Terry Griffin of Kansas State, right, moderates a panel on the challenges of precision ag. Also on the panel, from left, are John Nowatski of NDSU, Lanny Faleide of Satshot, Paul Fuller of GK Technology for Agriculture and Gary Wagner of A.W.G. Farms, Inc.

John Nowatski, an agricultural machines specialist for North Dakota State University, believes the technology involved in precision agriculture doesn’t matter if it isn’t put to good use.

Nowatski was part of a panel titled, “Current and Future Impacts of Precision Agriculture,” at the ninth annual Precision Ag Action Summit Jan. 20-21 at the North Dakota Farmers Union Conference Center in Jamestown.

Nowatski said farmers won’t embrace precision ag unless they see a clear benefit to their operation. It needs to be about more than just gathering the data, he said.

“It’s taking that information and turning it into something valuable, something more valuable than what the farmer himself can figure out,” Nowatski said. “Guidance systems, yield monitor sensors, cameras in airplanes and drones – it’s good technology and they work. But the key is to take all of that tech and bring it into something that can make better decisions than the farmer would, and do it profitably.”

Nowatski’s answer was to a question posed by moderator Terry Griffin, a cropping systems economist for Kansas State, about what skills they’d like to see better honed or added to farmers’ skill sets.

Lanny Faleide, president of Satshot, said he’d like to see more farmers curious about the possibilities of precision ag and how it can benefit their farm. He also said to be wary of companies that promise everything, because they often can’t deliver.

“I’m tired of the hyperbole in digital ag and precision agriculture,” he said. “I will tell you if we cannot do something, if our system doesn’t do it. A lot of companies today tell the public to join them, buy a subscription and they give away free stuff. Then they fold because they can’t make it. I don’t want the industry to fall apart. Some of it coming out of certain markets is like giving you a bunch of snake oil.”

Gary Wagner of A.W.G Farms said helping farmers learn computer skills and why they’re necessary can be a hurdle in itself.

“Most farmers didn’t get into the farming business to sit behind a computer screen,” Wagner said. “Basic computer skills would be a good start, giving farmers confidence in what we’re doing.”

Paul Fuller of GK Technology for Agriculture said simply getting started can be overwhelming. He advised farmers interested in precision ag to start small.

“Just pick a field and do something,” he said. “And don’t start with flat black soil. Start with a field that has topography changes, wet and dry issues – start with low-hanging fruit that’s really variable.

“Remember that there’s never a mistake in agriculture, just unintentional test plots.”

– Chris Aarhus, NDFU