Using technology successfully on the farm is about attitude, not age. That’s the message the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario heard this summer from tech expert Peter Gredig. Gredig, a cash cropper and partner at AgNition Inc., was our guest speaker.
Gredig, who describes himself as “mobile biased,” argues that every farmer can use new technology to improve operations, regardless of their age, budget, or farm size.
First, Gredig reminds farmers to keep an open mind about technology. It’s not necessarily the large operators or the naturally tech savvy who see the greatest returns. Instead, Gredig has found that technology is often best harnessed by those who can skilfully identify a problem and are determined to find a solution. “We’re all at a different spot,” Gredig says. “It’s about incremental learning, finding those small solutions.”
Gredig points out that those solutions can often be found in surprising places. There are certainly apps that are geared directly to farmers. But often, helpful solutions can be found by harnessing apps that aren’t packaged specifically for agriculture. For example, signature apps on your smartphone can help you sign contracts without even leaving the barn. Banking apps that take debit transactions can help you boost sales at a roadside stand.
Opportunities for adaptation abound: 3D printers could help you replace a broken machinery part right away instead of waiting for the part to be shipped from the factory; internet-enabled sensors could tell you — or your supplier — when your feed tank is running out, so you don’t have to worry about shortages.
Obviously, there are still big questions about how all this new technology is going to play out. When it comes to big data, for example, we still need to think about how to protect and manage our information. Gredig suggests that “knowing how to assess technology is one of the key skills going forward for Canadian agriculture.”
We’ll also need to be able to distinguish the hype from the actual usefulness of any new tool. Drones have received a lot of positive attention in ag media, but the average farmer may find them costly and time consuming. Gredig suggests that there are simpler ways of accessing the information that drones provide, such as satellite services that track plant health.
It may take time to discover the best use for new technology, and it’s not always going to be what people anticipate. For example, it was originally believed that GPS would transform yield monitoring. By now, the majority use it because of the efficiencies delivered by planting straight.
The bottom line is that farmers can find a way. “We all invest time into learning agronomy and animal husbandry and fixing equipment,” says Gredig. “If you can spend 20 minutes a month reading a few tech articles, it won’t take long for you to be able to keep up.”
Marie Versteeg is manager of executive board and committees for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy.