Precision Ag Reviews
3 Defining Traits of a Trusted Advisor
As precision ag products and practices evolve, so too are the responsibilities and expectations of farmers’ most reliable sources of influential information.
Think about the management decisions you made during spring planting this year.
Chances are, you counted on another individual or group to validate, modify or abandon aspects of your planting strategy. Given the challenges, many farmers faced getting crops in the ground this spring, reliable, responsive, and accurate information has proven to be a valuable commodity.
The role of “trusted adviser” has become an essential one on farms today. As adoption of advanced precision ag technology increases, so too do expectations of those tools to generate a recurring return on investment – enhanced by the people who sell, service, and support those products and practices.
Whether executing the proper planting prescription, scouting fields to target in-crop applications, or ensuring combine technology is updated well ahead of harvest, the responsibilities of a trusted adviser are objectively diverse.
But there are nevertheless foundational characteristics that define a trusted adviser. Precision Ag Reviews asked manufacturers, service providers, input retailers, and farmers for their definitions, and while consensus was elusive, the perspectives provided some valuable
Here are 3 takeaways from those conversations to consider as you define – and likely evolve - the role of trusted advisers on your farm.
1. Listen to Learn. Communication is unanimously cited as a cornerstone to developing a long-term relationship with trusted advisers. While established relationships between farmers and their local agronomists, precision ag service provider, or input retailer provide a solid foundation for trust, sustaining that trust requires active vs. passive participation, especially on the part of the farmer, says Precision Ag Reviews Ambassador Austin Heil.
The sixth-generation Kenton, Ohio, farmer, and founder of Homestead Precision Farming, a precision ag consulting firm, learned early in his career that asking about the “why” behind the “how” is critical to making more innovative, progressive management decisions. In 2012, Heil recalled asking his dad, Ashley, why the corn and soybeans grown on their 280-acre operation never seemed to look as good as those grown on neighboring farms.
“At the time, my dad worked at Honda and didn’t have the time or depth of knowledge to know if what his trusted advisers were telling him was reducing variability or actually creating more on our farm,” Heil says. “We don’t work with any of those trusted advisers anymore, but it was a learning experience that we’ve applied to build a better relationship with the people we work with now. I also draw on that experience to understand my customers and provide what they need vs. what they want.”
Another crucial part of open communication is confidence and understanding on both sides that some conversations are confidential. After more than 25 years working in the ag equipment and precision ag industries, Dave Swain, founder of Vision Technology Management, says the most trusted of advisers tend to be better listeners than talkers.
“We learn things about farmers’ operations that they don’t want made known at the coffee shop,” he says. “Trust is everything, and if farmers aren’t able to open up about themselves and their operations, it means they don’t trust you and you aren’t able to add value to their operations.”
2. It’s Still Personal, Not Just Business. In the age of emojis being used as a primary form of communication, building business relationships with any personal depth can be a challenge. But even as the generational transition takes place on farms and long-term “handshake” relationships evolve into eSignature transactions, personal problem-solving is a competitive advantage.
“People still buy from people,” Swain says. “There are times when I’ll buy from the Amazon’s of the ag world, but when you need information behind a product, people still buy from people.”
Precision Ag Reviews Ambassador Joshlin Yoder agrees. Furthering the family farm’s investment in precision ag practices on their 4,200-acre corn and soybean operation in Leonard, Mo., is rooted in relationships, not just transactions.
Yoder says a rapport with their trusted adviser has proven valuable when customizing ag-tech additions to meet immediate operational goals without being overwhelmed by secondary features of a product or service. They recently added electric drives and active pneumatic downforce to their John Deere planter, strategic upgrades that allow for variable-rate soybean planting and population trials.
“When adding new technology, a trusted adviser should focus on the most valuable features for our farm,” Yoder says. “We don’t need to know about every bell and whistle. Simplifying the value makes it much easier to take those incremental leaps over time.”
3. Seek Specialization. When investing in knowledge and expertise, a quantifiable return is a reasonable expectation from that relationship. But in some cases, there’s a collaborative learning curve. Precision stakeholders say confusion or misinformation can lead to costly consequences, especially if a trusted adviser provides solutions outside of their area of expertise.
Experts should still be able to know what they don’t know, says Cory Willness, CEO of Croptimistic Technology and CropPro Consulting. The increasing complexity and capabilities of ag technology have created a niche market of specialists giving farmers more opportunities to assemble a team of trusted advisers to fulfill specific needs.
“When I started in 2003, there wasn’t another independent consultant in Saskatchewan. Now there’s probably 100 in this province, which is still a relatively small number,” Willness says. “As the cost of farming goes up, farmers are looking for people to help them make wise choices.”
With specialized “fee for service” options becoming more common, collaboration is often prioritized over competition among trusted advisers.
“It’s not always going to be the addition of a new product,” Willness says. “It could be the advice to target only the borders of certain fields with a chemical application because we scouted them, and those are the only problem areas, even though all the neighbors are making broader applications.”
SWAT Map Technology Adds Layers of Site-Specific Data
Check out episode 25 of the Precision Points podcast, where host Morgan Seger talks about soil-based zone mapping with Cory Willness from SWAT Maps. SWAT – which stands for soil, water, and topography – maps are focused on site-specific management of soil-applied inputs.
The patented process is unique to each field, bringing several layers together and then determining how those layers can create a comprehensive look at your field. Willness walks through what SWAT Maps are and how they use a hardware option called SWAT Box to seamlessly report field-level data and generate maps that can be used for variable-rate applications.
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