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

farmer Kip Tom
Precision AgAg Tech: On the Cusp of Something Big?
May 15, 2017
The investment and ag-tech sectors’ continuing courtship of agriculture, smoldering for three or four years now, was well in evidence at Read More
BASF Maglis tablet retailer grower
Precision AgQ&A: What BASF’s Latest Foray into Precision Ag Means For Growers
May 11, 2017
In late April, BASF agreed to acquire U.S. precision ag player ZedX, a leader in the development of agronomic weather, Read More
Redball Broadcast Hood
EquipmentBroadcast Spray Hoods Stop Wind Factor
May 2, 2017
Nozzles get a lot of attention for their drift reduction contributions, but other technologies are developing that offer results as Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentSpray Application: A Nozzle Renaissance
May 2, 2017
If you had asked four-decade ag veteran Mark Bartel, President of Wilger Inc., just a few years ago what lay Read More
Trending Articles
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Agriculture
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentSpray Application: A Nozzle Renaissance
May 2, 2017
If you had asked four-decade ag veteran Mark Bartel, President of Wilger Inc., just a few years ago what lay Read More
ManagementWashington Update, Dow-DuPont Earnings, and the Passing of an AGCO Legend
April 27, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the latest Beltway news, crop protection company 1st quarter numbers, and the Read More
Crop InputsFlying Under the Radar No More, FMC Goes Big
April 13, 2017
Describing FMC as “under the radar,” admittedly, is probably a stretch. But in a snap of the fingers, FMC upped Read More
Young Corn Plants
Crop NutritionStill Hunting Yields
April 1, 2017
There’s no denying it — the agricultural marketplace today is undergoing a fundamental shift in fortunes. Not too many years Read More
Latest News
Eric SfiligojMonsanto ‘Picks Its Battles’ by Nixing Deere Deal
May 23, 2017
Having been in the trade journalism game since the mid-1980s, I remember several watershed moments during my career. One of Read More
FungicidesSyngenta Launches New Seed Treatment Fungicide
May 22, 2017
Syngenta has announced the launch of PLENARIS seed treatment fungicide for the control of downy mildew in sunflower. PLENARIS contains Read More
Corn close up
Crop InputsMonsanto’s First HPPD Herbicide Garners EPA Appro…
May 19, 2017
Monsanto announced today that EPA has federally approved Harness MAX Herbicide, the first herbicide in the Monsanto portfolio to provide Read More
ManagementPrecision Planting Deal, China Developments, and Enviro…
May 18, 2017
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Dan Jacobs discuss the latest news on John Deere’s now dead deal for Precision Planting, China’s Read More
Soybean aphid leaf
InsecticidesMulti-state Research Reveals IPM Best Option for Treatm…
May 17, 2017
About 89.5 million acres of soybeans will be planted across the U.S. in 2017 — a record high, according to Read More
GROWMARK-2017-Interns
CropLife 100GROWMARK Names 2017 Summer Interns
May 16, 2017
Forty-two college students are exploring agricultural career opportunities this summer as GROWMARK interns. They are working at FS member cooperatives Read More
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Ag…
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
Flooded corn in Indiana
FertilizerBoth Wet and Dry Conditions Threaten Nitrogen Loss
May 15, 2017
The weather is notoriously unpredictable, leading to challenges for planting, harvesting and applying the nitrogen (N) your corn crop needs. Read More
farmer Kip Tom
Precision AgAg Tech: On the Cusp of Something Big?
May 15, 2017
The investment and ag-tech sectors’ continuing courtship of agriculture, smoldering for three or four years now, was well in evidence at Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
ManagementOpinion: Shaking Your Perspective in Ag Retail
May 12, 2017
Some of you I’m sure have encountered our recently retired salesman extraordinaire, Dan Bellanger. He worked in the industry for Read More
Exterior view of CPS Big Lake facility which includes enclosed receiving and load out area
CropLife 100New Alternative Weed Resistance Traits Could Experience…
May 12, 2017
It wasn’t too many years ago that ag retailers and their grower-customers could hardly wait for new options to fight Read More
Diane Allemang and Dan Jacobs
Crop InputsFMC Agricultural Solutions, Casa Pacifica Partner to He…
May 11, 2017
FMC Agricultural Solutions is teaming up with Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families, an organization that supports vulnerable children Read More
UncategorizedWhat’s Up With ARA
May 11, 2017
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj talks with Brian Reuwee regarding what issues are on the docket for the Agricultural Retailers Association. Read More
BASF Maglis tablet retailer grower
Precision AgQ&A: What BASF’s Latest Foray into Precision …
May 11, 2017
In late April, BASF agreed to acquire U.S. precision ag player ZedX, a leader in the development of agronomic weather, Read More
Pam Marrone
Crop InputsMarrone Bio Innovations Enters into Distribution Agreem…
May 11, 2017
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc., a leading global provider of bio-based pest management and plant health products for the agriculture markets, Read More
Bayer
Crop InputsBayer to Sell Liberty Business to Seal Monsanto Deal
May 8, 2017
Bayer has agreed to sell its Liberty herbicide and LibertyLink-branded seeds businesses to win antitrust approval for its acquisition of Read More
Trump, Senate, Cabinet
LegislationTrump’s EPA Appointee Dismisses Half of Major Sci…
May 8, 2017
(Via NYTimes.com) EPA has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what Read More