Oh the Changes I’ve Seen
In preparing an article for this issue of the United Prairie newsletter, I was asked to talk about some of the most significant changes I’ve seen in our industry throughout my career—which has now spanned four decades. As you would expect, there have been many, but I’ll try to focus on the most impactful.
First would be the change in research. By that I mean the move from a system where university extension provided most of the product and methodology research and recommendations that farmers used. In our area at least, research is—unfortunately—no longer as great a priority of the university system. Consequently, manufacturers have stepped in to fill that void. As you might expect, farmers tend to look at those recommendations with a little more skepticism.
Our customers were coming to us and asking for recommendations on which product would, and wouldn’t, produce results for them. That is the reason United Prairie created the Innovation Farm and hired Jeff Brown, an agronomist, to generate credible, local research that our customers can rely on.
Farmers tell us they aren’t looking for yield for the sake of yield, but products that give them a positive return on their investment. They want to see the results of multiple trials at multiple sites before they spend their money on something new—and with good reason. And they want us to be able to tell them if a product will or will not be good for them.
Crop protection evolution
A second area is crop protection. When I started, there were essentially two products in corn, two in soybeans and not much post-emergence. We went through the era of more tank mixes than you could imagine back down to a single product—glyphosate—driven by resistance to all the other products.
The decade of simplistic chemistry has ended, and now we’re moving back to tank mixes and complexity. What that means, among other things, is that our customers are going to be looking for a knowledgeable individual to serve as their reference and guide through the options.
The companies that will survive going forward will have people with great expertise in making the recommendations needed. That, in turn, will lead to more specialization—an expert in seed, fertility, crop protection and data management. Now that I’m spending more time on the farm and less in the office, I really see the value in that approach. That’s what we’re starting to see today at United Prairie and what I believe will be the best model going forward.
The third major change, not surprisingly, is the growth of data and the importance of data management. Everybody wants a piece of the data pie, but as margins tighten, farmers are questioning whether they’re getting value from the data they’re generating. They see a lot of data silos with no way to bridge between them.
That’s the movement at this point—to build those bridges. The companies that will be able to do that best are going to have an edge. At United Prairie, we have to use the data in a way that makes sense, is impartial, and will bring value to the grower. That’s where DataOnTouch and the weather stations are headed in the right direction.
I’ve noticed that things do tend to cycle, from chemistry to data. The applications may change, but the concepts remain the same.