Old habits die hard. Deep-rooted production protocols and business management methods are likely to die even harder on most family farms. The ability to evolve takes time and open minds. But the pressure to keep up has increased exponentially, especially over the last decade. So, who better than the next generation of farm leaders to light the way in helping integrate new ideas and technology?
GenNext Growers are usually on the learning end of things. But when it comes to modernization, students can become the teachers. This reversal of roles might not be so easy for some elders to digest. Strategic planning and preparation will be needed to properly make the case for new ideas, tools, and implementation, says Joy Rumble, Assistant Professor of Agricultural Communication in The Ohio State University’s Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership. She suggests GenNext Growers take a page from “Diffusion of Innovations,” a scholarly publication first printed in the early 1960s.
Rumble points out that author Everett Rogers’ theory regarding diffusion of innovation highlights five factors that can encourage or actually prevent the adoption of new technologies. Those are complexity, compatibility, observability, trialability, and relative advantage.
With that in mind, to foster adoption of new ideas and technologies on the farm, Rumble advises GenNext Growers focus on helping older generations to:
- See the relative advantage that new technology has over older or comparable technologies. “I think of things that hooked my dad (an older generation farmer) on using a smartphone,” she remarks. “It’s a tool that can provide what he needs right in his shirt pocket. He has apps that give him market updates, can track the weather without going back to the farm office and looking at it on the DTN (Data Transmission Network), some equipment can link to it, and there are apps for chemical rates and weed identification. Perhaps the most exciting thing for him, though, is being able to take short videos and Skype/FaceTime with his grandson while farming. Essentially, it allows you to eliminate tools, enhance convenience, and increase connection with family when putting in long days in the field.”
- Learn how the new technology is compatible with their beliefs or values. “Maybe this is efficiency, economics, marketing, etc.,” she adds.
- Understand the simplicity of the new technology and help them realize it’s not as complex as it might seem. “By showing the tricks and patterns to an operating system, they can pick it up pretty fast,” Rumble says. “Consistency and repetition is key.”
Using mobile integration as an example, Rumble says something simple like organizing apps can help.
“Move all the apps they won’t use regularly to a secondary screen/window and move the stuff up to the home screen that they will use. Setting this up for them can help with the initial complexity.”
- Observe the new technology in action and observe the benefits of the new technology. Seeing is believing. Demonstrate the capability, reveal/analyze results, and repeat.
- Test the new technology in a safe, risk-free environment. Wide open spaces and test plots are prime proving grounds for new ideas, methods, and technology (e.g., smart irrigation sensors, using drones for scouting crops, GPS soil mapping, etc.).
Rumble concludes this kind of multistep, collaborative approach will not only pay off for the farm’s longevity but also demonstrate the GenNexter’s forward-thinking and leadership potential.
“Increasing compatibility, observability, trialability, and relative advantage —while decreasing complexity — can all add to higher levels of adoption.”