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How ranchers and farmers adopt new forage ideas

George Russell for Progressive Forage Grower Published on 26 February 2016

What do you think about new ideas to grow and sell high-quality forage? Do you like to have new things soon after they are available? Or do you wait until a new concept is well proven and tested before you adopt it?

Adoption of technology in forage production has lagged behind other areas of agriculture for a variety of reasons. But today’s grower is presented with a variety of new ways to improve the seeding, harvesting, storage, analysis and selling of hay and forage. If and when you adopt new technologies may be important for the success of your business.

This article will explain the words we often use when selling products – innovators, early adopters, laggards – and how your views about technology adoption can be better understood and leveraged in your own operation.

It is interesting to know that marketers worldwide use these terms started in the 1950s about the speed of use by farmers of hybrid seed corn. Many marketers – whether for cars, cellphones, flat-screen TVs or toothpaste – use the methods and vocabulary first introduced by extension agents at Iowa State University based on research by two others.

Their words and concepts are as relevant today as they were then. The adoption of a wide range of hay and forage production technologies can be better understood by understanding practical implications of the theory of technology diffusion and adoption which started with the introduction of hybrid seed corn.

Life cycle of a new idea

The model of how any technology is adopted considers that different people take a longer or shorter amount of time to feel comfortable with a new idea. The differences among people can be explained by different characteristics about them – in the case of farmers, the differences related to farm size, education and age.

The other consideration, in addition to differences among different groups or segments of people, is that there are big differences in the size of each group. The distribution in numbers is a classic bell curve, with a few people at the beginning and the end of the curve and a lot of people in the middle.

From the hybrid seed corn research, the description and insights about each group are as true in 1957 as they are today (Figure 1).

Traditional technology adoption life cycle

Innovators “The Techies”
This is the smallest group, who tend to have larger farms with more education, are more profitable and willing to take risks. They like new things and are willing to put up with the risk that it may not work right at first.

Early Adopters “Visionaries”
This is the next smallest group in size but the most important. They tend to be younger and more educated. They tend to be the community leaders, even if they were not the most profitable. They are looking ahead and often don’t pay as much attention to the bottom line.

Early Majority “Pragmatics”
This is a large group, about one-third of the total, who are more conservative in terms of risk but who are open to new ideas. They are active in the community and can influence their more conservative neighbors.

They watch the Innovators, but more importantly, they watch the Early Adopters to see whether a new technology works before they try it themselves. They are very practical in sorting out how to make the technology most profitable and useful for them.

Late Majority “Conservatives”
Again, about one-third of the total, who are older, less educated and less socially active fall into this group. They will not adopt until they see that the Early Majority has fully adopted a new technology.

Late Minority “Laggards”
The end of the tail still consists of a fairly large group and tends to be very conservative. They are the smallest farms, oldest and least educated.

Technology and time – the pace is increasing

Historically, it takes 40 years for a new idea to become fully accepted. So it is a long time from a Techie first using a new idea to when a Laggard does. And adoption is a process; the profitable Early Majority “Pragmatists” won’t adopt until the Early Adopter “Visionaries” do.

Likewise, the large Late Majority “Conservatives” won’t adopt until they see that the “Pragmatists” are successful.

The pace of adoption of new technology introduction is increasing. In just the last few years, forage producers now have the option to use technologies like these:

  • Precise global positioning systems to reduce overlaps and improve efficiency in spraying and windowing, including RTK signals with accuracy to within inches. Light bar systems have shown to pay for themselves quickly by improving productivity.

  • Balers have the technology to automatically adjust bale tension, preservative rates, record moisture and create a field map.

  • Forage harvesters can now give real-time nutrient analysis recording moisture, dry matter, protein, starch, acid detergent fiber and neutral detergent fiber.

  • Alfalfa and grasses are now available with specific traits such as high digestibility, drought and pest resistance, stem rust resistance and summer dormancy.

  • Other advances inclucde personal management tools such as smartphones, tablets and a myriad of specific applications.

  • Implications of technology adoption for your operation

We’ve been talking about the theory, even if the theories are well proven. But what does this mean for you? How can you take the lessons here and apply them? Here are three questions to ask.

1. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?
If, personally, you are a Conservative (meaning the Late Majority in terms of speed of adoption of new technology), does that stop the consideration and acceptance of new profitable ideas in your operation?

How do your attitudes about technology affect the attitudes of your employees and your employees with your customers – one way or the other?

2. Do you know who the Techies, Visionaries and Pragmatists are in your organization?
Because technology adoption is a process, who is looking out for new ideas (Techies), making them work (Visionaries) and making them work profitably (Pragmatists)?

3. Do you have a process of sorting out new ideas early so that you can more quickly move from the early stages to later ones where technology is most profitable for your operation?
The more quickly you can assess new products, the more you’ll be able to take advantage of them. If you know your attitudes (Question 1) and know the key people who can help introduce new technology (Question 2), do you push the process through the technology life cycle?

We’ve come a long way since hybrid seed corn was first introduced, and we can still learn from that process.  FG

George Russell is a farmer’s son who has been involved all his life to help all areas of agriculture to improve. He spent most of his career in farm machinery including new product development for hay and forage. He is a management consultant with VisTion Advisory in his home state of Vermont and works with agricultural retailers throughout North America.

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

George Russell
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