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Ag companies shift focus to software
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Ag companies shift focus to software

Agriculture Innovation Technology Summit

Combining data and equipment continues to be the trend in agriculture.

With so much information readily available to farmers, finding a way to harness that data and make sense of it may be shifting the landscape of agricultural careers.

The University of Illinois hosted its annual Agriculture Innovation Technology Summit virtually March 10, and keynote speaker Shannon Hauf said software engineers are becoming a valuable commodity in the industry.

“I would tell you today we are hiring more software engineers than probably agronomists,” said Hauf, senior vice president and head of seed production innovation at Bayer. “That is the perspective not that agronomy isn’t important — it always will be — but how do you partner the practical research and applied research of agronomy with developing digital tools?”

Hauf said a team at Bayer is focused on digital tools. She said in the seed business, the data from quality to performance all impact the way production is done, and finding ways to sift through all that information is extremely important.

“There is more data than we know what to do with,” Hauf said. “We don’t need to create more data, but how to best use that data.”

Jim Spradin, CEO of Growmark, said much of the data available to farmers comes from a variety of applications. Checking the weather forecast, equipment updates, grain markets and other vital parts of an operation typically requires separate applications and logins. Growmark launched the My FS Solution Center, and Spradin said he hopes the ability to combine these aspects make it easier for the grower.

“These apps all have different login information,” he said. “This you can use with a single sign-on. This can help enhance the customer experience with ready access to information.”

Spradin said in an app like this, it would be possible to access statements, transactions and even input field boundary information, allowing growers to potentially calculate cost per field in the future.

Data technology is also going to be “critical” to sustainability and regenerative goals in agriculture, Matt Duncan, manager of digital agronomy with Nutrien Ag Solutions, said.

“I don’t see how it’s going to work at scale without the use of technology broadly,” Duncan said.

He said being able to do soil sampling and analysis, imagery, adding sensors to mobile applications and cloud computing will be important moving forward. Duncan said weather forecasting would be something he would like to see improve in the future, beyond the 10-15 day forecasts.

“There needs to be further development from the weather analytics component of things to really help both the modeling as well as the expectations and understanding of how, what actually caused practices to work to the degree they did or didn’t,” he said.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spradin said his company has started using the title of virtual agronomist for some of its employees. He said those people will be able to support the face-to-face agronomists and expects that to change the way the industry moves forward.

“We really believe that is our future,” he said. “They will be able to serve growers in different ways. I think that’s firmly the direction we are headed.”

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