Experts Weigh In On The State Of Precision Ag, Part 2
Below is the second part of a feature from the July 2012 PrecisionAg Buyers’ Guide, in which ag technology experts were asked to weigh in on the state of precision technology. Here we present the second four of eight perspectives we gathered from top leaders in site specific agriculture.
Ag Technology Director
Central Valley Ag, Oakland, NE
One of the most important trends in precision ag today is how we are dealing with data and computing power. In-cab data computing, support of equipment through remote access and data synchronization between equipment and the office is now a reality. There is a hard push for wireless data transfer, mobile Web apps and cloud computing, which are all very rapidly becoming mainstream. There seems to be a race to increase computing power and going mobile. The adoption of smartphones and mobile technologies in agriculture will continue to grow and drive this trend. The positives of this trend are the ability to access data anywhere/anytime, to have the ability to do an unbelievable amount of data analysis, and ease of data transfer. The negatives of this trend are the obvious security concerns, coverage areas and stability and how much data can the network or cloud handle. This trend will continue to evolve and increase in acceptance. As leaders in the precision ag industry, we all need to take the initiative to aid in its evolution. This trend will help create new opportunities in agriculture for the tech savvy and millennial generation employees like we have never seen before.
The most pressing need in precision ag is data standardization, data compatibility and data integration. We are getting so inundated with information from different sources and platforms that most growers do not have the capability to effectively utilize it. Until we get some sort of standardization, there will always be a break in the communication link in precision ag. Traceability will also be very difficult to manage without some sort of standardization. Being in the ag retailer sector, we see many different equipment, software, hardware, and data platforms between our customers, suppliers and competitors. Within this current structure, our customer — the farmer — is the most negatively affected. The ability for our customers to have equipment and data compatibility is imperative for them to get the most out of their precision farming program. The incompatibility and “confusion” is a major barrier to growth of precision ag and will continue to be until we get some sort of standardization. AgGateway is facilitating that standardization, and its success will be very important for the future success and growth of precision ag.
Precision Agriculture Manager
MFA Inc., Columbia, MO
Precision agriculture has always been a little before its time. We started with nutrient and data management services in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Then equipment came in showing a direct return-on-investment with products like clutch and section control for planters and sprayers coupled with automatic guidance for steering accuracy. As we look to the future, the overwhelming push has been back towards data management and analysis.
So what makes this time so much different than the mid-1990s to the early 2000s? First and foremost, farmers have more of a comfort level with precision agriculture equipment and its accuracy. Second, a farmer can order the equipment straight from the factory or through an independent service provider. Third, the equipment is more user-friendly with more precision ag specialists in the market to help support the products. Fourth, the computer processing capacity has increase exponentially. Back in 1997, I was learning SST Toolbox on 386 MB processor vs. the 6 GB processor you can get today.
But today’s market is not the same as the mid-1990s. As commodity, seed, fuel and fertilizer prices continue to rise, efficiency and increased productivity is becoming more vital to American farmers competing in a global economy. In order for the producer to compete, they will have to utilize technology tools such as data management and analysis to better understand their inputs and placement on their fields.
A clutch or boom section control system can save the producer anywhere between 5% to 15% with a savings of $15 or more per acre on inputs like seed and chemical. Whereas data management can help the producer select varieties that will outperform others on specific soil types by at least five bushels per acre resulting in a gain of $25 per acre based on $5 corn. By combining input savings and management, a farmer has the potential to gross over $35 per acre. This allows the farmer to stay ahead of global competition by maximizing yield, managing inputs and preserving the environment to ensure farmers with a sustainable way of farming.
Data management is not without its own challenges. It takes an accurate history of data to make an appropriate recommendation for a farmer’s field. Some of the new wireless technology has helped in providing an easy way to transfer the recommendation to the monitor in the tractor cab, but current wireless networks are having a hard time handling the volume of data. Another challenge is what actually happens in the heat of the battle. Does the recommendation get used with the designated variety? Then the challenge of getting the data back into the system via flashdrive or wireless network. In the end, it all comes down to analyzing the data and making smarter management decisions for the next year.
Farmer and Chairman, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Lincoln, NE
Precision ag has come a long way in the last 15 years but it still feels like it is in its infancy. While we see a large amount of data coming into the farms on a daily basis no matter what operation we are doing, we seem to be not properly using this data on a wide scale. This is where I see the most pressing need right now in precision ag.
How do farmers and ag companies effectively utilize the information that they have to make the most informed decision based on agronomics and economics? We have a lot of pretty maps but not necessarily a lot of legitimate data. This problem becomes compounded if one is using multiple companies for seed, fertilizer, chemical, etc., and the lack of communication between those companies.
This leads to what I see as the most important trend in precision ag, which is the total adoption and use of smartphones, tablets and cloud computing to do all of the work. There needs to be a move by companies to develop their own apps to be able to tie right into the monitors in the cabs or eventually the cabs themselves. Precision Planting has done this with its FieldView app and 20/20 Seed Sense. One can monitor row-by-row planting data in real time on a map. It allows one to see what is going on in the field while also seeing the other monitor with all the numbers. It also allows one to put in notes in a specific point in a field. Also, one can update a Seed Sense monitor in the field through an iPad.
This is where I believe the trend is going: Complete mobility to be able to monitor, store and share information at anytime, anywhere in the world. The data will now be in the ag producers hands to carry with them at all times. It will allow us to be able to more closely work with our retailers, scouts and others to make more timely decisions when needed.
Precision Ag Manager
Crop Quest Inc., Dodge City, KS
Here’s my view of the most important trends in precision agriculture from my perspective as a precision agriculture specialist and consultant:
• Precision Ag (PA) is constantly evolving; a positive trend keeps the technology fresh. The ability to change and easily adapt is vital in a fast paced world. If you want to stay competitive in this industry you have to accept change and to an extent create it. With the increasing rate of change in the ag industry it can be difficult to stay up-to-speed; by investing time and resources in the PA tools a producer is helping ensure the future of his operation.
• Society in general has become increasingly familiar and accepting of conveniences that technology offers. This leads people to a better understanding and increased comfort level with the PA tools.
• Interest in PA by the next generation returning to the family farm. This seems pretty simple, but it’s natural for these younger farmers to feel more comfortable with the PA tools. They have been exposed to this type of technology their entire life. To them a world without Droids, iPads and laptops is something they have never known. This familiarity with technology makes it simple for them to integrate it into their farming strategy.
• Understanding of the benefits that the PA tools can provide. Producers and consultants continue to gain a better understanding of how the PA tools improve the efficiency
of an operation.
• PA tools are simpler and more standard. The tools we use in PA are becoming more standard practice. This leads to the idea that as we progress the current PA tools will simply be viewed as an integrated part of normal farming. This doesn’t mean that PA will gradually fade away, there will always be innovators bringing new technology to the ag industry.
Now, here’s what I think needs to happen to advance precision agriculture in the future:
• Continue to educate and demonstrate the benefits the technology brings. Only a fraction of the producers in our area take full advantage of the benefits PA tools offer. There are dollars being left on the table and the innovators will be able to capitalize on this fact.
• Industry data standards. The result? It will become simpler for parties involved in the collection, transfer, interpretation and analysis of the data.
• Increased collaboration within PA sector (dealers, consultants, service providers, growers). It has been our experience that a team approach to integrating the PA tools generally results in the most satisfied client. Bringing together the hardware knowledge, technical skills and the agronomic knowledge requires effort on the part of Crop Quest, but the synergies that result from having a team of professionals focused on providing the client with a quality service makes it worthwhile. When the client is pleased with the products and the services, then everyone at the table wins. This is an area that Crop Quest is continually exploring.