Wireless tech opens new frontiers on farms
SALINA, Kan. — Within the next five years, farmers and ag engineering specialists expect big advances in wireless data capture and communication that could help improve on-farm efficiency by providing the tools for better management and decision-making.
Smart-phone based car insurance that allows drivers to potentially save on premiums by automatically downloading data about daily driving behavior or high-tech truck fleet management programs that maintain automated driver logs are common examples of something called telematics, which holds promise for farm and ranch applications as well.
Two experts on technology and economics who have been studying seamless communication syncing and wireless real-time monitoring on farms spoke recently about their findings.
“Telematics can help us rethink our assumptions” about things like loading and unloading procedures, optimal operating speeds or equipment sizing and internal and external field routing, said Terry Kastens, a private consultant and Kansas State University ag economics professor emeritus, speaking to the Kansas Agricultural Research and Technology Association.
Room still exists for a lot of what he calls “duh” advances. That includes more seamless communication sharing between on-farm equipment, including readings on combine fill levels or field application coverage.
Automating data collection is an important component of making full use of modern technology. “A lot of useful data is cumbersome without an effortless way to collect that data,” Kastens pointed out.
One key to countering the lack of reliability by some rural wireless services is separating data that needs to be available instantaneously from lower-priority data that needs to simply be captured and stored for post-analysis. Instant communication can help with employee training and remote management as well as long distance troubleshooting for machinery repairs.
By contrast, farmers can go back to stored data to study workflow patterns and look for ways to improve harvest protocols or other farming operations.
Ag economist Kevin Dhuyvetter, who is currently on a one-year sabbatical from K-State providing consulting services to John Deere, said farm business management research shows that being in the top third of farmers in technology adoption translates to roughly $14.30 in additional per acre profit.
“There’s huge differences across the style of management of custom harvesting crews, for example, and that affects their profits in significant ways,” he said.
Information capture associated with Global Positioning Systems is already standard on all new equipment and that will continue, he said.
“I will contend that’s not where you are going to make money. I think it is going to be in knowing what to do with that data. You won’t be able to just push a button, and the answer will come out,” he said.
The two experts expect to see farmers increasingly subscribe to information analysis services costing a few thousand dollars a year. “You’re all going to be doing this,” Kastens told the audience of farmers and crop advisors.
Dietrick Kastens, who farms in Northwest Kansas near Atwood and is the association’s founding president, said “wall-to-wall network connectivity” is the next frontier in ag technology. He added that 3G and 4G telecommunication networks have greatly improved wireless capabilities in rural areas. (He and Terry Kastens, his father, are partners in a family farming enterprise and collaborate closely with K-State on research projects.)
“Technology is part of every farm today,” he said during a conference break. “We’re all precision farming today. Those who aren’t are last generation farmers.”
A lot of valuable wisdom has been passed down through the generations, he said, but today’s technology allows farmers an objective means to re-evaluate what they do.
“The data is giving us an advantage over just relying on gut instinct,” he said, offering a variation on the popular adage that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. “People tend to get hung up chasing pennies when dollars are falling out of their pockets.”
Roger Brining, another innovative farmer from Great Bend, gave the example of automatic shutoff sensors on sprayers and corn-planting equipment. Research done several years ago showed that a farmer growing five pivots of corn could benefit enough from input savings and yield improvements to pay for the automation in just seven years.
But finding meaningful applications for the increasing overload of data most farmers have at their fingertips remains a huge challenge, he added. He said it was time for ag tech to get back to the basics.
“The technology is out there,” he said. “Now we have the capability, but very few people are utilizing that to its full potential.”
Putting data in context was a primary theme at the conference, which was originally started by K-State’s ag engineering department before evolving into a farmer-run organization with K-State in an advisory role two years ago. The goal of organizers is to create an interactive environment where speaking sessions are relatively informal and no speakers are placed on a pedestal too high for vigorous questioning.
“The more we learn, the more questions it raises,” Brining said.
While many farmers look to technology as a way to get ahead, Dhuyvetter cautioned that it might instead make the general business climate increasingly fast-paced. Farmers who plan on using the efficiencies they gain to spend more time at family activities or to go fishing might be disappointed.
“If you use it to farm less, you won’t be competitive,” he said. “You’ll always have someone who will say ‘I’m going to farm more than I am now, and I’m going to make more money.’ In that sense, it will lead to bigger farms.”
Reprinted from the AgJournal.comhttp://www.agjournalonline.com/article/20130125/NEWS/130129940/1001/NEWS#art-tit