Practical Agronomic Solutions on Demand
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According to Burdett, agronomists have the technical know-how to perform a similar function for agriculture. “Almost four decades ago, the BBC broadcast a television program about the computer,” he says. “At the start, it predicted how state-of-the-art computers might one day transform industries — factory automation, computer-aided design, airplanes and missile systems, a driverless tractor plowing across a muddy field.”
Today, those scenarios are commonplace — except for one. “I think one reason why we don’t see more driverless tractors is that agriculture has been missing that connection to help growers adopt new technologies,” Burdett says. “That’s why it’s so important for today’s retail agronomists to be able to serve as trusted advisers and be that missing link when it comes to digital technology.”
Members of the Syngenta global digital agronomy team have two goals. First, they’re developing digital solutions that make internal farming operations more efficient. “At Syngenta, we have 124 different crops planted across 5,000 acres in 94 countries,” Burdett explains. “We want to make data-driven production decisions for those fields.”
Second, they’re offering those digital tools to Syngenta resellers who can use them to guide growers as they make production decisions for their farms. This year, Burdett’s team has begun rolling out two digital tools: a seed selector tool and a seed analyzer tool, both designed to help reseller agronomists guide their growers in making seed selection decisions backed by reliable data.
Rows of Data
Clint Matthews is a seed sales manager at Agtegra Cooperative in Aberdeen, South Dakota. “I grew up on a farm and farm a little myself — and I have a lot of interaction with some local growers,” he says. “In the Dakotas, we have variable weather and can be farming hilltops and low bottoms in the same field. One year, it’s too wet, the next year it’s too dry. We struggle with finding products that are really versatile.”
“If they can click a button and in five minutes without any instruction get a good summary of what will work well in their fields, most growers are willing to give it try.”
When Matthews started to use the new seed selector tool, he was blown away by the tool’s simplicity. “What’s neat is being able to sit down with a grower and pull up that grower’s specific field to get a recommendation on which product looks like it’ll work best, based on a long history of weather data. It displays the recommendation in an easy-to-understand format.”
For resellers who work with growers of all ages and technology-comfort thresholds, simplicity is a big benefit. “We have the guys who have been farming their whole lives and are getting near the end of their careers — and they’re just not that interested in getting into that arena — right down to those who are just starting out and very tech savvy,” Matthews says.
Even growers who aren’t interested in diving into new technologies appreciate the access to this type of data in such an easily digestible format, he says. “If they can click a button and in five minutes without any instruction get a good summary of what will work well in their fields, most growers are willing to give it a try.”
While Matthews is looking forward to using the seed selector tool during his interactions with growers to get a “quick, on-the-fly recommendation,” he’s also excited about the seed analyzer tool because of its ability to offer in-depth analyses.
“I’m kind of a data geek,” he says with a laugh. “If you’re selling seed and you’re passionate about that, you like to understand the data. The seed analyzer is perfect for that. I can dig in and actually understand all these different trial data we’ve been collecting for a long time — like plant data and field data — and what happened and why.”
With the seed analyzer, resellers can select a specific geography, the grower’s soil type and the weather pattern to get the average of how a product performed in that situation across multiple plots. “When you look at a single trial, you can get variability that throws the data off. But with this tool, you can get more relevant information because you’re looking at averages,” Matthews explains.
These two tools share an important feature: practicality. “It doesn’t make sense for us to bring in huge amounts of data from farms or equipment — or even from our research and development team — and expect farmers to translate that information into recommendations,” Burdett says.
That’s why the role of the agronomist is so important. It’s also why Syngenta is focused on helping local resellers make the best agronomic recommendations, based on local data.
“Digital technology is all around us, in our consumer lives and in our personal lives, but the translation of that into agriculture is different,” Burdett says. “Farmers are practical, and they need practical solutions that work on demand.”