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.
From the Driver’s Log, 2020: 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.
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.
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?
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.”
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