New digital solutions mean that next year’s seeding season could be a lot less stressful.
New technologies for farming efficiency are constantly becoming available, but when they’re needed the most (like during the bustling spring season), finding the time to research upgrades and learn new platforms can be a challenge.
With a busy seeding season – and any inefficiencies that may have revealed themselves during this period – still fresh in everyone’s minds, now is a good time to explore the latest in digital innovations that can bring improved productivity to an agri-retail operation.
Agri-Data at your Fingertips
Farm management software is being adopted at an increasing rate in the agriculture industry. While there’s little question that digitally capturing a farm’s data is a useful practice, the benefits to agri-retailers’ customer service offering is also becoming clear.
“Any retailer that’s working without a data platform is doing it on paper, and having to store that information physically somewhere,” says Neil Yelland, North American enterprise sales manager for Trimble. “The ease of having the agronomist and the grower store their data in a shared platform and being able to access that information from either side and make recommendations – that’s where the efficiency comes in.”
Trimble’s software offering is The Agri-Data Solution, a web-based farm management program that collects and manages detailed information on a producer’s operation.
Yelland sees the product benefiting an agri-retailer greatly during the busy season, due to its open interface that provides access to multiple key players within an operation. “All the staff at the retail have access to customers’ crop plans, and can access those plans from any department or location,” he says. “That information makes for a more coordinated effort in delivering the products and services the farmer needs in the short window of the spring season.”
“Once the diagnostics are in there, the recommendations are made and the products are planned out – then the rest of the retail team can be planning delivery, timing and extended services such as custom applications. You can locate the right field very quickly from a mobile device and get the right product applied quickly, at the right rate.”
“It makes you look so smart in front of your clients,” says Terry Bonertz, head of agronomy for McRae Holdings Ltd. “Right at your fingertips, you’ve got all their history, all their years of soil samples.”
Bonertz, an Agri-Data customer for 14 years, agrees that digital platforms become increasingly useful as they are integrated into every level of an agri-retail business.
“You can have all the clients under their own profile. You click on the name, and see what the agronomist has planned for them,” he says. “Then, what I’ve programmed for the application automatically moves to a blending sheet for the blender operators. It’s incredible that I can be on the road, make a quick change, and it’s automatically at the blend plant.”
As an early adopter of this technology, Bonertz is confident that the learning curve for implementing a digital platform shouldn’t be a barrier for new customers. “Lots of people who aren’t computer-savvy still find this very user friendly,” he says. “It’s not accounting software – you don’t have to have a vast knowledge to understand it.”
The Power to be Proactive
For agri-retailers, one of the biggest benefits of farm planning software is the ability to plan ahead. Bonertz explains that the program helps him advise on crop planning mistakes that could end up costing his customers time and money down the line.
“I’ve had clients come and want to seed alfalfa this year, and I’ve scouted their fields over the years,” he says. “I can show them on last year’s scouting reports that there are weeds that still haven’t been controlled. We have the ease of showing them the historical data, enabling them to make that decision on the fly during the busy season.”
Yelland believes that still more advantages can be found in using agri-data to start planning as soon as the last combine has left the field.
“The biggest benefit for an agri-retailer is that they can go to a producer and say ‘Let’s make a plan for the following season. Let’s record it in a spot where we can both interact and track the plan during the off season,’” he says. “You can be a proactive retailer, and you’ll be engaged in what a customer will do next year.”
“If you can be more proactive with your crop plans and get a lot of your logistics completed for those plans much earlier, it will smooth out that horrendous month of May and divide some of that work into slower seasons.”
A digital solution that has gained traction in agriculture is GPS-based asset management technology that allows agri-retailers to track the products they sell, the vehicles that deliver them and the people making those deliveries.
Fleet Tracker, a vehicle-based GPS tracking system, is the most popular offering of Toronto-based Fleet Complete. The technology works via a device that plugs into a vehicle’s diagnostic port and collects data on not only location, but speed, idle times, battery operation and engine trouble.
Troy Bauman, regional channel manager for Fleet Complete, says the Fleet Tracker system is a good fit for those in the ag sector, including agri-retailers, who use a number of high-end machines which can be extremely expensive to repair.
“It creates far greater efficiencies in an operation,” says Bauman. “Knowing how much fuel you are using, knowing the distances you are travelling and where you can be more efficient. That’s what this system is really all about. It’s not a big brother thing, it’s about how we can optimize our business.”
The technology can also be used to pinpoint delivery vehicles during the busy season, ensuring that they are on schedule for crucial product drop-offs.
Bauman says an increasing number of small- and medium-sized agriculture clients are using the equipment for everything from tracking grain shipments to alerting customers when a delivery is expected to arrive. One cattle rancher in Alberta even used it to track the whereabouts of his herd.
In addition to staying on top of deliveries and valuable equipment, Fleet Complete offers a package that digitally logs kilometres, hours of operation and scheduled maintenance. This type of high-tech connectivity can go far in reducing the incidence of mechanical failures, meaning fewer unscheduled delays during a season when every hour counts.
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