Would you trust your doctor’s prescriptions to be objective if they worked for a pharmaceutical company? As a result of a series of prescription drug scandals, this question has become more prevalent in the medical community.
An analogous relationship is possible in the agriculture industry. Many of the “prescriptions” that agricultural advisors must sign for chemical pesticides or other products are signed by the same companies that produce and sell them.
Advisors and farmers are often in a mutually beneficial relationship. This relationship can lead to tension as farmers may question advisors’ motives. Advisors then have to debate with farmers about the best course of action. Both are not necessarily to blame. The system is the problem.
Some countries, like France, have taken steps to separate the advisor from the agrichemical business, but there is little talk about that happening in North America. There is a way to strengthen and repair these relationships without additional regulation.
We are seeing an important side effect as agriculture integrates technology and enhanced analytics. Independent technology companies have been collecting farm data which is helping farmers to see eye-to-eye.
Good intentions. Bad optics
Let me start by saying that there are many amazing agricultural advisors, and most of them play an essential role in the lives of farmers.
Advisors can be divided into three categories: Independent advisors who are independent and own their own businesses as well as in-house advisors who work on behalf of the farm.
The advisor is often included in a package when a farmer buys seeds or chemicals from a retailer. Many farmers appreciate the advice. These advisors are often called upon by farmers to obtain prescriptions for pesticides.
This relationship works well for many. Farmers swear by their advisors, which I have seen. There is also the risk of subtle misalignment between agendas, which can lead to unintended consequences, such as overspray. A survey of 540 advisors found that those associated with chemical companies were less likely to recommend lower pesticide doses. Overspray can lead to a cascading effect, from possible environmental damage to increased resistance and unneeded costs for farmers.
Instead of blaming anyone, it’s important to point out what is missing in the equation: reliable data that can be used to make collaborative decisions.
Advisors are able to bring years of experience and extensive training into the field. Farmers, on the other hand, are able to see and sense their field’s challenges and conditions better than anyone. The only thing that is lacking is an objective source of truth on which to base your decisions.
It doesn’t have that way.