When to Hire Tech Expertise

October 8, 2018 10:43 AM
Jeremie Pavelski

Think about how much your farm’s digital footprint has exploded in the past decade. What will your farm look like in the future? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: effective and efficient use of technology will be a pillar of success.

“Farmers can waste a tremendous amount of money and lag in tech adoption if they don’t know where and when to make investments,” says Brent Raeth, managing partner of CatchMark Technologies, an information technology firm specializing in agriculture.

If your farm is in growth mode, now might be the time to expand your team to include a tech expert. Based on your operation’s size, sophistication and digital framework, consider one of these positions, Raeth says.

  • A chief information officer is a strategic position that outlines the ag tech vision for a farm.
  • A chief technology officer is more operational and implements strategy.
  • An IT director or manager is an in-field position that has boots on the ground and executes technology.

Be sure to detail your goals and responsibilities for the role, Raeth encourages. The main purpose, he says, is to take inventory of your farm’s digital footprint and execute strategy.

“All kinds of gadgets and software are coming out, but a lot of farms don’t have the baseline technology in place,” he says. “You could make misguided decisions because you don’t know what questions to ask. You need to have somebody to guide you.”

For Heartland Farms, creating a tech team evolved out of necessity. The Hancock, Wis.-based operation includes 27,000 acres of potatoes, other vegetables and row crops.

Due to their specialty crop mix, an in-house IT team, which includes four programmers, a network engineer, an IT director and a help desk support person, is necessary. They develop apps, software and programs that drive production, profitability and environmental stewardship.

Heartland includes 120 full-time and 150 part-time employees. “We have an amazing mix of what I call old-school knowledge and new-tech savvy,” says Jeremie Pavelski, president of the operation.

His IT team rides in the tractors with the people using the technology to make sure it works. “I view software and technology as living and breathing tools that need to be dynamic enough to change with the organization,” he says.

This culture piece is key, Raeth says. Finding candidates with tech expertise is easy—finding candidates with tech expertise who enjoy fields, barns and equipment is a little more difficult. Show them around the farm to make sure they like the atmosphere.

Also, look for candidates who are problem solvers—not just whizzes at programming or networking. In the interview process, ask candidates how they solved a specific difficult issue.

The acceleration of ag tech creates an exciting frontier—make sure you’re ready to capitalize on it.

To learn more about how technology keeps Heartland Farms on the leading edge, visit bit.ly/Heartland-Farms

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