULTURE

Digital tools are more important than ever for farmers to track producction and financial metrics.  Even before COVID-19 surfaced, the move toward digital agriculture was certain.

“It’s hard to see how you’re going to be a successful farmer in the future without greater technology adoption on the farm,” says Sam Taylor, analyst—farm inputs for Rabobank.

Digital tools such as artificial intelligence that alert farmers to be preemptive about pest treatments can curb crop damage and save money, Taylor adds. 

COVID-19 likely will accelerate this trend, particularly because of social distancing.

“Precision tools like the R7 tool have made farmers who use it comfortable with the digital experience,” Jim Hedges, vice president of seed marketing for WinField United says about the company’s tool using satellite imagery, yield potential maps, and plot data. 

Tools like R7 won’t eliminate in-field agronomists, but they will enhance what they find, he says. They also help move the mindset from yield only to optimization of yield.

“Optimization of yield is getting the most bushels off every acre with the most efficient use of inputs,” says Hedges. This does not mean the least cost of inputs but rather prioritizing where to invest based on return on investment potential, he added.

Digital tools are just one of the ways farmers can navigate their way through the fallout of COVID-19, says Nate Franzen, president of the ag banking division of First Dakota National Bank in Yankton, South Dakota.

They’re an excellent way for farmers to track production and financial metrics. Yet, farmers don’t need to pick the most complex monitoring tools, he adds. Some prefer less complex ones, such as Excel spreadsheets they can regularly update. 

“You can track is what you need to use, whether that's a simple spreadsheet or great software tools that are available in the market,” he says.  ‘The key is it has to be accurate and  timely so that you can use it to make decisions throughout the production year.”

STAYING IN TOUCH 

Before COVID-19, The Climate Corporation conducted in-person planting clinics.

“It was a time for customers to get prepared and refreshed on what they needed to know,” says Stephanie Lynch, customer experience manager at The Climate Corporation.

COVID-19, though, prompted companies like Climate to relay that information digitally. In Climate’s case, company representatives instead conducted planter clinics via webinars that were promoted via social media and email. 

“We had multiple clinics they could attend in the comfort of their home, and still get the knowledge and experience they needed to know to be successful,” says Lynch. 

Climate’s customer support team also created 60-second videos to which farmer-customers could refer to during planting, she adds. 

During planting, Climate’s FieldView Live Chat  feature enabled farmers to directly communicate with company officials, says John Raines, chief commercial officer for The Climate Corporation.

“It was absolutely disruptive (COVID-19), but digital connectivity allowed us to keep in touch with our customers,” he says.