An expanded precision agriculture survey sets its sights on the bigger picture.

CAAR has embarked on its first major undertaking toward developing one of its key strategic pillars – Business Intelligence – by helping to facilitate the 2019 Canadian Precision Agriculture Dealership Survey conducted by the University of Guelph. The survey, newly adapted to include Western Canada, aims to capture a clear snapshot of the state of precision agriculture services among Canadian ag retailers.

CAAR worked closely with Dr. Alfons Weersink and his students in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Guelph (U of G) to refine the survey and facilitate its expansion to Canadian retailers from coast-to-coast. Mitch Rezansoff, CAAR’s executive director, believes that the association’s participation in the survey is indicative of its role in advancing ag retail in Canada and its commitment to provide value to its members and the industry as a whole.

“The information gleaned from the survey will provide valuable benchmarking tools and long-term trend analysis,” says Rezansoff. “Results of the survey will be used to guide CAAR’s future activities regarding precision agriculture, and will provide academics with a reference to guide future research and study.”

Focusing on Western Canada

Initiated at Indiana’s Purdue University over 30 years ago, the survey was adapted by the U of G in collaboration with the Ontario Agri Business Association in 2017, but focused on precision agriculture in Ontario only. This year, with CAAR’s input, the Canadian version of the survey was given a significant overhaul and will be run nationwide on a biennial basis.

“We’ve revamped the survey to ensure that it is relevant for all of Canada, which meant putting an emphasis on different farming practices,” says undergraduate research assistant Sean Mitchell. “While many input dealerships offer custom application services in Ontario, this isn’t as prevalent in Western Canada. At the same time, agri-businesses tend to be larger in Western Canada than elsewhere.”

Mitchell, who Weersink identifies as a driving force in the survey’s development and delivery, says that his team wanted to ensure the survey would be relevant for crop advisers and farm equipment dealers who were previously outside the scope of the survey.

“These industries are obviously very intertwined in how precision agriculture is used,” says Mitchell. “We felt it necessary to ensure that we took into account their perspective.”

Mitchell says his team expects to receive over 200 survey responses, and adds that being able to leverage CAAR’s communication channels has been instrumental in getting the word out and optimizing the survey’s content so far.

“Nearly all of our respondents are either CAAR members, or they’re on their mailing list, so their communication channels have been critically important,” he adds. “Even while we were developing and refining the survey, we were able to get feedback on the survey from affiliates of CAAR to ensure that the survey was optimally useful, while not being too lengthy.”

According to Mitchell, the final report will paint a detailed picture of the state of precision agriculture adoption and use in Canada. He says the information presented, along with the perceived profitability of different technologies and services, will be very useful for individuals and companies who are considering investing in precision agriculture, and it could help prioritize how they invest or identify some of the obstacles.

“Perhaps even more useful for those observing the results is the identification of barriers to the adoption of precision agriculture,” says Mitchell. “These barriers could be related to concerns about cost or it could be the case that some respondents feel that interpreting and effectively using the data is too time consuming.”

Reporting Results

Mitchell hopes that, whatever the case, identifying those barriers will help ensure that they are addressed and taken seriously by companies that are developing the technologies. He says the Canadian Precision Agriculture Dealership Survey is both necessary and long overdue.

“We really just don’t know enough about how precision agriculture technologies are being used in Canada to properly understand usage trends. We need to do this if we want to ensure further adoption of precision agriculture continues to be beneficial not just in the industry, but also at the producer level,” he adds.

Rezansoff expects the final report to be released before the end of 2019 and is looking forward to sharing its findings with CAAR’s membership. Overall, he says, working with the team from the U of G has been a positive experience for the association and he anticipates future collaboration.

“The partnership between CAAR and the University of Guelph is and will continue to be a valuable one,” says Rezansoff. “I have enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate on this survey and I’m excited to go through the data to see the results, as I am sure are many of our members.” 

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