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

NL5000 With G5 Technology
SpreadersNew Leader Introduces NL5000 Dry Nutrient Applicator With G5 Technology
February 13, 2017
New Leader, a division of Highway Equipment Company (HECO), has announced the next generation of spreading technology with the NL5000 Read More
Championship Tractor Pull
EquipmentNational Farm Machinery Show Highlighted By Championship Tractor Pull
February 9, 2017
The scream of monster engines, the stench of burning rubber and the ground-pounding vibrations of the country’s largest, loudest and Read More
EquipmentAGCO Reports Fourth Quarter Results
February 7, 2017
AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment, reported net sales of approximately $2.1 billion for the fourth quarter Read More
Yargus - Laycote Powder Handling System
BlendersList Of Demands On Fertilizer Blenders Grows
February 6, 2017
Many current customers have plans in place and projects in their queue — that’s the good news for many in Read More
Trending Articles
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
AgriSync
Matt Hopkins17 Agriculture Apps That Will Help You Farm Smarter In 2017
December 9, 2016
Ag professionals are working smarter, not harder, than ever before. Smart farming technologies have enabled them to reduce costs, maximize Read More
R4023 Sprayer, John Deere
CropLife 100Ag Retail Equipment Report: The Green Party Continues
December 7, 2016
In the annual race for sales in the ag retail equipment marketplace, the color schemes for participants are a little Read More
Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100The 2016 CropLife 100 Report: Reviewing The Many Bulls And Bears Impacting This Year’s Marketplace
November 28, 2016
For virtually all of 2016, the nation was wholly focused on the big Presidential election. Some folks aligned themselves with Read More
Latest News
Roy Blunt
LegislationARA Recognizes Blunt, Heitkamp For Legislative Efforts …
February 17, 2017
Agricultural industry continues to face federal regulatory challenges. Thankfully, agriculture’s allies in the U.S. Senate stepped forward. The Agricultural Retailers Read More
LegislationThe Fertilizer Institute Commends Senate On Confirmatio…
February 17, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) President Chris Jahn issued the following statement on the Senate confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Read More
Trump, Senate, Cabinet
LegislationBREAKING: Trump EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt Confirmed by S…
February 17, 2017
Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general spent years suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate various Read More
ManagementFebruary Road Trip Edition
February 17, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent visits to Indiana and Kentucky. Read More
Heritage Cooperative Finished Building Aerial
ManagementHeritage Cooperative, Agland Co-op Approve Merger
February 17, 2017
Agland Co-op and Heritage Cooperative stockholders have both approved the merger agreement between Agland Co-op and Heritage Cooperative. Now begins Read More
LegislationARA Fly-In: Ag Retail Descends on Capitol Hill, Lawmake…
February 15, 2017
More than 100 agricultural retailers, distributors and suppliers headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday morning for the Agribusiness Congressional Fly-in, according to a Read More
Untreated soybean seed Heartland Coop
Seed/BiotechMarrone Bio Innovations, Groundwork BioAg Bio-stacked M…
February 13, 2017
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. and Groundwork BioAg, Ltd have announced successful seed treatment field trials of the world’s first all-biological Read More
NL5000 With G5 Technology
SpreadersNew Leader Introduces NL5000 Dry Nutrient Applicator Wi…
February 13, 2017
New Leader, a division of Highway Equipment Company (HECO), has announced the next generation of spreading technology with the NL5000 Read More
Fertilizer Storage
Crop InputsThe State Of The Fertilizer Industry
February 9, 2017
He’s all hat, no horse.” It’s a humorous way of describing a person who tells a good story, but is Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Agrees To Credit Agreement Amendme…
February 9, 2017
Pinnacle Operating Corp. has entered into an amendment (the “Amendment”) to its First Lien Credit Agreement that will provide for, Read More
ManagementUpdates on Upcoming Trips, Dow-DuPont, and the Des Moin…
February 9, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review a few future travels, along with the latest on big company mergers and Read More
Championship Tractor Pull
EquipmentNational Farm Machinery Show Highlighted By Championshi…
February 9, 2017
The scream of monster engines, the stench of burning rubber and the ground-pounding vibrations of the country’s largest, loudest and Read More
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
Corn Field
InsecticidesArysta LifeScience, DuPont Collaborate On Rynaxpyr Prem…
February 8, 2017
Arysta LifeScience recently announced that it has entered into a global collaboration with DuPont Crop Protection for the development of Read More
Industry NewsThe Fertilizer Institute Board Elects New Chairman, Vic…
February 8, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) Board of Directors has elected Chuck Magro, President and CEO of Agrium, and Tony Will, President Read More
Sonny Perdue
ManagementARA Joins More Than 600 Organizations In Support Of Per…
February 8, 2017
The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) recently joined with more than 600 agricultural groups on a letter of support for Governor Read More
World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit Panel 2016
Crop InputsWorld Agri-Tech Innovation Summit To Be Held In San Fra…
February 8, 2017
“Breakthrough Applications and Business Models for Sustainable Farming” is the theme of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit to be held Read More
Cedar Country Cooperative
Eric SfiligojConsolidation In Agriculture: More Middle Movement
February 7, 2017
If you’ve regularly followed my column, you know I’m something of a movie junkie. Like many, one of my favorite Read More