“Technology is coming for us, whether we like it or not,” said Steph Plaster, a University of Wisconsin Division of Extension farm management outreach specialist, during a “Setting your farm technology investment strategy” webinar. “If we set our strategy now, we can build our future.”
She continued, “Technology is one of the principal drivers of competition and causes significant structural changes within industries.” She noted that not all changes are strategically beneficial or profitable for all farms, though.
Plaster and John Shutske, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and extension specialist, identified five questions a farmer should ask themselves or their business partners before making an investment in new technology.
- What issue or challenge are you hoping to solve? Examine the true motivation behind the desire to add this technology to the farm. “Understanding what is driving your decisions can help you evaluate whether it is worth the financial cost and transition period,” Plaster said. Don’t invest in something just because it is new and shiny; determine how the changed labor needs and longevity of the technology fit into the farm and be sure to explore other alternatives.
- What are your skills and interests? “This could make or break the success of the technology adoption,” Plaster said. Identify your level of comfort with technology and your risk tolerance. Transitional change discomfort, Plaster noted, is a tripping point for many people on farms and can influence the adoption process and future success.
- Do you have broadband internet access you consider accessible and affordable? Shutske highlighted the need for reliable internet service. He recommended an internet speed of at least 25 megabits per second for downloading information and 3 megabits per second for uploading data.
- Do you have the service infrastructure located in an area where you are likely to get timely, quality, and affordable service for your new technology? Before making a large investment, you need to know if your technology provider will have service personnel in your area, or if they can assist you remotely. Understand what that service will look like and how long you will wait for a response. “You need to go into these decisions with eyes wide open and ask a lot of questions,” Shutske said.
- How comfortable are you with your farm’s finances? “This is a simple question that can often cause the most strife,” Plaster said. Know your farm’s financial numbers and the performance measures of the technology. Understand the system’s cost, rate of return, and future needs, such as annual maintenance, subscription services, or upgrades. “At the end of the day, it is critical to identify if the farm will have the capacity to achieve financial and production goals and objectives,” she said.
Adopting new technologies often requires significant financial investment and a restructuring of farm operations. “These are large decisions that impact the farm business and family for years and require adequate planning and preparation,” Plaster advised.