Farmers rely on new ag technologies to provide efficiencies and advantages needed to grow crops profitably. Agtech companies rely on farmers for input and testing to ensure those innovations meet their on-farm needs and expectations. That synergy is the idea behind an exciting Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) project for 2021.

AgTechConnect connects farmers interested in new technologies with agtech companies seeking on-farm testing partners. This program brings Illinois soybean farmers a tremendous opportunity to be among the first to try the latest agricultural innovations—an opportunity increasingly embraced by many farmers across the state.

Technology testing has put ISA board member Tim Scates—literally—in the driver’s seat of innovation. His southeastern Illinois farm has been a testing site for Caterpillar Challenger tractors and combines, John Deere combine grain heads, Valley irrigation systems and many other emerging innovations for their equipment and on-farm systems.

Top-secret testing 
The Challenger testing stands out in Scates’ memory because of the top-secret nature of the track-system prototype.

“Caterpillar built a shed on our farm to store the machine at night so no one could see it or take photos,” he recalls. When the prototype eventually made it into commercial production, Scates got the chance to visit the factory and watch his own Challenger tractor come off the line.

“It’s a great feeling to give direct input to companies on new product developments. Engineers look for feedback on details like ease of shifting and how the park mechanism works. They value farmers’ input to make their products better,” Scates says.

Scates encourages farms of all sizes to consider partnering with companies through the ISA AgTechConnect project.

“The size of the operation doesn’t really matter. Agtech companies want to test with farms of all sizes and with different logistical problems. They need to find out how the technology works best in a variety of farm operations,” he says.

At the forefront of agtech
Steve Pitstick is another ISA board member on the forefront of technology testing, working with both established and startup companies. Over the years the northern Illinois soybean farmer tested precision planting, wireless data management, aerial imaging, autonomous tillage and many other agtech innovations.

Pitstick says farmer feedback is a critical element in technology development. “In the past few years some agtech companies haven’t gotten farmer buy-in, and they’ve gone by the wayside,” he says.

On the flip side, companies that successfully develop and test new technologies can help farmers like Pitstick be more competitive.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to be more profitable and do a better job for our land and for our future. If a new technology can help address a pain point in my operation, I’m all over it,” Pitstick says. “I have no idea where the next big thing in ag will come from, but I want to be on the forefront. It’s well worth the time for farmers to get involved with testing new products.”

What to expect
Both Scates and Pitstick say that farmers who test new technologies can expect some level of compensation, which may come in the form of direct payments for land use, free products, use of equipment, or even company stock in the case of startups. Compensation is negotiated between the farmer and the company doing the testing.

The ISA AgTechConnect program does not get involved with such negotiations. After matching a farmer and agtech company, it is up to the individuals involved to arrange details for product trials and evaluations. ISA’s role involves making connections, helping farmers gain experience with technology and helping agtech companies find candidates for product input, feedback and evaluation. It’s all part of ISA’s mission to help Illinois farmers improve yield, profitability and sustainability.

Farmers and agtech companies can learn more about AgTechConnect here.

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About the Author: Linda Krull

As director of ag innovations for the Illinois Soybean Association, Kull directs team efforts establishing new programs and networks for Illinois agriculture that focus on the soybean value chain, soybean quality and value for customers, farm profitability and business management, new and emerging ag technologies, new uses, and farmer-facing activities and events. Kull earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in botany and plant physiology from Eastern Illinois University and completed a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in plant pathology and crop sciences.