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

Craig Houin Sunrise Cooperative iPad
Precision AgState Of Precision Ag 2016: Gut Check Time For Value
May 31, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Equipment manufacturers have fine-tuned the hardware for Read More
fertilizer blending and storage, Top 100
BlendersCHS Dakota Expansion Features AGCO’s GSI InterSystems Handling Equipment
May 25, 2016
The continued growth of precision agriculture has increased farmer use of customized fertilizer blends best-suited for their soil conditions. Several Read More
Topcon’s X30 display with CropSpec sensors
EquipmentGPS Autosteer Systems: Product Updates From Precision Ag Companies
May 24, 2016
Throughout 2015 GPS Steering solutions continued to evolve from what was once an after-market add on, to today’s cab where Read More
Trimble TMX-2050 In-Cab Display
Eric SfiligojThe Precision Ag Revolution Continues
May 24, 2016
It’s funny how much “the first time” tends to mean to someone as they get older. I sometimes can’t recall Read More
Trending Articles
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
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Latest News
Heritage Cooperative
CropLife 100Heritage, Agland Co-op Explore Mutual Merger Interest
June 30, 2016
According to a report in The Ohio Country Journal, Heritage Cooperative and Agland Co-op have entered into negotiations to consider Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Crop InputsDow Launching New Soybean Burndown Herbicide
June 30, 2016
With the 2016 growing season nearing the halfway mark, many growers are scouting soybean fields to find unwelcome marestail plants Read More
ManagementUpdates on Glyphosate Use in the EU and Bayer/Monsanto
June 29, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest important developments on these crop protection fronts. Read More
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Names Protassium+ Sales Director
June 28, 2016
Compass Minerals, the producer of Protassium+ sulfate of potash, has named Scott Johnson director of sales for Protassium+ North America. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe British Leave Vote Impact On EU Agriculture
June 27, 2016
Like virtually everyone else in the world this past week, I’ve watched the global reaction to Britain’s vote to exit Read More
Valent David Nothmann
Crop InputsValent Names David Nothmann Vice President Of Marketing
June 27, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has announced the appointment of David Nothmann as vice president of marketing. Nothmann will be responsible for Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stew…
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
CropLife 100BRANDT Contributes To Mayo Clinic
June 27, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty agriculture products, has pledged a sizable donation to the Mayo Clinic Read More
ManagementReport: U.S. Farmland Values On Average Continue Gradua…
June 27, 2016
Land price movement has been in the forefront for farmers, landowners, lenders and land brokers for a decade now during Read More
AdjuvantsPrecision Laboratories Introduces Intact Xtra For Use W…
June 27, 2016
Precision Laboratories announces the launch of Intact Xtra, an adjuvant designed for applicators who want to maximize spray applications and Read More
Key Cooperative’s new liquid fertilizer, crop chemical, and seed facility in Grinnell, IA stores 1.5 million gallons of liquid fertilizer and 120,000 gallons of crop chemicals.
Retail FacilitiesKey Cooperative Facility Features The Latest In Murray …
June 27, 2016
When Key Cooperative wanted to improve the overall efficiency at its new state-of-the-art facility in Grinnell, IA, it turned to Read More
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
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
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More