Ag Technology: A Glimpse At Tomorrow

The year is 2063, and we’re following young John Lightbar, who’s fresh out of graduate school with a degree in “Precision Agriculture.” John recently accepted a job with a family-run, full-service retailer.

John landed at the Des Moines, IA, airport, and while taxiing he alerted the vehicle dispatch system of his arrival by providing membership verification information into his headset. One of the nice perks of joining the retailer was access to a network of autonomous vehicles across the country. John simply provides his location and time of arrival and a driverless vehicle is waiting for him. Following the instructions given through his headset, John finds his vehicle just outside the airport departure doors.

Settling into what used to be called the “driver’s seat,” John turns on the voice-actuated, onboard computer, which uses the front windshield as a screen. After verbally giving his username and password, John immediately sees messages, which are separated between those generated by machines and those composed by people. John is given the choice to view or listen to messages, and he decides to view messages since he is expecting some attachments.

For as long as he’s been studying and participating in the ongoing technology revolution, John has observed that fewer and fewer messages are coming from people. His world is becoming one of communication with machines.

In the car alone, travel time provides John the opportunity to quickly view his messages as they are all prioritized according to a pre-established criterion of geography and importance. After viewing messages and feeling tired from the travel, John asks the vehicle to switch to sleep mode, as the vehicle must cover a distance of about 150 miles to a remote farming area in northwestern Iowa. John dozes off for the remainder of the trip, and is awakened by a music alarm when arriving at his destination.

First Day At Work

Following a good night’s sleep in one of the company’s temporary residences, it’s time for the first day of work. John quickly gets ready, which includes putting on his company-issued headset. Placing a paper-thin, roll-out screen on a wall, John reviews the agenda sent by his new employer. It includes introductions to management and fellow employees, but there are several hours dedicated to “technical orientation.” With a combination of excitement and apprehension, John jumps into his waiting vehicle and heads off to work.

As John turns into the driveway of the company, his headset alerts him that he has entered the proprietary shield. This forms a data and information “shell” around the company and blocks out all unwanted communication and unauthorized attempts at accessing electronic transactions occurring on the grounds.

After being dropped off by the autonomous vehicle, John is greeted by a company representative. Following formal introductions, he is led to a room for his technical orientation. John quickly recognizes that the layout of the room is a “command” center. The console design appears to be a slightly newer version than the one he was trained on at the university.

As is the case with most centers, there are two individuals on active duty at all times. The requirement of two individuals, or “sentries” as they are called, began with the origination of the centers. No matter how sophisticated programs had become in precision agriculture, there was always unforeseen problems. And these problems almost always required a sentry to leave his or her post as part of the investigation.

Serving As Co-Pilot

Per instructions, John takes the right “co-pilot” seat at the console. The console consists of two identical screens, one for the “pilot” seat and one for the co-pilot. Sitting in the co-pilot seat, John puts on a headset as nearly all interactions with the screen are through verbal commands.

The screen is divided into five sections: Left, right, top, bottom and center. On the left section is the list of active producers arranged by priority. When John speaks the name of the first producer on the list into his headset, his fields are displayed on a map in the center section. The field or fields requiring immediate attention are displayed in red along with their names.

When he says the field name, a matrix appears listing row-by-row the activities that have already been undertaken on the field, along with future plans. John understands the importance of having good records on production activities, as traceability is demanded by the food supply chain.

An economic calculator in the right section gives a running tally of costs versus revenues that have occurred and are planned during the growing season for the selected field. The top section consists of a row of icons representing IT tools that can be activated while viewing a field or perusing the activity matrix. By calling out each icon, information is displayed in various forms on the screen. For example, by calling out the “pest” icon, distributions of relevant pests are displayed on the field-centered map. The bottom section consists of a row of icons identifying the different forms of communications which can be done with individuals or machines in the field.

The pilot next to John watches as he slowly works his way down the names of the high-priority producers, farms and fields. He occasionally brings to John’s attention important data that should be displayed on a regular basis and where to look for alerts, such as threatening weather or an impaired machine. John marvels at the fact that more than 1 million acres are being automatically tracked through the console.

As John is gradually being tutored by the pilot on the workings of the console, the systems administrator for the company joins the discussion. She points out that more than one terabyte of data are retrieved daily from sensors and equipment in the field. She notes that these data are automatically combined with remotely-sensed data from satellite and model data from third-party providers and fed into the company’s decision support system.

The decision support system provides a recommended set of activities for the upcoming production season and makes tactical adjustments during a season based on field data and the economic outlook of the planted crop. She emphasizes that each of the recommended activities comes with a measure of risk based on its past impact on yield and how closely a new season’s environmental conditions match those of previous years.

During a break in his training on the command console, the “pilot” reaches in front of John and manually activates one of the communication icons on his screen. Immediately, John sees three flashing requests from customers to have an online conversation. John verbally activates the first request through its identification number. An image of the producer in his field appears on the screen. He begins asking John about the presence of a particular pest just south of his location. John activates the appropriate icon for the pest’s distribution and shares the displayed map with him. The map includes text provided by the state Extension specialist on the future movement of the pest. John also displays a series of maps containing model output on the forecasted movement of the pest in the next few days. After passing along his insights on what to look for in the different maps, the producer thanks John and signs off.

The pilot notices that John is beginning to get tired from the information overload on his first day at work. He recommends ending the technical orientation for the day and hands John over to the company manager. The company manager takes John outside the main office where John can survey the various operations occurring in neighboring fields and between buildings.

Everywhere there are machines moving in an orchestrated pattern. They are lifting and loading containers of seed, fertilizer, chemicals and other materials from storage facilities to autonomous trucks. They are also removing empty containers from returning trucks. Tractors with their various implements can be seen leaving the grounds of the company. All these vehicles and machines in their various configurations can be tracked through the console. As long as John remains inside the security shield, he can remotely access the command center and interact with his screen. However, when he leaves the company grounds, his access privileges are similar to a customer.

End Of Day Thoughts

Returning to the main office, John thanks the manager, pilot and the other employees for their help, and heads back to his residence. Feeling satisfied with his first-day progress, John begins to think back on composition of the company staff and the work environment. The first thought that strikes him is the high level of technical know-how demonstrated by all members. Also, how few of the personnel came from farming backgrounds.

The second thought is how close the working environment was to his academic training. Ever since AgGateway began a program in 2015 to use students to evaluate new technologies, graduates with precision agriculture degrees were able to enter the workforce running.

The third thought was how machines had taken over nearly all the physical tasks associated with agricultural production. As in the rest of society, the ubiquitous presence of machines in everyday life had become a topic of much debate. The last thought, which was a bit surprising to him, was how every decision was tied to economics and sustainable practices. While John was taught of the relation between production decisions and the economy, it never quite hit home until he was in a company setting.

Sitting outside his residence in the light of a setting sun, John tries to imagine what it must been like to participate in precision agriculture programs back in the early 21st century. How companies struggled to develop standards in precision agriculture. How the international agricultural community worked so hard to realize a common set of concepts and definitions for precision agriculture. How universities worked to take the initiative to develop global courses in precision ag.

As the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the horizon, John realizes how lucky he is to be a beneficiary of this early vision which is now his reality.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Ag Technology: A Glimpse At Tomorrow

  1. This sounds like an absolute nightmare! In this scenario it seems we have abandoned the culture of agriculture entirely for economic algorithms and orchestrated crates of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers. The outcome is stark – where there were once communities, in 50 years they are describing vast regions simply as "remote farming area". Today we have hopes that precision agriculture (and more to the point precision conservation) will help to spur judicious use of inputs to ensure that our agricultural landscapes provide Iowans with a broad suite of ecosystem services – including food, fuel, clean water, recreation, wildlife, etc. Sad to see the idea co-opted to drive people off of the land and turn farmers into machine technicians. Sad to see a vision that doesn't include the family farm traditions we maintain today. While we still have a driver's seat to steer from – let's hope we don't turn down this path.

  2. Thanks for the article and the author's ideas on one possible future. It appears the command center operators should have a degree in Information Technology rather than Precision Ag. It sounds very similar to today's TOC or CAOC command centers in the military which are dominated by IT. Maybe John will use his Ag training when the software code needs udpated. The article lays out production very well, so I would be interested to know the author's perspective on other aspects of farm management in 2063. How does his corporation conduct marketing, research & development, financial mgmt, and other aspects of precision ag?

Precision Ag Stories

Precision AgUAVs To Take Flight At 2015 Farm Science Review
August 14, 2015
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have taken the agriculture industry by storm and will soon be Read More
Crop InputsFSR Agronomy College Aims To Keep Agronomic Professionals Sharp
August 11, 2015
From watching for insects and diseases, to carefully applying chemicals and curtailing runoff, to keeping up with ever advancing technology, Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Hosting Drone Flight This Friday
August 3, 2015
Southern States Cooperative — No. 9 on the CropLife 100 — is hosting an FAA-approved drone demonstration at Grandview Farms Read More
Topcon AGI-4 on MF Planter
EquipmentAutosteer: Compatibility, Accuracy Remain Top Of Mind
July 3, 2015
The world of automatic steering solutions in agriculture has evolved rapidly in the last few years. From after-market add-ons that Read More
Top 100 Articles
Southern States Co-op Storefront
CropLife 100Southern States: Always Ag Authentic
October 1, 2015
If people were to judge a book by its cover when visiting Southern States Cooperative’s (SSC) Richmond, VA, corporate headquarters, Read More
Crop InputsLand ‘O Lakes, United Suppliers Finalize Merger
August 24, 2015
According to a press release on August 24, owners of United Suppliers, Inc. and members of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “have Read More
West Central Cooperative, Jefferson, IA
CropLife 100Iowa Cooperatives To Explore Unification
August 19, 2015
The boards of directors at two of Iowa’s leading farmer-owned cooperatives yesterday signed a letter of intent to study the Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Hosting Drone Flight This Friday
August 3, 2015
Southern States Cooperative — No. 9 on the CropLife 100 — is hosting an FAA-approved drone demonstration at Grandview Farms Read More
CropLife 100Aligned Ag Distributors Adds Four New Owners
July 30, 2015
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC has announced the addition of four new customer/owners to Franklin Holding Co. LLC. They are: The Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases California-Based Specialty Crops Retailer
July 20, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has successfully acquired California-based NH3 Service Co.  Operating as part of Pinnacle’s Performance Agriculture brand, the new locations Read More
Latest News
EquipmentPrecision Tank & Equipment: 50 Years Of Growing
October 4, 2015
Looking out onto the production floor of the fiberglass/stainless steel tank manufacturing facility in Ligonier, IN, David Hemming, president/CEO for Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsScience & Strategy Spur Syngenta’s Crop Protection …
October 3, 2015
Developing a crop protection portfolio is a lot of science and a little serendipity. “There are a number of things Read More
Dan Schaefer and Jason Solberg IFCA
StewardshipIllinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association: Tacklin…
October 2, 2015
You’ve got to be doing something right if lots of people keep coming to you for advice. That’s what’s happening Read More
LegislationFall Fertilizer Transportation Could Be At Risk With Po…
October 1, 2015
Failure by Congress to extend the deadline for the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) on the railroads could gridlock Read More
Weed ResistancePPO Resistant Pigweed Hits The Mid-South
October 1, 2015
If you’re a soybean grower already entangled in troublesome weed resistance in the state of Arkansas, Mississippi or Tennessee, you Read More
Weed ResistanceManagement Strategies That Worked In 2015
October 1, 2015
For better or worse, throughout many regions of the country 2015 provided the optimal growing season conditions for both crops, Read More
ManagementAn Update On CropLife America’s Meeting & The Outlo…
October 1, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review last week’s CropLife America Annual Meeting and how crop protection companies believe next Read More
Patriot 4440 Sprayer close up
Weed ResistanceManaging Herbicide-Resistant Weeds: The Importance Of ‘…
October 1, 2015
As the problem of herbicide-resistant weeds has spread, crop protection product suppliers have charged their top researchers with coming up Read More
Adjuvants loading
Weed ResistanceAdjuvants Trending Up For Fighting Weed Resistance
October 1, 2015
Gone with the wind are the days when adding an adjuvant to the spray tank was looked at with major Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
Weed Resistance8 Best Management Practices For Spray Drift Control
October 1, 2015
Dr. Robert Wolf, Wolf Consulting & Research, LLC, Mahomet, IL, is one of the leading experts in drift management strategies. Read More
EquipmentUSC Releases New U-BATCH Treater
October 1, 2015
U-BATCH is one of the most versatile batch treaters on the market today, according to USC. Capable of treating most Read More
Southern States Co-op Storefront
CropLife 100Southern States: Always Ag Authentic
October 1, 2015
If people were to judge a book by its cover when visiting Southern States Cooperative’s (SSC) Richmond, VA, corporate headquarters, Read More
Industry NewsVerdesian Life Sciences Names New Vice Presidents For P…
September 30, 2015
As farmers seek advanced, innovative ways to keep their operations profitable and efficient, companies must rise to the challenge to Read More
Tim Glenn, Dupont Crop Protection
Crop InputsDuPont Crop Protection Appoints New President
September 30, 2015
DuPont has named Timothy P. Glenn as president of its Crop Protection business effective October 1, succeeding Rik Miller who Read More
Industry NewsYargus Expands Sales Force With Two Hires
September 30, 2015
Renee Sauvageau and Mike Etter have joined the Yargus Manufacturing, Inc. Sales Team, as Territory Sales Managers. Renee joined Yargus Read More
BlendersYargus Introduces New Layco Rotary Drum Blenders
September 28, 2015
Yargus has introduced the new 13- and 16-ton capacity Rotary Drum Blenders that have one of the highest capacities in Read More
Eric SfiligojMACA Young Leaders Speak
September 28, 2015
For the past several years, one of the highlights of the annual Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) meeting is hearing Read More
Screen capture of this week's Retail Week video featuring CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj and Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf as they examine the Ohio Farm Science Review and the CropLife 100.
ManagementOhio FSR Report And The Allure Of The iPad
September 24, 2015
Ohio Farm Science Review learnings and a CropLife 100 challenge from Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj in this edition Read More