Setting Standards

Fairly early in my tenure here at CropLife® magazine, I was charged with digging into the technology side of agriculture and becoming the quasi-expert on the subject as it related to retailers. So I got to attend a number of technology meetings and talk to a lot of interesting people.

One of those folks was David Waits of SST Software. Experiencing Dave’s drive and entrepreneurial spirit, it’s difficult to imagine he was ever a college professor at Oklahoma State. He would keep me on the showfloor late discussing precision technology, but he was most passionate about the subject of data standardization in precision agriculture.

Dave is certainly not alone, as others have made the call for standards as well. Unfortunately, left to their own devices, the companies that drive precision agriculture innovation have not moved the needle appreciably on choosing and sticking with a common standard.

Frankly, given that the most innovative ideas have been driven by smaller and more entrepreneurial companies, it’s not that surprising that standards haven’t been set. Companies are always going to seek to protect intellectual property, but in the end, the lack of continuity across hardware and software taxes the end-user up and down the line.

This year, there’s a definite uptick in both the call for standardization, and the ranks of companies stepping forward to be part of a solution. Here are a few interesting examples.

Chip Donahue from John Deere stopped me on the showfloor at the In­ternational Conference on Precision Agriculture back in July and told me about a new data standardization effort involving some 20 organizations. The project is being facilitated by AgGateway, which has presided over standardization initiatives in seed, fertilizer and crop protection. There are plenty of heavyweights in the room along with Deere, including SST, Trimble, MapShots and Monsanto, who is taking a keen interest in integrating precision agriculture recommendations as part of its promise to double corn yields by 2030.

Then last month, we ran a column written by Joe Russo in our Fall 2010 PrecisionAg Special Report, declaring that the time for across-the-board industry standards for precision agriculture data has arrived. The article led to phone calls, some article comments and a few hallway conversations from growers to retailers to manufacturers who wholeheartedly support the movement.

To be honest, when Chip was talking to me about it, I was more than a little skeptical. Like I said, this is not the first time that this has bubbled to the surface. But it seems to have some staying power right now, and I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, it might have enough momentum to get done.

Growers are exhausted from looking at piles of data that are simultaneously invaluable yet devalued because of compatibility and consistency issues. Retailers who offer data services are similarly exhausted trying to figure out how to make it work for all growers, not just as a boutique service for select customers who demand it and are willing to work through the slog. It won’t happen overnight, but getting everyone in the room is a good start. AgGateway’s next big meeting is next month — I’ll let you know how it goes . . .

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