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
EquipmentMeeting Changing Liquid Storage Needs
October 10, 2014
Tank and containment choices are expanding with shifts in farming practices and the economy. Read More
Precision AgGoogle Glass: New Tool For Ag
October 8, 2014
New wearable smart technologies such as Google Glass show potential to greatly impact how we accomplish the business of feeding the world. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
The deadline to vote for the 2014 CropLife IRON Product of the Year is October 31. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
Top 100 Articles
Growmark Group
CropLife 100GROWMARK In 2015: Back, To The Future
March 2, 2015
The nation’s third largest ag retail organization is simultaneously moving forward while remembering its past. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location In Indiana
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
corn field
CropLife 100The Andersons’ Humic DG Now Available In Canada
February 13, 2015
The Andersons, Inc. Turf & Specialty Group has announced its Humic DG product is now available to customers in the Canadian turf, agriculture and horticulture markets. Read More
Farmer on tablet
CropLife 100Southern States Co-op: An Inside Look At Our Aerial Imagery Program
February 8, 2015
Now is as good a time as any to explore the basics of what a retail aerial imagery program looks like today. Read More
Latest News
Eric SfiligojCommodity Classic 2015: Playing The Waiting Game
March 2, 2015
There was plenty of future-talk at this year’s event as companies (and growers) are largely in a holding pattern of sorts. Read More
Industry NewsHighway Equipment Appoints New Director Of Business Dev…
March 2, 2015
Cory Venable, who joined Highway Equipment Company (HECO) in 2013 as OEM Account Manager, has been promoted to Director of Business Development. Read More
Prairieland FS employees
Eric SfiligojWorkforce Worries
March 2, 2015
Finding good employees almost always ranks as the No. 1 or No. 2 problem for ag retailers in our annual CropLife 100 survey. Read More
Growmark Group
CropLife 100GROWMARK In 2015: Back, To The Future
March 2, 2015
The nation’s third largest ag retail organization is simultaneously moving forward while remembering its past. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location I…
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
2,4-D Celebrates 70 Years; GROWMARK Uses Super Bowl Ad To Share Positive Message
Management2,4-D Celebrates 70 Years; GROWMARK Uses Super Bowl Ad …
February 27, 2015
Jim Gray, executive director of the 2,4-D Research Task Force, lays out planned activities to mark the chemistry’s 70th anniversary. Read More
HerbicidesUniversity Of Arkansas Flag The Technology Program Adds…
February 27, 2015
Started in 2010, the Flag the Technology program provides a visual reference for applicators to distinguish between fields planted with different herbicide-tolerant trait technologies. Read More
Luckey Farmers, Inc.’s Berkey Farm Center
Industry NewsLuckey Farmers’ Berkey Branch Certified In 4R Nut…
February 26, 2015
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced Luckey Farmers Inc.’s Berkey Farm Center in northwest Ohio has been added to its growing list of nutrient service providers to achieve certified status. Read More
Crop InputsWinField Unveiling NutriVision Technology, Ascend Dry F…
February 24, 2015
New for 2015 are NutriVision Technology, a unique tool for monitoring in-season plant nutrient availability, and Ascend WSG plant growth regulator, a new dry formulation of Ascend plant growth regulator. Read More
FertilizerNew Formulation Of NutriSphere-N Protects High Volume U…
February 24, 2015
Verdesian Life Sciences is launching NutriSphere-N HVTM, a new polymer formulation of the proven NutriSphere-N Nitrogen Fertilizer Manager that protects high-volume applications of UAN. Read More
EquipmentIowa Ag Secretary Northey Names Hagie Water Quality Lea…
February 24, 2015
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has named Hagie Mfg. as a recipient of the Secretary’s Water Quality Initiative (WQI) Leader Award. Read More
FungicidesEvito Fungicide Gives Canadian Wheat Growers New Diseas…
February 24, 2015
EVITO fungicide from Arysta LifeScience North America gives Canadian wheat and barley growers a new option for disease control. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Commodity Classic Turns 20
February 23, 2015
Two decades in, this annual gathering of all things agriculture has become a must-see event. Read More
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
CropLife Retail Week: On The Road Edition
ManagementCropLife Retail Week: On The Road Edition
February 20, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent trips to the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville and the Read More
Crop InputsLand O’Lakes Acquires FLM+ Assets
February 19, 2015
FLM+ will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O'Lakes, Inc., and the company will retain its employee base after closing of the deal, which is scheduled for the second quarter of the year. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnited Suppliers, Stine Seed Form Marketing Alliance
February 19, 2015
The new alliance will greatly expand sales opportunities for Stine Seed with the United Supplier Seed Link Owners. Read More