Why Digital Ag Can’t Replace Your Agronomist

Digital agriculture is a smart technology, cloud-based, “Big Data” solution. But it doesn’t work without that trusted pair of “boots on the ground” — a farmer’s agronomic advisor — to deliver the digital ag promise.

As farmers know, learning to farm smarter and more profitably isn’t a cut and paste solution, copying how the farmers three states away did it. Certainly, we can learn from each other  — and data science can capture that knowledge  — but each region, even each farm, has its own unique set of challenges. The fanciest “smart farm” agtech product on the market that can’t be tailored to a specific agricultural region (or better yet, your specific farm) is little more than an expensive distraction.

This is precisely why digital ag will never replace the tailored, regionally-specific services that a farmer’s agronomic, field or crop advisor provides. Digital ag is a partner in helping farm advisors provide the highest level of services possible for their farm clients.

At Granular, we are committed to empowering independent agronomists and crop consultants, who we call Granular’s certified service agents (CSAs) with digital. With our tools, agronomists and crop consultants have access to a level of expertise that was historically only available to university researchers and can provide an unmatched level of service to their farm clients.

The Advantage With Your Certifed Service Agent (CSA)

Granular’s agronomy CSAs partnered with farmers are a match made in (digital) heaven. You are the agronomic specialists with hours of fieldwork to your name and a trusted relationship with the farmers in your community. We are the service that can empower you with data science and analytical tools to better serve your farmers.

Granular CSAs receive access to our software and Corteva’s field-tested crop modelling and proprietary research. They advise their farm clients using our Granular Agronomy tools such as variable-rate seeding and fertility prescriptions, nitrogen management and satellite-enabled in-season directed scouting based on an individual farm’s soil, topography, historical yield and farm operational goals.

These CSAs are also our partners in finding better answers for farmers through digital ag services. For example, in 2020, we started grower field trials, testing the response of yield to nitrogen and other fertility applications. From Granular’s office, we conducted deep data analysis. But we can’t be in the fields, setting up the trials and taking the samples. We need the CSAs for that.

CSAs who participated in our grower field trials provided the connections to the farms and the on-site labor. They set up blocks within a field with different nitrogen rates replicated multiple times in a random pattern. Granular created the variable-rate script for nitrogen application to match the trial. When harvest time came around, those same blocks were aligned with harvest yield data.

For the farmer, it was simple — just drive. Their CSA pulled the soil samples, Granular ran the tests and provided the data analysis on their results. Our CSAs received back nitrogen rate reports specific to their farm clients and a motivating reason to engage their farmers (and hopefully new farm clients) in digital agronomic research applicable specifically to their farm and region.  

We also work with our CSAs on time series tests. They take multiple soil and tissue samples throughout the growing season and we run the analysis. By the end of the season, the CSA has a much better understanding of what is happening at the soil and crop level on their client’s farms.

The Farmer-First Part of a Smart Farm Dream Team

As the saying goes, “Team work makes the dream work.” CSAs are an integral part of the agricultural team, making farmers’ dreams work in today’s highly competitive, rapidly innovating agricultural landscape. 

To create that 21st century “Smart Farm Dream Team,” Granular also collaborates with Pioneer sales professionals, Corteva Agriscience employees (Pioneer and Granular are both owned by Corteva) and independent CSAs. After all, while digital ag can provide great data-first insight into a farm’s operational success, those insights won’t go far if they don’t have first-in-class seeds, inputs and services to go with them. 

One of the big pluses of a team mentality is these partnerships lead to deeper insights and better services for farmers. In the spring of 2021, Pioneer and Granular worked together to release a free digital planting guide combining the best of Pioneer’s agronomic expertise with more than five million acres of anonymized Granular and Corteva data and insights.

For an independent agronomist or crop consultant, this means not only do you have a leg up over your competition, with access to an academic level of insight and expertise, you are able to provide that higher level of service to your farm clients with a team of digital, agronomic, seed and product experts backing you up.

CSAs also have access to Granular’s Pro Services tools, which can ease the burden of busywork and number crunching. For 2021, those services include assistance with loading and linking harvest data, the creation of phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen and other nutrient recommendations, customized nutrient calculators and weekly precipitation and nitrogen level reporting.

Technology Won’t Replace Agronomists, but Agronomists Will Need Technology

Digital tools bring immense value to farming, but nothing will replace another knowledgeable set of eyes, walking around a farmer’s fields and observing first hand the effects of the seasons and farm operational decisions.

Trusted consultants work with farmers. They help them to evaluate which products to purchase, which new hybrids to plant and what practices to implement. Those services will be just as important, if not even more so, with digital tools. At Granular, we do have a dedicated, in-house customer services team that helps farmers use their Granular account. But even at their best, they can’t be there, hands in a farmer’s soil, like a Granular-trained CSA can.

As digital tools become commonplace in farm operations, agronomists will not be able to compete if they don’t include digitized services as part of their farm client package. Farmers will simply expect it. 

But this isn’t an either/or question, pitting agronomists versus digital tools. Digital tools won’t replace agronomists any more than soil tests did. To succeed, farmers need both.

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