Ways to Evaluate New Agtech before Bringing it to the Farm

Published on Wed, 10/12/2022 - 2:40pm

Ways to Evaluate New Agtech before Bringing it to the Farm.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 New technology continues to crop up all around us. With more and more options flooding the market promising easier work, greater productivity and a more robust bottom line, many farms find themselves at a crossroads. How do and should they invest their hard-earned dollars in new equipment or upgrades to keep these changes at the forefront?

Technology has helped today’s farmers keep in stride with the fast pace of demand and, better track their herds, animal health, productivity and meet changing market demands for sustainability. As the world moves full speed into a plethora of changes, farms will inevitably need to use modern tools to stay competitive.

But for all its benefits, harnessing new technology isn’t without its challenges in the adoption and implementation processes. Not to mention, the wrong and/or poorly executed investments can be highly costly in terms of time and money.
Pinpointing specific goals and needs is essential whenever accessing a new technology or product. Even what you’re already successfully using on-farm can be reevaluated or modified for the better.

Evaluating the agtech world
Adding any type of precision technology onto a farm is a big decision with a significant financial investment. While determining what benefits a new addition can provide is essential, it’s equally important also to consider the cost.

This includes aspects of the herd; it is vital to look past the initial cost and identify the upkeep (or maintenance) costs, replacement costs, or associated warranties. In addition to price, that should also be an investigation into the sensitivity, specificity, data collection frequency, labor requirements and ease of use of the device or program, as noted in a Michigan State University bulletin Investing in Dairy Cattle Precision Technologies by Kathy Lee and Barbara Jones.

Don’t forget details such as data ownership, privacy and customer support. More farmers are interested in how their data is used by different service providers and their terms. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate any contracts that come with each product or service. Ask other farmers who have worked with different brands and companies to compare their experiences and, of course, always ask sales reps lots of questions.

The various physical and laborious components that go into owning and using the technology (plus any potential data analysis) is another point of consideration that might make one company or brand more “worthwhile” than another. Some tools and systems can be more easily customized than others to fit your herd’s needs is also something worth taking into consideration.

Making a more productive farm
Undoubtedly, technology is a big influencer in how and why specific farm procedures are done. But on the flip side, the impressiveness of certain devices and software coupled with flashy, promising marketing can also influence farmers to buy them even if they aren’t the most ideal fit. But when implemented correctly, the cost and time savings can be huge.

One approach to this might be from the standpoint of certain goals or troubleshooting. For example, if a manager has a situation that might benefit from activity tracking, he or she should specifically narrow down what they want tracked, how they’d like the data delivered, and analyzed, and any other features that might be beneficial. Then they can take that list and compare it to various pedometers, ear tags, rumen boluses and other products on the market that offer those services.

With large herd sizes, it is difficult to focus on individual animals, so managers may want to assess the operation by group performance. This might prompt them to take a different approach than smaller operations and work with providers who are seasoned in working with large herds. Some of these large-scale efforts might focus on things like feed consumption and efficiency, animal health, production and mastitis detection.

Parlor technology continues to be a big point of contention, opinion and continual development. Updating any parlor, be it full scale or partial, is never a small undertaking. Not only does it take a lot of money, but it also takes time and will be long-lasting.
In today’s market, labor continues to be a big issue prompting many dairies to look at parlor designs and upgrades that will involve less staff and testing. While the offerings are impressive, it’s important to know that they will be continually improving and changing. Customizability and the ability to upgrade are things that should be considered.

Don’t forget the finances
Making the dollars count should always be a focal point before, during and after commitment to any new product. Working with a third-party consultant or experienced dairy lender should be part of the decision-making process. Another option would be to work with a dairy extension professional who is familiar with the types of technology you are considering.

Be mindful of the return on investment estimates as well. Some companies will have their own numbers and case studies to back them up, but having these validated with an outside expert who can compare them against the specifics of your operation is worthwhile.

Even after installment and implementation, you (and your team) still need to follow the finances carefully and report them as accurately as possible. If you are investing in something that does not necessarily have a cost savings, pay attention to the other ways you can measure your improvements. Are you wasting less feed? Making better decisions based on new data collection? These are examples that can show that your technology is helping you save money in other places or boosting productivity that ultimately ends up in your bottom line.

No matter how good of producers or managers, people are only part of the farm’s productivity. Equipment, tools and new technology are all integral parts of successful dairying. That said, any new investment should never be made lightly, not just because the money is available or it is a hot new trend.

A healthy dose of questioning or even skepticism is certainly integral when any new offering becomes available, but that doesn’t mean all change should be ignored either.

Plan ahead in advance, take stock of your needs, consult with reliable sources and ease into the changes slowly. More often than not, when the full process of consideration, adoption and implementation is done correctly, investments are worthwhile and make life easier.