How scouting tools have ‘changed significantly’ for Ag dealers, growers
For almost three years, growers and traders have been forced to cope with a broken supply chain that limited the availability of crops. The challenges created by a pandemic and war in Europe proved the importance of using scouting tools as a means of finding the most effective way to manage these products.
“Through the supply chain disruption, we’ve seen our services become even more important,” Gray Montgomery, DTN manager of Ag Product and Operations. “By the time many input suppliers realized product or material shortages, our technology was already providing intelligence to our customers about agricultural markets and trends to help minimize the impact of the irregularities and product/material challenges that many faced.”
When challenges arise, it’s no surprise that many companies jump in to solve the problem.
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“The market for scouting tools is saturated with good platforms that can accommodate most budgets,” says Montgomery. – The question now revolves around efficiency. Since most of the platforms on the market excel at one function, most scouts have to work across multiple platforms to derive one report, reducing potential productivity. This is why we introduced DTN Agronomy. One of the biggest pain points we heard was that scouts were working across multiple apps and platforms to create recommendations for one customer. DTN Agronomy delivers many insights in one interface.”
There are many offers from a number of companies.
“Diverse and resourceful,” are the words Brian Dintelmann, technical agronomist, BRANDT, uses to characterize the scout tool market. “Scouting tools help consultants and growers isolate problems within a field to help make in-season and/or future management decisions. Whether it’s the proven scouting tools, new imaging tools or a combination of both, users have more access than ever to help their scouting practice.”
Simply collecting data is not enough. Any system a retailer or manufacturer uses must provide context.
“Intelligence tools that integrate multiple data streams help farmers gather all their information in one easy-to-read and interpretable platform,” explains Adrian Ferrero, CEO and co-founder of Biome Makers. “Scouting tools that help inform decision-making; tools like the BeCrop Test can tell a grower about the biological limitations of their soil and what types of biostimulants or products can unlock those limitations.”
Speed, accuracy, autonomy and ease of use are key if a tool is to succeed.
“I think the biggest trends are in machine learning, AI and automated processing of data and automatic report generation,” says Dintelmann. “Everything to support fast and accurate scouting feedback that is easily accessible to advisors and growers in the palm of their hands.”
As technology develops, so does the ability to deliver more and more valuable information.
“Scouting tools are evolving to provide remote monitoring and the use of artificial intelligence and ultra-high-resolution imagery to provide leaf-level pest and nutrient deficiency detection,” says David Gleason, SmartFarm Business Unit Manager, North, Simplot Grower Solutions. “Additionally, digital scouting platforms and apps have evolved to enable rapid identification of pests in the field using pest libraries to enable users to make real-time recommendations in the field.”
Challenges and opportunities
Dealers and their manufacturer customers are constantly inundated with the “latest and greatest” solution that promises to solve any number of problems.
“The agricultural market is always about trust,” says Ferrero. “The profit margin for farmers and growers does not allow for experimentation and ‘trust me’ approaches. The biggest challenge for new scouting tools is to demonstrate their value as a tool, not just a gimmick. Tools must offer practical value to growers and integrate effectively into their monitoring, testing or scouting programs.”
Biome Makers is working with another established business to bring a solution that growers and retailers can trust.
“Collaboration and integrations between different apps and tools will help grow the market,” says Ferrero. “Farmers and advisors are looking for integrations to see a holistic view of their information and compare data to make the best agronomic decisions. A collaboration that Biome Makers recently launched is with DISAGRO. Through its innovative advisory service AgritecGEO, DISAGRO offers a service model supported by digital agricultural diagnostic tool that collects, analyzes and communicates information quickly and shares it with users via an app. And now AgritecGEO will incorporate BeCrop technology into its service portfolio to improve conditions and information to optimize resources, precise task execution and greater knowledge of the crops.”
The challenge Dintelmann sees is to deliver not just data, but useful information: “Data overload. Collecting too much data sometimes confuses and can make things confusing, he says. “Focusing on quality scouting tools over quantity will be important to keep scouting tools relevant.”
Actionable data is what makes a scouting tool useful.
“No industry has been immune to supply chain disruptions caused by the global pandemic,” says Dintelmann. “It has created challenging times and has revealed opportunities for improvements in inventory management and forecasting. We have also been affected by supply chain issues, like other ag retailers. By using our digital tool offerings, we can better use the right amount of input at the right time. These tools help us more accurately predict where we need which products and help our available inventory be used more efficiently.”
The sophistication of the technology used for scouting tools continues to evolve.
“Scout tool technology has changed significantly in two ways,” says Montgomery. “Firstly, scouting tools now provide integrated insights tailored to the agricultural industry. We have gone from a clipboard and paper in the fields, to scouts using their phones or an iPad to collect and log data in the field, to ag-focused intelligence that combines several factors that affect the producer and provides insight in real time.
“Secondly, scout tool technology has changed the scout’s work processes. Today’s technology can autonomously create reports and intelligence for scouts to build confident recommendations,” Montgomery continues. “By streamlining the process and taking out much of the manual work, scouting tools can help scouts increase efficiency and help growers realize risks or opportunities more quickly.”
BRANDT’s Dintelmann has seen similar progress.
“Over the years scouting tools have evolved in many ways,” he says. “For example, advances in mobile technology have driven the market from traditional book ID guides to mobile-friendly apps to help identify weeds, insects or nutrient deficiencies. Recently, photo recognition technology has almost eliminated the guesswork in some of these areas. The use of drones has given growers and consultants a bird’s eye view of their fields to look for damage patterns. Today, scouting tool technology is advancing with drone and satellite imaging technology. Better in-season imaging technology gives athletes access to precise data that reduces the time spent in the field diagnosing or finding a problem. These tools also allow image data to be overlaid with field operations layers such as planting or harvesting to help make agronomic decisions.
“Image data leads the market when it comes to scouting tools,” continues Dintelmann. “Whether it’s from a drone or satellite, better imagery means less time spent on a field isolation problem. Image data also extends beyond the scout tool market. See & Spray technology will help make herbicide applications more efficient and cost-effective in the future.”
How scouting tools have ‘changed significantly’ for Ag dealers, growers