Using farm data to improve operating margins is perhaps more important than ever, in a year where weak commodity prices, international trade uncertainty and abysmal planting conditions are putting farmers under serious pressure.

But how can equipment manufacturers help growers reap the benefits of digital technology? In this episode, two experts from AEM member Trimble share their insights. Director of Strategy for Trimble Ag Business Solutions Clint Dotterer outlines how and why data can create value for farmers. And Program Marketing Manager Frank Fidanza explains how he’s putting the technology to use on his family farm in New York.

Plus, AEM VP of Government and Industry Relations Kip Eideberg provides an update on the association’s advocacy efforts opposing tariffs. 

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Clint Dotterer:                

Precision Ag, the value is not in the data. The value is in the better decision generated by the data and I believe that if we keep that perspective, we'll avoid the trap of falling in love with data, and we'll focus on the application of that data to create value.

Dusty Weis: 

Hello and welcome to another edition of the AEM Thinking Forward podcast-Advancing the Equipment Manufacturing Industry. I'm your host, Dusty Weis and in this edition farm data has been helping growers minimize input costs and maximize yield for some time now, but in a year where weak commodity prices, international trade uncertainty and abysmal planting conditions are putting farmer's under serious pressure using farm data to improve operating margins is perhaps more important than ever. From Trimble, one industry leader in precision agriculture technology points that or joins us to make the case that equipment manufacturers need to help growers bridge the gap between their problems and the technological solutions to them.

Dusty Weis: 

We'll check in with one grower in New York state who is putting Ag data to work in his family's operation and AEM's vice president of Government and Industry Relations Kip Eideberg joins us to talk about how the Association of Equipment Manufacturers is working to take tariff pressure off growers.

Dusty Weis:

It's these sorts of big ideas we work to bring you here on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast. Each month we explore a new subject area to help keep your business on the cutting edge of the industry. So if you haven't yet, make sure you subscribe to our podcast feed so that you get an update every time there's a new episode. We'd also really appreciate it if you shared your thoughts on the show, rate or review us in iTunes or whatever your favorite podcasting app is. Your comments help other industry pros find our podcast and help me keep it relevant. So while farmers are always fighting an uphill battle to make a buck, low commodity prices, inclement planting conditions, and the international trade strife are not doing them any favors in today's market. For many growers tightening their belts, investing in new technology might seem unrealistic at this point, but there's growing value to be found in the data that can be collected and analyzed on farms and bring Precision Ag solutions are leveraged properly.

Dusty Weis: 

These data can help farmers improve their margins, offering a financial lifeline in turbulent times. This makes it more important than ever for equipment manufacturers to explore the data-driven solutions that they can offer their customers. Trimble is a prominent AEM member that's played a pivotal role in developing this paradigm and we're joined now by Trimble's Director of Strategy for Trimble Ag Business Solutions Clint Dotterer. Clint thanks for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast.

Clint Dotterer:

Thanks for having me.

Dusty Weis:

 So Clint, this notion of data coming out of farm fields, where is this data coming from and what exactly are we measuring?

Clint Dotterer:

Yeah, there's essentially an infinite amount of data being created in a field as a crop is growing. And on both ends of that crop production cycle. In the context of Ag production, I kind of like to think of data in three really broad buckets. There's environmental data, things like weather conditions, soil moisture, the crop conditions themselves. At what stage is the crop? These are all sort of things that we can observe that are just happening in the field. Then there's operational data that's really about running the business and this is where a lot of the equipment interaction comes into place and things as simple as where is my equipment, what's it doing, where has it been, what rate is it applying at? What are the levels of materials in the tanks that are being applied? And the last super broad bucket of data would be economic.

Clint Dotterer: 

And this is anything that has a financial implication from what's being produced. You know, how much am I spending? How much of each input is being used? And what's the cost associated with that, including things like equipment and labor and land cost. And then what's my return coming off? What's my yield? How much of it did I actually get into the bin and eventually to a customer and what did I get paid for it? You put all that data together and in some aspirational ideal world where we could collect and understand and interpret all of that data, we would have a perfect picture of not only what's happening but if we understood all the interactions, what we should do to optimize everything that's happening on the farm. That's a super broad vision and in reality we're a long way from that, but we are certainly well down the path of starting to gather a lot of that data.

Dusty Weis:

I want to come back to that notion of painting the perfect picture of a farm operation and understanding at a very micro and macro level because one of the hurdles is collecting data and making sure that the right data is being collected, but new methods have been coming into the market for collecting and analyzing this data in recent years and that's what's pushing us toward that more perfect overhead vision of the farm in action. What advantages do these new methods of collecting data offer us over the more traditional precision agriculture solutions?

Clint Dotterer:

Well, I think if we think about the traditional methods of collecting data, let's even go further back to when a farmer stepped into the field and made observations with their own two eyes.

Dusty Weis: 

Pencil and notebook, right?

Clint Dotterer:

Yeah. And best case scenario was that they wrote down what they observed so that it could be consumed and analyzed later and lived somewhere other than just in their heads. And perhaps one of the greatest contributors or determiners of success for a farm under that environment was how good were they at analyzing and implementing decisions based on those observations. You know, in a super simple sense, just crop scouting. We've come a long way in this area of developing all kinds of sensors, sensors that reside on board machine, sensors that are in the fields and even things like satellites that are measuring all kinds of things that are happening in the field.

Clint Dotterer: 

And we have access to that data if we so choose. You know, the benefits that that brings to us is multifaceted, but at the very least, it's certainly orders of magnitude more data. We're no longer limited by how frequently we can drive around and make the circuit of our fields to get our own two eyeballs on the crop and that data can now be collected in a way that is analyzable, interpretable and in formats that we can use and combine and really start to understand the way that all these different things are interacting with each other.

Dusty Weis:

These sensors, these Internet of Things networks of sensors that you can put out in farm fields or on equipment that moves through those fields. For someone that's never seen them before, describe one of those and how it works and how it's deployed because it's actually pretty neat to see in action.

Clint Dotterer:

The first one that pops into my mind as something as simple as a soil moisture sensor, which at a surface level seems pretty understandable. It's measuring how much water is in the soil. When we think about what actually goes into making that happen, we're measuring things like conductivity of that soil. We're measuring how quickly electrical impulses move from one point on the sensor to the other so that we can understand how much water is there. And so from a user's perspective, from a customer, from a farmer's perspective, all that is it's simply a piece of metal that I push into the ground and then it has a unit on top that is gathering that data and then has the capability to push it somewhere somehow. And if we're talking about a sensor that is part of the Internet of Things, we're pushing that data out of that sensor and connecting it to the cloud in some way, whether that be through a cell signal, just like we're using our cell phones or through a Wi-Fi network that's been established and within range of that sensor.

Clint Dotterer:

Or there's a number of new things that are being developed that will help us to pull data out of the field, which by definition is a lot of infrastructure.

Dusty Weis:

 So we've got all these sensors out in the farm fields measuring how much water is out there, measuring the level of fertility in the soil. And all this data is coming back to the cloud or to a server on the farmer's network. That's the approach that they want to take to it. How then can farmers go about turning all this raw data into return on investment?

Clint Dotterer: 

That's a great question and that's a question that this industry has struggled with, I would say for years. Now, at the end of the day, the data only has value if it leads to a better decision, than would have been made had we not had access to that data. And sometimes that simple truth we lose track of, but that value can come in a number of different ways. For example, it could be super big picture. As a farmer, I could look at the profitability of a specific crop on an acre by acre basis and decide to change my crop rotation for the following year and that might have a big impact on my overall bottom line.

Clint Dotterer:

On the other hand, it could be super granular. You know, I could be using an onboard sensor to detect the presence of weeds in real time and make instantaneous herbicide application decisions. And that data is being collected and a decision is being made completely automatically without a human even being engaged in that decision making process. But it's better than either just a broad blanket herbicide application or attempting to drive up and down the field and adjust rates based on amount of weed pressure that I observe, and that translates into real dollars that should provide an ROI.

Dusty Weis: 

It all ties back to this notion that knowledge is power and there's no such thing as bad knowledge. Put it in numbers then. Realistically speaking, what does it mean for the farmer's bottom line if they're able to start properly collecting and leveraging the data off their farming operation?

Clint Dotterer:

So, if we want to remain on a philosophical level, which a lot of times is easier in these kinds of conversations, the opportunity for bottom line improvement is essentially infinite. But the challenge is actually realizing this improvement is really hard to do and maybe even harder is measuring the improvement that we see in profitability and then closing the loop and assigning it back to the specific technology or tool or data that we collected. And that's provided a real challenge for this industry. But there are tangible examples of this being done, or I was recently visiting with a farmer from Saskatchewan who looked at several years of profitability maps on his farm, how much he spent on a per acre basis and how much return he got on a per acre basis.

Clint Dotterer: 

And the only way he had access to that data was because he was measuring inputs as they went in. He was measuring yield as it came off and he looked at those profitability maps over years and said, "There are parts of these fields where I am losing money consistently." So he went to the landlord and he renegotiated an agreement with them that said, "We're going to put these parts of these fields into forage under a different rent structure and we're going to leave other parts of the fields in row crop production." The result was that, both the landlord and the farmer ended up making more money than they did before.

Dusty Weis:

Probably on the order of thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars I’d imagine.

Clint Dotterer: 

Absolutely. Across their operation it was absolutely on that order.

Dusty Weis:

Very often the argument for farm data is made in terms of economies of scale, and the value is presented in terms of what it means for large operations, but is there value there too for smaller family run operations or do I have to have a 10,000 acre mega farm to make it work?

Clint Dotterer:

In this industry, we love to talk about the mega farms because they generate big numbers and we're all kind of suckers for big numbers, but Precision Ag doesn't have to operate on a large scale. It's at its core, the definition of Precision Ag is simply that we're managing at a higher resolution than we did before. It might be a higher resolution spatially, it might be a higher resolution temporarily, but it has nothing to do with how much land area is part of one operation or one organization. So every farm can benefit from that. And I think we could make the argument in some cases it's easier for smaller farms to incorporate new technology into their operation simply because the chief decision maker is also the equipment operator and the mechanic and the purchaser and the agronomist and the merchandiser and so on.

Dusty Weis:

In a minute we'll talk to Frank Fidanza who runs a family farm in New York in addition to his job with Trimble and we're going to flesh that out a little more. But if the financial imperative is there, then why don't we see more farming operations implementing these kinds of data driven solutions. What are the hurdles that are keeping farmers from adopting this technology?

Clint Dotterer: 

Well, I think if we think about it on a macro scale, before any new technology is going to be adopted on a farm, it has to clear three hurdles or maybe a three part litmus test that technology has to truly be generating a financial benefit. We've reached a point in this industry where nearly every operation could benefit. There is real value being created now. So in many cases, I think we've overcome this first hurdle. In some areas we have a lot of work to do and others. The second hurdle that has to be overcoming, and maybe this is nuanced, but the farmer has to believe that that financial benefit exists. So it's one thing for there to be a financial benefit. It's another for the farmer to perceive or understand or think that that financial benefit is there. And this is really about communication, and our industry needs to communicate well.

Clint Dotterer: 

Unfortunately we've suffered from a lot of over promising and under delivering from a lot of different places in this industry. And that means that there's often a credibility gap to overcome with the farmer. And then the third thing that needs to happen, and this is probably the biggest hurdle for adoption, but the third thing is that the farmer has to believe that they have the ability and the expertise and the time to implement that technology. You know the kinds of products that we're talking about here are the kinds of tools and solutions. They've been notoriously complicated and the farmer has to weigh if it's best to invest their management expertise into implementing some new Precision Ag or data management technology or to put it somewhere else because that is a resource that they have in limited supply.

Clint Dotterer:

And so it's really about simplifying the implementation and at the same time providing the assistance needed so that the farmer can feel confident that, yes, I see potential value here. Yes, I understand that this could be true value for me on my farm. But finally, yes, I believe that if I go out and make this investment that I'm going to be able to realize that benefit on my farm in my specific operation.

Dusty Weis: 

I'm actually really glad that you raised that third point because anyone who knows farmers knows that the work day starts when the alarm clock goes off and it doesn't end until your head hits the pillow and there's not a whole lot of free time that goes into being a farmer. And so with so many different variables to keep track of, what danger does data overload pose to farmers who are trying to implement these kinds of solutions and what should equipment manufacturers and other tech solution providers do to help?

Clint Dotterer:

Yeah, like we discussed earlier, the data only has value if it leads to a better decision that creates real value. You made a comment about there is no such thing as bad data or something along those lines, which is fundamentally true, but if we don't correctly apply it or analyze it, there is the potential to end up in a worse spot than we would have been had. We never had access to this data. And this isn't just theoretical, right? I think we all have had conversations with farmers who have experienced this in real life. So it's really important for us to clearly articulate that the value is not in the data, the value is in the better decision generated by the data. And I believe that if we keep that perspective, we'll avoid the trap of falling in love with data and we'll focus on the application of that data to create value.

Clint Dotterer:

So as equipment and solution providers, I've been guilty of it right here in this conversation we have a habit of selling the vision of some future state and sort of neglecting to explain the real world application of the specific solution that we're providing to the market at that time. We need to get better as an industry at not creating aspirational future state what the world is going to look like someday sort of videos and instead say, "This is the technology that is available today and this is the path to implementing it on their farm to generate this value right now."

Dusty Weis:

As a result of that imperative. Would you say that we've seen over the last couple of years, a shift in the way that these technologies are talked about and more of an emphasis on user experience over just this, I guess you could call it a love affair with data?

Clint Dotterer:

Yeah, I think we've seen a real positive trend and I think we will continue down that path and in many ways agriculture is a very unique industry but in some ways it shares the same pain points and the same processes that many other industries do. And we can find plenty of other use cases for analogous situations where industries fall in love with new technology and then go through the process of figuring out how to actually implement that technology in a way that really works for the user. And I think we're squarely in that stage in Precision Agriculture, and data management.

Dusty Weis:

So particularly given the market conditions that farmers are facing right now, what role ought equipment manufacturers be playing in using data to help them improve their margins?

Clint Dotterer:

There's huge opportunity here. Perhaps the biggest barrier now is really the implementation process for that technology into the farm operation. The Ag equipment industry is really in a unique position. Capitalize on this. The Ag equipment industry specifically has a long history of helping farmers to implement new tools and equipment. Data management, Precision Ag, we should look at these really in the same way when we think about how we're going to take them to the farm. Successful implementation is going to require hands on engagement, which is what the Ag equipment and industry does really well, but it's going to require a significant investment. And you know, things like education and onboarding and training and support for the farmer. We can't just throw this stuff over the fence and assume that the farmers are going to pick it up.

Dusty Weis:

Ultimately, Agriculture Equipment Manufacturers I think will live and die by the success of the farmers to whom they provide equipment. So what does this new technology then mean for the future of farming and by proxy the future of the agriculture equipment industry?

Clint Dotterer:

Farming by definition is unpredictable. You know, those of us who have survived in this industry have learned to embrace this unpredictability. But one thing that I guess I'll go on record and say that we can predict with certainty that using technology to manage economic, operational and environmental data across a farm organization, it will absolutely be part of normal business practices for farms in the future. So that it's just a matter of how quickly the right technologies will be developed and how quickly those technologies will be adopted by farmers.

Clint Dotterer: 

It's really not a question of if it's a question of when. We're on a path, we're on a journey. And one of the things that's super exciting to me... encouraging to me is exactly the point you made, that the economic health of the equipment industry is 100% dependent on the economic health of the farmer. So the best way for us to be successful is to focus 100% of our effort on creating real value for the farmer. So the fact that we have this shared objective, it really makes me confident that we will collectively be successful. And at some point in the future we'll be having this conversation and we won't be talking about the challenges of adoption. We'll be talking about the next phase and the value that's being created by the technology used today.

Dusty Weis: 

Well that's a really positive note on which to end in, and it's certainly an exciting conversation. Clint Dotterer Trimble's Director of Strategy for Trimble Ag Business Solutions. Thanks for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast.

Clint Dotterer: 

Thank you.

Dusty Weis: 

So, that's the big picture overview of how data can play a role in helping farmers turn a profit in tough times. But on the other end of the spectrum where the inputs meet the dirt is an opportunity to learn a little more about data-driven agriculture solutions. Frank Fidanza is a guy who has more insights than most on the subject. Not only is he a Program Marketing Manager at Trimble, but he's also a farmer who's putting big data to work on his family farm in New York.

Dusty Weis:

Frank, thanks for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast.

Frank Fidanza: 

Thank you, Dusty. I appreciate the opportunity.

Dusty Weis:

So tell me a little bit about your farming operation. How long have you been on the land? How many acres are you working in? What do you grow?

Frank Fidanza:

I'm from western New York. Actually a small town called Lockport, just 30 miles north of Buffalo. We farm roughly 500 acres. I would consider us a small family farming operation. It's primarily just me and my uncle. We farm corn, beans, wheat, hay, and we run some hogs or livestock production.

Dusty Weis: 

Okay. So this is a little bit more than just sort of, you're sort of hobby operation.

Frank Fidanza: 

I would say that it has to turn an income. I mean like any operation. We're not just doing this for fun. This is my uncle's full time job and I worked there when I have free time.

Dusty Weis: 

I'm sure you have just an absolute abundance of free time between a full-time job and working on the farm.

Frank Fidanza:

Yeah. Yeah. Very minimal.

Dusty Weis: 

But how's the operation fairing in the current market or are you guys feeling the pinch?

Frank Fidanza: 

Most definitely. This has kind of been a really tough year for us. The biggest thing, obviously we've all seen the prices, but the weather conditions we're are facing right now have been very detrimental to us. For example, currently we have less than 20 acres land so far and-

Dusty Weis: 

Oh wow.

Frank Fidanza:

At this point in time and year I've actually been done planting. We have a lot of cold weather, a lot of rain. Everybody's feeling it in this area and I know it's continued on through Ohio and Indiana and Illinois. It makes me very nervous even though I have a full-time job that, we got to get something in the ground here. We just don't have corn to sell. We have mouths to feed as well.

Dusty Weis: 

Our people here in Wisconsin too, we hear the same things from them. I know a farmer who's 25% of his acreage right now is not just unplantable, it's actually underwater and he's just sort of standing there looking at his back door wondering, am I ever going to get corn in the ground this year? But it's just, it's been a historically bad spring. That much said, when it comes to sort of taking the edge off of the kind of problems that farmers are facing right now on your operation, what kind of data are you able to collect on your farming operation and how do you collect it?

Frank Fidanza:

We have been involved in precision for five to six years. Obviously I brought it to the farm because of my dealings with the company I work for Trimble, but we first started off with a basic light bar. This wasn't even collecting data. We were using it to spread fertilizer, do a little spraying. I'm trying to cut down on the overlap. There was quite a bit of pushback from my family. They were, well this is kind of skeptical. You sure this is right. You sure this works. And after a few times they start to see things pay off. They start to see hey we're putting down, seems to be a little less fertilizer or there was some positive attitude about that. The next big piece that I thought was very beneficial and is probably the most important piece on any operation is the yield monitor. We went to a yield monitor probably five years ago as well and that has helped us made a lot of decisions on the operation and collecting data.

Frank Fidanza: 

So I would collect the yield data and it will allow me to make decisions for what kind of seed I choose to plant. We've changed some of our seed brands because of the data that was coming off the yield monitor and what it was showing us. We could see trends in how different varieties performed.

Dusty Weis: 

Now, just for someone who's not familiar perhaps can you talk them through how a yield monitor works?

Frank Fidanza:

So the way a yield monitor works is it collects flow data. So it collects data from the elevator going up the grain flow and it measures that flow data and that it also collects moisture data and it can deliver you a moisture mapping the field or deliver you a flow map and the feel on how much material was coming in, in that particular spot based on a GPS position.

Dusty Weis:

And so then that's mapped out then on a map that you can take back and analyze after the fact and figure out where the productive spots, what you ought to be planting in certain spots?

Frank Fidanza:

Correct. So I would take that data back, and I would download it into my software and then I was able to analyze that based on a variety. Or the other big change that we've made based on the yield monitor data is actually their fertilizer program. My uncle was always a very old school gentleman. He felt that, this particular blend of fertilizer worked good for everything and obviously it does not. And so we use that data to change our fertilizer program and be more productive and produce a higher yield. So that data has really helped us to do different test plots and try different things and see if it's successful or not successful.

Dusty Weis:

So as you've been able to reap savings from some of the new technologies that you've deployed on the farm, has it made the members of your family who were hesitant about using Precision Ag? Has it made them a little bit more interested in it?

Frank Fidanza:

Yes, absolutely. The next piece that I installed was I put a better population monitoring. We had a real basic copy track population monitor, and it would just tell you if you were putting seed in the ground or not. Went to an advanced setup where I could actually monitor row by row, monitor the multiples and the skips, and it allowed us to actually make some adjustments on a planner to do a better job planting and see if we had some issues with some of our meters. We actually discovered that some of the meters you would not see it on the old monitor, but on the new monitor you saw there was the meters were not performing where they should have and allowed us to fix that issue and cut down on the amount of seed put down.

Frank Fidanza: 

Obviously it's not a lot of seed looking at our retrospective, but if you look at a larger scale yet it could add up to a lot of dollars.

Dusty Weis:

I'm glad that you bring that up because right now that sort of top of mind for everybody that works in agriculture is when it comes to the pressures that farmers are under now with commodity prices being what they have been and of course the weather and conditions just being terrible this year. How does this technology then help you stay profitable? And maybe without going into too deep of detail, what sort of difference has it made for your operation financially?

Frank Fidanza: 

Well, that's kind of a double edged sword. That's a loaded question. In some aspects for example, as in overlap, it's been a huge factor. So if I figure, I run my spread out on different parts of the field and I broadcast 500 acres and I cut down 15% of that, there's a huge savings to that spread or operation. The same goes for the sprayer. We currently have our spraying done by a local grower that does custom application for us. We're looking our purchase their own sprayer. We're going to update it with rows section shutoffs and be able to do variable rate and stuff.

Frank Fidanza: 

So when you go fast or slow down, it'll change the rate on the go. So that time is money with that. And I've also done that with our side dresser. I have sections on it and I've been able to control it with the display. So as I speed up, my rate increases. If I slow down, my rate decreases. When I get to the end, my overlap changes. It's actually saved me time turning in the field. You're not trying to shut everything off. Everything becomes automatic. Line back up on the row, engag the tractor and away you go. So it's also a time saver.

Frank Fidanza: 

But the other piece that we've noticed is yeah, we've cut down on some overlap, but in some places it's actually, we've used a little more fertilizer because we're spreading too far apart. We weren't doing a good enough job, so now we're actually doing a better job, and we're putting that particular product down at the right place at the right time. So that's probably the more important piece is doing a better job and not so much saving, but trying to get that product in the right place at the right time, so you can maximize the efficiency of the fertilizer and the seed so forth.

Dusty Weis: 

A lot of farmers worry about the added time commitment of keeping track of all this data in their farms. Between your full-time job and the work that you do on the farm, how do you manage it?

Frank Fidanza: 

That's a great question. Managing the data can be a real tedious chore. Currently right now, I have to pull that data off the monitor with USB stick, plug in the computer, sit there and look at it, download and so forth. It takes a lot of time. It takes our energy. Sometimes the data can be... I shouldn't say corrupt, but my uncle isn't the best of operators of the display like I am.

Dusty Weis: 

He’s no Steve jobs.

Frank Fidanza: 

Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I don't get yield maps, I get a yield map, so he'll just continue on from field to field and I get one continuous field and then I have to go back in my computer and sort it and clean it all up and that takes time. At Trimble, we're working on trying to make these processes more automated for you. So we have auto sync and auto sync allows the data from the display to automatically sync to the cloud and back to your laptop automatically.

Frank Fidanza: 

It's not where you have to push it through on the display. It's done all automatically behind the scenes. That saves the operator a lot of time. We're also looking at functionality where it's going to presort based on fields. So if we do make one yield map, that data will be presorted and automatically selected for you. So we are taking steps to improve that data collection process, but it still is a it's quite a big task.

Dusty Weis:

So with the equipment that you and your uncle use on the operation, how could the manufacturers of that equipment facilitate your success in leveraging farm data to your advantage?

Frank Fidanza: 

Oh, that's a good question. I think making stuff as simple as possible with more automation and less operator input would really be beneficial. Not just for an operation like me, like my uncle is somewhat tech savvy, but there's a lot of other people that aren't as tech savvy.

Frank Fidanza: 

And if you look at large operations where they have maybe migrant labor, they don't all speak English, we have to have different languages. If we can take some of those tasks out that the operator has to do and make them automated, you'll in turn have cleaner, better data and there isn't as much mistakes. Most mistakes that we find are human errors not display or something like that. Trying to take out that human error is probably the biggest thing that a manufacturer could do.

Dusty Weis: 

When people talk about Precision Ag and farm data, more often than not they're talking about the benefits that accrue for big operations, 5,000 acres and the like, but you run a 500 acre farm. Would you say that the benefits are there for small farmers as well?

Frank Fidanza: 

Absolutely. You don't need to have the big scale of auto. Auto steer is great, but you don't need to have the big scale of auto steer. You need to be able to collect and understand that data and be able to management. That has been the biggest success for us is not so much cutting down our overlap, that's an easy understanding of money invested, but being able to collect the data and see what products work for you and change your fertilizer plan based on changing conditions. That's a huge benefit that rips itself at the end.

Frank Fidanza:

Putting the product down at the right place at the right time is by far the most important thing.

Dusty Weis:

How do you see the technology that you use in your farming operations evolving over the next 20 years?

Frank Fidanza:

I'm a small grower so I'm not going to be able to buy brand new equipment. Everything that I'm going to have is going to be used. It's going to be 10 plus years old, but I see myself evolving and if do upgrade stuff there will be some kind of technology in it. Whether I bring it in aftermarket or it comes in on a used application, there's going to be some kind of technology. We're not going to get away from it. It's going to become a mainstay part of the firearm. Like having an air conditioner that breaks down. I'm not working until it's fixed basically. And it's the same with precision.

Frank Fidanza:

If the monitor isn’t working right, my uncle is on the phone saying, "Hey come on here, we've got to fix this. This isn't working and I can't plant without it." So we need to continue to evolve with technology and I see for the most part I'm going to be still in bringing stuff in aftermarket and small growers like me are going to be bringing in the aftermarket. Obviously larger growers that buy newer equipment are going to get it all pre installed factory fit.

Dusty Weis: 

Well. Frank Fidanza Program Marketing Manager at Trimble, small farmer in upstate New York. Thanks for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast.

Frank Fidanza:

 Thank you again for your time Dusty. I appreciate it.

Dusty Weis:

Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't touch on one of the key factors driving the hardships that farmers are facing right now. A simmering trade war continues to stifle demand for US agriculture, dampening commodities prices and making a bad situation worse for many U.S. producers. In Washington DC AEM's public affairs team is hard at work advocating on behalf of sensible trade policies, led by Kip Eideberg, who joins us now. Kip, what sort of ripple effect are these tariffs having for American agriculture and what's the direct impact that farmers are feeling?

Kip Eideberg: 

Well, first off, thanks for having me on Dusty, and to your point about the ripple effect, obviously as many of your listeners will know, the success of Agricultural Equipment Manufacturer is directly dependent on the success of American farmers. Farm income is one of the key drivers of equipment sales and what we have been seeing as a result of the current trade war with China, specifically the retaliatory tariffs that the Chinese have imposed on US commodities is that farm income has taken a real hit. There's a lot of uncertainty out there for farmers and that means that they are not necessarily going to invest in new equipment, whether it's buying a new combine or upgrading their tractor. And that of course has some pretty consequential ripple effects for agricultural manufacturers. So it is a big concern to our industry and it is something that we are constantly beating the drum about right here in Washington.

Dusty Weis:

And as it seems like we're reminded almost every day right now. This is a constantly changing situation, but what is AEM's basic takeaway message when it comes to the direction that US trade policy needs to take going forward?

Kip Eideberg:

Well, a couple of things to note, you talked about uncertainty and an ever evolving policy landscape. Policy uncertainty is not good for business. It's not good for equipment manufacturers. What our members want is certainty in the marketplace. They don't ask for a whole lot, right? What we're looking for is certainty in the market place so we can continue to invest in our businesses. A government that doesn't pick winners loses in the marketplace so that we can compete on a level playing field globally. And lastly, but just as importantly looking for access to new markets so that we can create more good paying jobs here in America. And I think it's important to note that, while we do not disagree with the president and his administration in taking a tough stance on China, there are some real issues that we need to address.

Kip Eideberg:

China needs to make some long term structural changes through its industrial policy and state policy. We do not believe that tariffs and certainly not doubling down or tripling down on tariffs is the answer. What we have been saying for a long time is that we United States should be working with our allies, Canada, Mexico, Japan, the European Union to force China into addressing some of the issues. You know, whether it's a forced technology transfer, a joint venture requirement, electral property fast. These are real issues. We need to address them. But putting tariffs in place, which is really just taxes on American consumers and American businesses, it's not going to achieve that.

Dusty Weis: 

What can AEM do as a trade association to turn the tide on these policies and how can our members get involved if they haven't already?

Kip Eideberg: 

Well, that's a good question. And there's a couple of things that our member companies can do to help. First and foremost come to Washington. Let your elected officials know how these tariffs in the ongoing trade war is impacting your business and AEM's Washington office is more than happy to work with our member companies to set up meetings on the hill or with the administration to help facilitate those meetings and to help communicate the messages to lawmakers.

Kip Eideberg:

Secondly, get involved with our grassroots advocacy campaign. If you go to imakeamerica.org, you can sign up right there. And then we had been using our grassroots supporters quite effectively for the past couple of years, really a year and a half since the tariffs came into place. And we've been able to accomplish a few things. You know, the good news a couple of weeks ago was that the administration announced that they are going to drop the tariffs on feeling aluminum from Canada and Mexico.

Kip Eideberg:

We have been pushing for that. We've been one of the most vocal opponents of those tariffs, we were able to get a win for the industry. Of course, now we're looking at just sort of across the board tariffs on all Mexican goods. So you win some, you lose some, but get involved through our DC office, get involved through, I Make America, tell your story, tell your lawmakers, whether they're home for a break, you meet them at the grocery store, you run into them at an event or you come to Washington. They got to hear from Equipment Manufacturers about how this is impacting our industry.

Dusty Weis:

It's been a long and frustrating battle against these tariffs. And you definitely pointed to the big win that AEM was able to secure in terms of steel and aluminum tariffs in North America. But what would you say have been some of the other big successes that AEM has had in this fight against the tariffs?

Kip Eideberg:

Well, I think telling the story about the not only link between our industry and the broader agricultural economy and educating lawmakers on the fact that, when it comes to agricultural equipment, as the farm economy goes, so goes agricultural equipment sales, has been a real win for us. You know, it may not have been a high profile legislative win, but nevertheless it is important for law makers to understand that connection. We've been able to build solid relationship with the White House. And so we are often at the table when some of these decisions are being made.

Kip Eideberg: 

We're invited frequently to voice our feedback and we have a good working relationship with them, which is critical, right? Because at the end of the day, tariffs is an important issue for industry existential, in many ways. But we work on a lot of issues on behalf of our industry infrastructure investment, the importance of the RFS and maintaining that. And we had a win on that very recently. Workforce development, the list goes on. So it's important for us that we keep that relationship with the administration and the Congress on solid ground and so I think having achieved that puts us in a great position to continue to get some wins for the industry.

Dusty Weis: 

I feel like that's a really great summary of the international trade situation from 30,000 feet. Is there anything else that you want to add Kip?

Kip Eideberg:

I would just conclude by adding that trade past two years or so has gotten a bad name, I think not just in Washington but across the country. You know as I travel around visiting our member companies we're starting to see yard signs and banners that say, "Trade, fill in your preferred explorative." And that's just really unfortunate. I think that we as as an industry, but we as the broader pro-trade community has probably not done as good of a job as we should have in explaining the benefits of trade to the average American. It is a tough issue. It's an emotional issue. I think it's a lot easier for the opposition to frame this as you know, trade means no American jobs are fewer American jobs. So we've got to keep working at it. But I think it's important to remember that the trade is, it's a great thing.

Kip Eideberg:

That NAFTA agreement has been in place for 25 years and thanks to that we have tariff free access to the Canadian and the Mexican markets and those are our two biggest markets for our industry. 30% of equipment made in the US is designated for export. So trade is important to us. It is the only way that we can keep growing our industry and create more jobs here. So I hope that your listeners come away with an understanding of why trade matters to our industry and hopefully if they get a chance to talk to their elected officials about it or just about anyone you know, put in a plug for trade.

Dusty Weis:

 Kip Eideberg vice president of Government and Industry Relations for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Thank you for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast.

Kip Eideberg:

Thanks for having me Dusty.

Dusty Weis:

We focused pretty heavily on data and the Internet of Things in agriculture in today's episode, but of course there's tons of applications in construction and other fields as well and if you want to explore the use cases a little more broadly, might I recommend AEM's next Thinking Forward event, September 10th at the Cisco Innovation Center in Toronto. IoT, big data, intergenerational workforces, and of course a behind the scenes tour are all on the docket with a panel of experts, carefully curated by AEM's education team, but you've got to reserve your seat now at aem.org/think.

Dusty Weis:

There're also events in October in November in Milwaukee and St Louis respectively. All details again at aem.org/think. That is going wrap up this edition of the AEM Thinking Forward podcast. For more valuable industry insights make sure you're signed up for the AEM Industry Advisor. Our twice weekly e-newsletter visit aem.org/subscribe. If you need to get in touch with me directly, shoot me an email at podcast@aem.org. The AEM Thinking Forward podcast is brought to you by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and produced by PodCamp Media; Branded podcast Production for Businesses. Visit podcampmedia.com. Little Glass Men does the music for our podcast. And for AEM, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

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