Ag retailers meeting

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Aaron Putze)

AI, labor, regulations wield enormous influence on ag’s potential

December 7, 2023 | Aaron Putze, APR

Issues and challenges facing soybean farmers have a direct and immediate impact on the ag retailers they rely on.

Little wonder, therefore, that endangered and vulnerable species, crop insurance provisions, farm bill maneuverings, carbon sequestration, and artificial intelligence were topics referenced frequently at the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) annual meeting held recently in Orlando.Logo of the association

“Retailers put their knowledge, brand and reputation on the line with every recommendation they make,” said Daren Coppock, ARA’s president and CEO. “Knowing the issues is vital to serving our customer, the farmer.”

There’s no shortage of issues, evident by the lengthy list of challenges and opportunities Coppock shared with the more than 600 meeting attendees during his annual CEO report.

Among them: federal farm legislation including robust crop insurance provisions, transportation policy that addresses driver shortages, workforce recruitment and retention and continued access and ability to crop protection products.

Shared goals

“Given how closely ag retailers work with farmers, it’s little wonder we have so many shared goals, from boosting farm efficiencies and production to agronomic performance,” Coppock said.

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) collaborates with dozens of ag retail partners – from seed, processing and equipment to chemical, biologicals, farm lending and risk management. These partners offer input, expertise, products, and non-checkoff income that ISA puts to work in support of programs benefiting Iowa’s 40,000 soybean farmers.

The Arlington, Va., based ARA advocates and educates on behalf of its members and U.S. agriculture. It provides services to improve ag business and preserve the industry’s freedom to operate and innovate with the stated goal of ensuring a safe and plentiful food supply for all.

The need for talent

Coppock, a 13-year veteran as ARA’s CEO, said members, just like farmers, are talking most about people. More specifically, how to recruit and retain talent that companies and agriculture need to thrive.

“More and more, leaders can’t even travel because they’re so short staffed,” he said. “Lacking talent not only hinders day-to-day operations, but the continued growth and evolution of those companies needing people.”

The rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) helps compensate for labor shortages.

“As automation becomes more feasible from a price point, retailers are using robotics for cleaning, sanitization, and harvesting,” said Coppock. “These are jobs that need done when you don’t have the labor to do it.”

Using data effectively

While collecting data is easy, using it effectively and efficiently continues to be challenging. AI can be either be an obstacle or solution depending on the perspectives of the ag retailer and farmers they serve.

Coppock said the potential applications of data in agriculture are as limitless as the amount of information available to farmers, retailers, and agronomists. The challenge is how best to sift through it and provide recommendations that positively impact the bottom line.

“AI can help us come to decisions more quickly,” he said. “It can extend the reach of agronomists as they focus their time on the most relevant and important acres. That’s working more efficiently and effectively.”

Additional opportunities highlighted by Cappock


Increased reliance on retailers to help figure it out. So many new products coming onto the market; discerning what works and what doesn’t based on all the variables (soil type, weather, location, crop rotations, etc.).


Better management of carbon emissions throughout the entire farm-to-plate chain, from Scope 1 (what you emit) and Scope 2 (emissions generated in the production of things you buy/purchase) to Scope 3 (emissions from everything downstream once it leaves your facility or farm). How is it measured and quantified? Who understands it and pays for it? “It’s quickly becoming a system that bureaucrats love because they’re the only ones who understand it,” said Coppock.

Risk management

Enhanced risk management from supply chain, labor and weather to geopolitical events and volatile commodity prices.

Business tech and financial tools

Incorporating new business technology and financial tools, such as smart payments to reduce payment transaction fees and errors. “Growers are moving fast,” Coppock said, “Sometimes it’s trying to stay ahead of them. Other times you’re just trying to keep up.”