State Of Precision Ag 2014: Guiding Users, Not Just Equipment

GreenStar 2 monitorIn just the two years since CropLife® last visited with a number of retailers for this report, the precision ag landscape has changed noticeably. Variable-rate services and vital improvements in hardware have continued to develop. A new crop of players and technologies have emerged. In fact, companies from outside agriculture have brought fresh ideas and expertise to the table. And exploding wireless capabilities are making information transfer easier than ever.

On one level, you could say it’s all about “The Maps” — yield, variable-rate and the like — and the data needed to create them. But it’s also about the clear road map that many growers still desperately need to make the pieces of site-specific farming work for them.

Actually, CropLife’s editors are seeing that agriculture is solidly “mapping” a return to the promise of core ideas envisioned 25 to 30 years ago. Much of what precision ag users wanted to do back in the 1980s — creating maps, making decisions based on field data, engineering continuous improvement — were not technologically practical then, but they are now.

Clearly, adoption continues to expand. “I would guess 70%-80% of today’s farmers are using some component of precision farming, either on their own or provided by their input suppliers,” says Dr. Harold Reetz of Reetz Agronomics, Monticello, IL. Because of this diverse user base, we wanted to see what some progressive growers are doing with the technologies, many of them taking the reins almost completely for their site-specific programs. Included here are their experiences and comments, as well as retailers’ thoughts.

Wireless Wow Factor

Getting information into and out of the field has gotten considerably easier. “Cell phones are giving way to smartphones, and iPads are replacing the spiral notebook in the farmer’s pocket,” says Reetz. “Once they get hooked, they don’t go back.”

The same could be said for dealers. Retailers and growers both are equipping their teams with smartphones and tablets, especially iPads. Employees can reach home base or “The Cloud,” if needed.

Cody Miller, precision agriculture specialist and CCA with Larsen Cooperative, a part of CHS, New London, WI, says his company is starting to utilize wireless data transfer with AgLeader’s AgFiniti. He feels being able to send prescriptions to application machines in the field is going to be a great time savings.

Grower Kris Tom of Tom Farms, Leesburg, IN, uses JDLink and wireless data transfer to send and receive information to sprayers. His team no longer has to wait until the end of the season to see their records, but rather, they review jobs within a few hours. They can make decisions on-the-fly instead of waiting two to three weeks or a month.

In addition, mobile devices are being used for sales and troubleshooting, for soil sampling, for scouting and even for remote control of irrigation pivots. In fact, Precision Planting has been using tablets as monitors in planter tractors, taking the place of monitors ten times the cost of a tablet.

Thanks to wireless, Central Valley Ag’s Advanced Cropping System (ACS) team, sales groups and customers all have access to moisture probe data — and monitor and control pivots from a smartphone or iPad. “The ability to have information and data available to our employees and customers in the field, at the touch of a button, is helping us make more informed and timely decisions on the farm,” says Glen Franzluebbers, technology director at the Nebraska-based firm.

At presstime, Wheat Growers, Aberdeen, SD, had mobile tablets in 50% of its fleet, which will grow to 100% come fall. Big picture, company managers see huge potential for efficiencies with the tablets, plus custom applicators’ jobs are made easier. “A paperless system means less time doing the things drivers are not necessarily fond of doing (paperwork) and getting across more acres each day,” says Brent Wiesenburger, precision ag manager.

In addition, all 56 of the Wheat Growers’ sales agronomists have tablets, synced with price sheets, marketing materials and training videos. This spring, they’ll be used to release fields for application at several facilities. In the future, plans are to offer complete recommendation documentation on them, with access to historical data as well.

The tablets can hold manuals for every equipment line, says Larsen Coop’s Miller, plus they can be used to create fertilizer orders anywhere.

Mobile phone apps simply help the Larsen staff “do a better job.” For instance, one weather app helps custom applicators get the information they need to fill out reports and allows them to make sure there will be enough time to get a job in before a rainfall. Video calls provide diagnostics on equipment or verify fertilizer orders.

Steve Cubbage, president of Prime Meridian LLC, an independent precision data management company based in Nevada, MO, is particularly pleased with how use of the cloud is moving in to ag. “It will break down barriers to the sharing of data that we’ve had to live with since precision ag’s inception,” he says.

In fact, in the past two years wireless technologies and cloud computing have started to converge, he adds. “I think they are going to work in tandem to do a lot of great things for the industry that we’ve been waiting a long time on.”

Indeed, retailers are moving varying levels of their businesses to the cloud, for access by both staff and customers. “It is rapidly becoming the method of choice for storing information, accessing special software and sharing various kinds of communication,” says Reetz.

Larsen Cooperative stores maps on cloud-based systems so growers can have access to them. Also stored: internal data for soil sampling. It works well for growers who have monitors that are capable of sending and keeping data on cloud-based systems so that data can be retrieved at any time.

Admittedly, if a retailer’s territory is in a rural environment, a service team can be limited by how good the Internet connection is, points out Aaron Grote, GIS manager at United Prairie LLC, Tolono, IL. Even though his company operates in a fairly populated area, reps sometimes still can’t get a good signal. “Without 4G, a lot of Web-based programs become painfully hard to wait on,” he says.

Variable-Rate Continues To Mature

Wireless and cloud technologies have enhanced aspects of variable-rate services.

Miller says his team is writing more variable-rate (VR) nitrogen and seeding prescriptions than ever. In fact, requests for VR planting prescriptions are “exploding,” whereas two years ago, there was hardly any talk of them in his area. Now growers feel they’re necessary to maximize yields. New OEM technology and outfits of older planters with equipment from Precision Planting or Ag Leader have made the prescriptions possible.

At Three Rivers Company, Earlville, IA, precision farming technologist Sam Wilson helps growers outfit their planters with the needed equipment to execute prescriptions, and he assists them in understanding the data and information they will need in order to make a good seeding prescription.

Some retailers are not sure if VR seeding will really pay off, as in the case of United Prairie’s Grote. On his region’s “good central Illinois soil,” water tends to be the largest contributor to yield loss. But some customers with marginal, rolling ground near rivers tried — and now swear by — custom seeding recommendations Grote’s team provided. The growers have actually started planting every acre with the technology.

A number of growers are keeping an eye on variable hybrid planting. Grower Keith Gingerich, owner of Gingerich Farms, Lovington, IL, believes when the technology is available, multi-hybrid planting will help him more than VR seeding, which he just started using last year.

Brian Watkins, Watkins Farms, Kenton, OH says he’s seen a prototype machine and believes the approach makes sense, especially in his part of northwest Ohio where there are two dominant soil types but lots of variation within fields.

This season, his team will be using a sensor-based VR nitrogen program for sidedress applications on corn. “We’ll be going in when we have a canopy using the OptRx system,” he says. “We’ve watched people do it for a couple of years and are going to give it a shot.”

Gingerich says VR sidedress applications have provided a huge return through yield and reductions in cost.

But even with tried and true VR fertilization, Reetz says the industry will need to focus more on the agronomic questions. “We need to revisit the research to define what the optimum rate of each input is and what interactions come into play,” he says.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “State Of Precision Ag 2014: Guiding Users, Not Just Equipment

Precision Ag Stories

EquipmentCase IH Debuts Nutri-Tiller 955 Strip-Till Applicator
August 24, 2016
With strip-till continuing to expand across new acres, Case IH designed the new Nutri-Tiller 955 strip-till applicator to help producers Read More
EquipmentCase Launches Aim Command FLEX, 25th Anniversary Patriot Sprayer
August 24, 2016
Case IH announces new AIM Command FLEX advanced spray technology for greater application accuracy, as well as special 25th Anniversary Read More
PrecisionAg Video Conference
Precision AgVideo: PrecisionAg Vision Conference
August 22, 2016
A Strategic Conference Focused on the Future of Farm Digitization and Precision Agriculture Visit precisionagvision.com and register today! Read More
Illinois Researchers
FertilizerMeasure Of Age In Soil Nitrogen Could Help Precision Agriculture
July 26, 2016
What’s good for crops is not always good for the environment. Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plants, can cause problems Read More
Trending Articles
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
Key Cooperative Marcus Construction Steel Building
Retail FacilitiesMarcus Construction Builds High-Speed Agronomy Center For Key Cooperative
July 7, 2016
Key Cooperative in Grinnell, IA, wanted a state-of-the-art Agronomy Center to better serve its customers. Marcus Construction delivered exactly that. Read More
Heritage Cooperative
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Designs State-Of-The-Art Facility For Heritage Cooperative
July 4, 2016
Heritage Cooperative in Marysville, OH, needed an efficient liquid, dry and grain facility to serve the many needs of their Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Latest News
2016 ShowStopper | Case IH Patriot 4440 Sprayer
Equipment5 Show-stopping Products On Display At 2016 MAGIE
August 26, 2016
For 10 years now, visitors to the yearly Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) show have been tasked with voting for Read More
Crop InputsDuPont Pioneer: Corn Belt P and K Levels Lagging
August 24, 2016
A new DuPont Pioneer study conducted across 12 Corn Belt states demonstrates that growers may be leaving profit potential in Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsCould a Monsanto-Bayer Union Be 2 Weeks from Fruition?
August 24, 2016
Via STLToday.com (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Merger talks between Monsanto Co. and Bayer AG are advancing after a series of Read More
EquipmentCase IH Debuts Nutri-Tiller 955 Strip-Till Applicator
August 24, 2016
With strip-till continuing to expand across new acres, Case IH designed the new Nutri-Tiller 955 strip-till applicator to help producers Read More
EquipmentCase Launches Aim Command FLEX, 25th Anniversary Patrio…
August 24, 2016
Case IH announces new AIM Command FLEX advanced spray technology for greater application accuracy, as well as special 25th Anniversary Read More
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
PrecisionAg Video Conference
Precision AgVideo: PrecisionAg Vision Conference
August 22, 2016
A Strategic Conference Focused on the Future of Farm Digitization and Precision Agriculture Visit precisionagvision.com and register today! Read More
Young Corn Plants
Industry NewsOABA Welcomes Nicole Wallace As Communication & Adm…
August 22, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association has hired Nicole Wallace as its communication and administrative coordinator. Wallace will help provide comprehensive communication Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsChemChina, Syngenta Receive Clearance From CFIUS
August 22, 2016
China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) and Syngenta have announced that the companies have received clearance on their proposed transaction from the Read More
ManagementAg Industry Shows and Rumors
August 18, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the upcoming trade show schedule, crop protection merger updates, and content for Read More
MAGIE 2015
EquipmentMAGIE Takes The Pulse Of The Ag Retail Industry
August 18, 2016
Every year, one of the major highlights of my career as an ag journalist is attending the Midwest AG Industries Read More
MAGIE 2015 Overview
EquipmentPride In Professionalism On Display At MAGIE
August 18, 2016
The Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA) is proud to partner with CropLife IRON and continue the tradition of bringing Read More
SprayersJenner Ag To Debut 25th Anniversary Edition Case IH Pat…
August 18, 2016
Visitors at the 2016 Midwest Ag Industries Exhibition (MAGIE) in Bloomington, IL, will have a unique photo opportunity, as Jenner Read More
Crop InputsEU Glyphosate Controversy Heating Up Yet Again
August 17, 2016
The battle over glyphosate rages on in Europe, creating a lot of question marks over whether the herbicide will continue Read More
Industry NewsNew Partnership Provides Improved Representation At Ohi…
August 16, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) has retained Belinda Jones of Capitol Consulting Group, Inc. (CCG) for government relations work in Read More
Tissue testing
FertilizerMosaic: 6 Tips For Better Crop Nutrition In Corn
August 16, 2016
Late in the crop season is a good time to assess visual nutrient deficiencies and ensure early- and mid-season deficiencies Read More
WebinarsWebinar Schedule
August 14, 2016
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDowDuPont Update: EU Takes Closer Look at Merger
August 12, 2016
Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. face months of haggling with European Union antitrust regulators who opened an in-depth probe Read More