By Jason Tatge | Oct. 9, 2020
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Editor’s note: Late summer, I had the good fortune to catch up with Ernie Chappell, CEO and founder of EFC Systems, in Iowa. We did our own crop tour as we traveled down rural roads.
I’ve known Ernie Chappell for a long time. As CEO and founder of EFC Systems, based in Brentwood, TN, he is one passionate innovator. Ernie will tell you that the single most important theme that has fueled EFC’s development relates to using otherwise “boring” accounting information to fuel the kind of data-based intelligence for better managing a digitally-engaged agribusiness. Ernie knows that a healthy ag company means better service available for today’s farmers, who face unparalleled challenges.
Those ag retailers, agronomists and farmers, who work directly with EFC Systems, know there is a whole lot to learn about ERPs and the Merchant AgTM accounting system, FieldAlyticsTM precision agronomy and the AgSolver® field-level financial performance capabilities. So, I won’t go there; but here are three key learnings from my road trip with ag software guru, Ernie Chappell.
1- In a changing world, farmers seek systems and services that deliver immediate intelligence to help them stay ahead of the curve. One of the biggest constraints in serving the farmers’ need for immediacy is labor. Point blank, there is an agricultural people shortage. Over the past few years, EFC’s software offering has been asked to help customers take care of more activities and farmers with greater efficiency and increasingly limited people resources. There is, also, a drive toward more record-keeping and reliance on data insights. Those challenges, combined with labor issues, but even more importance on ag tech to solve the problems.
2- Many ag retail customers estimate that only about 10% of the farm acres they serve are defined as “digitally engaged.” These are farmers who collect and share data directly with their service provider or trusted partners to streamline the flow of farm-and-field data to ag retailers. Huge opportunities, therefore, exist to convert more farmers to digital engagement and related efficiencies. This raises two challenges: 1) What will it take to convert the other 90%, and 2) what impact will that have on agribusiness to prepare to scale?
3- Finally, U.S. agriculture continues to struggle with the first-mile problem – that is, understanding that not all agronomic and machine data is equal, quality, clean or even able to be streamed efficiently into systems like EFC’s without a lot of work. So the more that Farmobile and ag-tech providers can work together to 1) reduce the friction by collecting and standardizing quality data sets and 2) improve education about data, the more opportunity we have to add value to software insights. Ernie believes this data awareness will help to drive adoption. “I’d say (as an industry) we’re turning the corner with a little better focus on quality data,” says Ernie. “ It’s not just about the quantity …. We’ve got to be careful. You can’t farm on the basis of the average. Data is a pretty specific science, and so we need to look at and keep in mind the importance of quality data.”
By Jason Tatge | Oct. 9, 2020
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Editors note: Kerry and Angela Knuth are owners of the Knuth Farms, Mead, NE — fourth-generation grain operation farmed with their sons, Gregory and Garrison. As early adopters and advocates of real-time data collection, Angela and Kerry are members of the Farmobile Founding Farmers. They are pioneers in ag tech and understand the true value data can bring to help improve operational decisions and sustainable practices. The Knuth’s care about being good stewards of the land and building an ag-legacy for the next generation.
The Knuths shared what they’ve observed and learned from their own ag tech journey. They shared so many key learnings about their data journey but here are several that stand out.
1- Data has value. The last 10 years in data has been a “world wind” of new precision ag-technology. While that has been exciting, the Knuths say there have been too many companies claiming they can help farmers solve their problems from fleet logistics to planning inputs. The problem is farmers are realizing that those companies are also tracking farm data and using it for their benefit, not for the growers. More companies are switching to outcome-based pricing models to share “risk” through product bundles and incentives if growers can show they’ve followed the prescribed production plan. However, some growers would rather take the risk on their own and get a better price at the front end instead of building that in.
2- The machines you use could be limiting your profitability. Several years ago, during a study with Nebraska University, the Knuths discovered that their larger planter (with more horsepower) cost more to operate on a particular field than their smaller planter (with less horsepower)y Machine efficiency and ROI aren’t always apparent, that’s why machine data matters and the Knuths install Farmobile PUC devices on all farm equipment. By analyzing machine data, the Knuth’s are discovering the equipment that works best on their fields and have made tough decisions to sell some of their equipment to better fit their needs.
3- Data helps when transiting into organic crops – no easy or quick task for growers. Angela and Kerry saw how important the organic food trend was becoming to consumers and decided to take a risk on something new or their operation. The Knuths – now in their fifth growing season of organic farming in some fields – say that data has helped in the transition allowing them to experiment with what works best for their fields and track / analyze new practices. In the first couple of seasons, they planted alfalfa but they had heavy rains and weed control struggles, which produced lower-than-expected yields. This year crop rotation to corn generated “very promising yields.”
By Jason Tatge | Published Aug. 25, 2020
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Editor’s note: Road trips change their meaning during a pandemic. We’ve all had to alter our thinking about randomly climbing into someone else’s cab or car. So, we adapt – like Jason Tatge, Farmobile CEO, and Greg Peterson, a.k.a. Farm Journal’s “Machinery Pete,” who opted in early April for a virtual road trip from an iPad in Big Red’s front seat.
From the Driver’s Log: Sometimes your professional life and college days intersect in business. My wife and I are grads of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, where the slogan is “Strength Comes to Us From Heaven.” Maybe it was just coincidence, but Episode 1 / Season 2 found me virtually trucking with Greg Peterson, a fellow Gustavus grad and basically the blue-book for farm equipment. It was a lively conversation – a true bright spot in an uncertain pandemic spring.
Greg is a digital pioneer known by farmers for 30+ years as “MachineryPete”. His online auction is the fastest-growing marketplace for buyers and sellers of used farm equipment offering a vast selection of equipment listings in one place with innovative search tools that make it easy and fast to find relevant equipment. Founded in 1989, Machinery Pete has come a long way since its beginnings in Greg’s home office in Rochester, MN where he passionately researched, tracked and reported on auction prices. In 2014 Farm Journal and Machinery Pete partnered to provide a more efficient marketplace for buying and selling used ag equipment. We had a fantastic conversation. And I learned how farmers and dealers digitally-engage in the used machinery market and what forces most affect purchasing — even during a pandemic.
I learned a lot of amazing things about online auctions from my Truckin’ talk with Greg. Here are three:
Greg Peterson, a.k.a Machinery Pete
“Yeah. People know me as that crazy auction guy.”
1- Individual machine metrics could revolutionize the used equipment market for buyers and sellers. Currently the resale value of farm equipment is based upon machine tach hours. For someone buying a piece of used equipment, however, knowing whether that machine is spending an hour idling or working is really important, but it’s often a missing piece of machine’s history when it goes to auction. According to Greg, Farmobile’s ability to collect an individual machine’s performance data in real-time and historically not only helps farmers track efficiencies while the machine is in use, but could add huge value when trading or selling. For sellers, who can show a machine’s history at auction, could have an edge in the used equipment market. “Honestly, I think what Farmobile is doing … could revolutionize the used farm equipment business because, presently, it’s measured on the tach hour,” he said.
2- Farmers and dealers, who can show real metrics to tell a machine’s story, could have a significant edge. Greg sees tremendous opportunities for farmers to use machine data to tell a more accurate equipment story that is backed by provable metrics. “Let’s just take a tractor. It’s five years old, it’s got X number of tach hours, but that doesn’t fully tell the story of that tractor. What I’ve seen over the years, anecdotally, is that machine storytelling is a major component of the process,” said Greg. “ … People that are at sale are very interested in talking to owners about ‘how’ they used the tractor.” He observed that “good, useful data” will equate to more dollars in farmers’ pockets when it comes time to sell or trade. “So I tell you, the things you guys (Farmobile) are doing, I think it’s a very exciting path that you are going down,” he added.
3- Helping farmers and ag retailers crunch the numbers of the performance and profitability of individual machines or a full fleet is even more important during these tight economic times. That old saying is true. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Farmobile’s ability to collect and standardize machine (and agronomic) data, visualize it in real-time on a machine dashboard and provide daily, weekly and monthly machine utilization reports is powerful stuff. Greg noted that farmers participating in online auctions can’t kick the tires. So pictures and provenance on a piece of equipment are crucial. “Documenting how each machine was used and then bringing that forward again…. I’ve got 30 years experience tracking auctions daily. And when there’s a higher degree of confidence in how long that was, you increase sell ability …. So yeah, I’m excited for what you guys are building there,” said Greg.
I can’t wait to hit the road, again, with Greg — next year during safer times.
Farmobile editors | Published Sep. 10, 2020
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Editors note: I was very excited to take a trip back to my home state, Minnesota, to visit with Farmobile Services+ first client – Centra Sota’s CEO Jeff Johnson. Jeff is a progressive leader with a top-notch precision ag team; which continually looks for new ways to help farmers prosper through the use of results-based solutions and technologies, all driven by better data.Read More