Impressive Evolution

Real-Time Logistics

In January, I was invited by the Nebraska Ag Technologies Association to speak at the organization’s winter meeting and share some thoughts on where we are with technology in agriculture and where we might be headed. I was only marginally enthused about the prospect of hearing my own voice for almost an hour, but I was really excited about doing the prep work that would be needed for such a presentation.

About a month was spent interviewing experts from ag technology companies and retail dealerships, as well as consultants and other people with a lot to say on the subject. After more than 30 interviews, a fairly clear image of ag technology trends in the immediate and longer term came into view.

Consolidation Comes Around

One interesting trend in technology last year was the plethora of consolidations and joint ventures occurring in the precision side of technology. Trimble, which traditionally has been strong in GPS guidance technology, made a move toward adding more “on the ground” technology by purchasing planter clutch company Tru-Count and variable-rate controller manufacturer Rawson Controls. Trimble also partnered up with DICKEY-john on a variable-rate seeding technology offering. Equipment manufacturer AGCO partnered up with Topcon to bring Topcon’s range of current and future guidance offerings to AGCO machinery. Certainly, the drive to be competitive on as many fronts as possible and the desire to gain user loyalty through fuller product lines impacted the industry in 2008.

Looking at the bigger picture, the message from everyone was that, despite the general economic malaise, the fundamentals of agriculture are sound. And while agriculture is managing to dodge and parry challenges all around, it’s a good time to tighten up efficiency and improve productivity. Bringing on new technology, or using the technology you already own more efficiently, is a part of any improvement strategy.

Global Positioning

If data means virtually nothing unless it’s geographically referenced to a specific point on a field, then global positioning is the underpinning to all meaningful data. Not surprisingly, improvements to global positioning systems have been an important focus both for governments and private companies.

In the sky, there’s been a dramatic uptick in the number of available satellites for positioning, and more are on the way. Along with the U.S.’ GPS constellation, Russia continues to add birds to its GLONASS system, and China, India, and Japan are also moving rapidly forward on plans to add positioning satellites. Receiver manufacturers are adding capabilities to use these satellites to improve accuracy and reduce the chance of losing a signal.

On the ground, the real-time kinematic (RTK) base stations and tower networks now covering millions of acres across the country are being joined by CORS networks in some areas. CORS — Continuously Operating Reference Stations — have largely been used by state governmental agencies such as departments of transportation to provide positioning for surveying and construction. States such as Iowa and Alabama are opening up their CORS networks and making them available to users who register with the state free of charge. The networks can offer RTK-quality signals.

The operational CORS networks are working well, but how fast they might proliferate across the country remains to be seen. Retailers can contact their state department of transportation for information on plans for CORS networks in a particular state.

Telematics: Managing Data

In conversations before and after the meeting, one word I used to describe growers and agronomists and their relationship with their own field data rang true: exhaustion. Folks are exhausted with trying to manage the amount of data flowing in on a particular operation, and with the task of making data make sense on a given operation.

A key part of the problem is the amount of data intercession in which growers must engage along the way — for example, moving data cards from cab to computer. The data movement issue is huge because of the potential for miscues from the machinery to the office. Use of telematics — allowing smart machines to transfer information wirelessly and compatibly — is showing great promise and is a key focus of development for manufacturers.

In addition to information such as georeferenced data, field machinery will be able to transfer maintenance and efficiency information to help operators manage the equipment to avoid breakdowns and make best decisions.

Some manufacturers are taking a “dashboard” approach to developing new software, which would give growers a view of their total operation. The idea is to include everything in one screen — for example, equipment maintenance reports sent wirelessly from the equipment to the desktop, letting the grower know about upcoming regular maintenance or failing parts, as well as access to field data and other farm operation information.

Telematics: Logistics

Spring season is always full of surprises and curve balls that test the mettle of logistics managers at retail dealerships, and by all accounts this spring will be particularly difficult. Any tool that has the potential to help manage the madness is worth a look — thus, there’s plenty of buzz around the plethora of logistics programs being offered by manufacturers.

With the proliferation of reliable cellular signals in many rural areas and the availability of data plans, there are a growing number of programs available that allow retailers to track equipment operating in the field in real time. Using a computer and monitor in a central location, logistics managers can monitor the movement of equipment across a geographic area, along with details of the field work such as equipment speed and work order specifics. It also allows the manager to quickly make on-the-go changes that improve efficiency and take intuition and guesswork out of the process.

Sensor Technology

A bit farther down the road, developments in on-the-go sensor technology will likely make serious progress in precision agriculture programs. Some experts are imagining a time when sensor technology could eventually serve to replace soil sampling for nutrients by scanning a plant and making an on-the-go application based on plant need as detected by the sensor. There are also some success stories, in particular in Australia, that use the GreenSeeker on-the-go sensor in post applications for weed control. Sensor technology, and the algorithms that drive them, continue to improve.

These are but four trends that technology experts shared with me, but there are plenty of big ideas still in the hopper. And they’re coming on fast.

It took more than 60 years from the time the tractor was invented for tractors to outnumber horses on the farm. Conversely, it was just over two decades ago that agriculture’s technological revolution began with Soilection, the marriage of computer technology with an application rig. Now, more than two-thirds of retailers do electronics-based variable-rate application. And it’s hard to imagine a rig without functional computer technology that’s built in, ready-to-go, and features controlling aspects of the rig we could have only dreamed of back in 1985.

Despite the challenges of compatibility and adoption, technology is making us more efficient, more profitable, and better stewards of the land.

Leave a Reply

Equipment Stories

EquipmentAGCO Announces Finalists For Operator Of The Year Honor
November 19, 2015
AGCO Corp. has announced the four top operators chosen as finalists for AGCO’s 10th Annual Operator of the Year program, Read More
Tiger Sul Crop Nutrient Calculator
FertilizerH.J. Baker Launches New Nutrient Calculator App
November 12, 2015
H.J. Baker, a global agriculture firm, has launched a new agronomic nutrient calculator app. This innovative and powerful tool will Read More
Yargus Layco 16 Ton Rotary Drum
Blenders15 Fertilizer Blenders That Will Meet Your 2016 Mixing Needs
November 11, 2015
Manufacturers of fertilizer blending and mixing systems continue to develop some of the fastest, most durable, most accurate units ever for Read More
Precision AgXS Inc. Expanding Ag Retail Reach With AgVeritas
November 5, 2015
AgVeritas, the patented cloud-based yield analysis application launched by XS Inc for the 2015 season, is making a significant impact Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100CHS, MKC Consider Second Grain Terminal In Milan, KS
November 30, 2015
CHS Inc., an energy, grains and food company and the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative, and MKC, a full-service farm cooperative Read More
CropLife 100United Cooperative Acquires Four ADM Wisconsin Facilities
November 12, 2015
United Cooperative, based out of Beaver Dam, WI, recently acquired four grain and agronomy locations from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Car Makes NASCAR Xfinity Series
October 29, 2015
BRANDT will join JR Motorsports with driver, Justin Allgaier, for the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity (NXS) Series season. Allgaier will pilot Read More
CHS Building exterior
CropLife 100CHS Leaders Help Shape Succession Report
October 22, 2015
Succession planning was listed as a main concern of cooperative leaders at this summer’s 15 regional CHS owner town hall Read More
Fall Harvest
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases Eight Regional Seed Companies
October 12, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has announced the purchase of eight regional seed companies to advance its seed business. Pinnacle has acquired: Read More
MRM Agricultural Service
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires CropLife 100 Ag Retailer
October 8, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC has successfully acquired the Missouri-based agronomy business of MRM Agricultural Service, LLC and its affiliates (MRM). Operating Read More
Latest News
West Central Trucking
MicronutrientsWest Central Obtains Exclusive U.S. Rights To Distribut…
December 1, 2015
West Central Distribution has partnered with ATP Nutrition Ltd for the exclusive rights to distribute ATP proprietary products for sale Read More
PerfectMatch Herbicide infographic
Crop InputsDow AgroSciences Introduces New Spring Wheat Herbicide
December 1, 2015
Spring wheat growers no longer will have to settle for incomplete weed control. PerfectMatch herbicide — a new, convenient broadleaf Read More
Zinc Close-Up
Crop InputsVivid Life Sciences Explores Early Field Trial Results
December 1, 2015
Early results from Vivid Life Sciences’ replicated summer field trials are showing the benefits of managing micronutrients to improve plant Read More
Seedling Closeup
Industry NewsCroda Acquires Innovative Seed Enhancement Company Inco…
December 1, 2015
Croda International Plc, a speciality chemical manufacturer behind some of the biggest, most successful brands in the world today announces Read More
Eric SfiligojThe End Of The World In Agriculture As We Know It?
December 1, 2015
A few years back, there was plenty of apprehension as 2012 drew to a close. Many people were convinced that Read More
CropLife 100CHS, MKC Consider Second Grain Terminal In Milan, KS
November 30, 2015
CHS Inc., an energy, grains and food company and the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative, and MKC, a full-service farm cooperative Read More
Dow AgroSciences Logo wall
HerbicidesGowan Co. To Acquire DNA Herbicides From Dow AgroScienc…
November 30, 2015
Gowan Co. has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the entire global dinitroaniline (DNA) herbicide portfolio from Dow AgroSciences Read More
Palmer pigweed in soybean stubble
Herbicides‘Back to the Future’ Weed Control: Herbicide Outlook 20…
November 30, 2015
What’s new for herbicides in 2016? Well, not much, but the learning process is sure to continue for fine-tuning resistance Read More
Tim Hassinger Dow AgroSciences President and CEO
HerbicidesDow Expects Enlist Duo To Be Available For The 2016 U.S…
November 30, 2015
Relative to EPA’s recently filed motion to vacate the registration of Enlist Duo herbicide, The Dow Chemical Co. is confident Read More
HerbicidesBREAKING: EPA Pulls Registration On Dow’s Enlist …
November 25, 2015
EPA on Wednesday withdrew approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans, Read More
FertilizerYara Tampa Ammonia Terminal Garners ResponsibleAg Honor…
November 25, 2015
Yara has received its first ResponsibleAg Certification for its Tampa, FL, Ammonia terminal location. This achievement demonstrates Yara’s commitment to Read More
ManagementReviewing The Top Ag Stories For 2015
November 24, 2015
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf discuss the most noteworthy events from this past year in agriculture. Read More
EmployeesAgriculture Jobs May Be Plentiful, But New Grads Are Sc…
November 24, 2015
Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture each year for the next five years, but there's not enough grads to fill them. Read More
Radish cover crop
StewardshipCover Crops Guide Helps Growers Improve Water Quality
November 23, 2015
A publication that teaches growers the advantages of using cover crops to improve soil health and crop yields has won Read More
Crop InputsThe Andersons’ Products Receive California Organi…
November 23, 2015
The Plant Nutrient Group of The Andersons, Inc. announced today that its Humic DG and Black Gypsum DG products are Read More
Eric SfiligojNew European Study Seems To Support Glyphosate Safety
November 23, 2015
Looking at any international news over the past few years, it might seem as if the European Union (EU) is Read More
Toggle Biostimulant corn roots
Crop InputsTwo New Biostimulants Added To United Suppliers’ …
November 20, 2015
Winfield US announces the launch of two new products in the United Suppliers portfolio for the 2016 crop season, Optify Read More
StewardshipNRDC Report: Cover Crops Contain Vast Benefits
November 19, 2015
As harvest season ends and farmers in the United States ready themselves for winter, one small change could make a Read More