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.

Pages: 1 2 3

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

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

Precision Ag Stories

Precision AgGoogle Glass: New Tool For Ag
October 8, 2014
New wearable smart technologies such as Google Glass show potential to greatly impact how we accomplish the business of feeding the world. Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
Precision AgUAS: The S Stands For Smart, Service And Sensors
May 1, 2014
The only thing occuring more rapidly than the technologies’ evolution is the clamoring to implement UAS into agriculture as soon as possible. Read More
Precision AgAg Retail: 3 Tech Trends To Watch In 2014
April 1, 2014
It's been a busy first quarter of technology developments in 2014. Here are some of the highlights, and things to watch in the months ahead. Read More

Top 100 Articles

CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT, Verdesian Ink Distribution Agreement
December 9, 2014
The agreement grants BRANDT the exclusive right to sell and market Verdesian’s patented Steric chemistry in the Turf and Ornamental and eastern U.S. ag markets under the BRANDT Reaction product line name. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Colors Of Custom Application
December 5, 2014
Although many color spray rigs are in the yards of the nation’s top ag retailers, the majority of them still come in only a few shades. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Invests In Meridian Agriculture Distribution
December 4, 2014
Meridian will provide retailers with supplier-branded products and numerous opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: Entering A New Seed Era
December 4, 2014
The seed category has been re-vitalized during the past few years, and more good news (and varieties) are headed the industry’s way in 2015. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Depressed State Of Fertilizer
December 3, 2014
Following downright giddy growth earlier this decade, fertilizer sales have fallen back down to earth the past two years. Read More

Latest News

Crop InputsNufarm Fills Regulatory VP Position
December 18, 2014
Nufarm announced today that Rob Schwehr has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Innovation & Regulatory Affairs for Nufarm Americas. Read More
Seed/BiotechReport: China Approves Viptera Corn, U.S. Officials Awa…
December 17, 2014
Chinese authorities have informed some agriculture industry officials the government has approved U.S. imports of a type of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta. Read More
FertilizerMonty’s Plant Food Brings In New Sales Rep
December 16, 2014
Monty's Plant Food Company has hired Warren Kearns as its newest Sales Representative for the South Carolina area. Read More
EquipmentHagie Wins 2014 CropLife IRON Product Of The Year Award
December 15, 2014
The self-propelled sprayer maker has a hit on its hands with the new STS Series model. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Sees China Approving Contentious GMO Corn Soon
December 15, 2014
Syngenta will make an announcement when it receives official documentation from China that Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, has been cleared for import. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Life Sciences Names Vice President Of Communi…
December 15, 2014
Amy Bugg will oversee the execution of all promotional strategies for the corporate brand and the complete product portfolio. Read More
StewardshipFarmers, Retailers Attend 4R Certification 4U Workshop
December 15, 2014
More than 160 farmers and ag retailer attended the “4R Certification 4U” workshop December 12 to learn more about the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, water quality research in the area and cost-sharing opportunities. Read More
Matt Hopkins10 Best New Agriculture Apps For 2015
December 15, 2014
These new agriculture apps are certain to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2015 and beyond. Read More
ManagementARA Learnings, Retail Buying Intentions: Welcome To Cro…
December 12, 2014
This informal video program puts news and events effecting retailers into context, and features Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Herbicide-Tolerant Technology Closer To Commer…
December 12, 2014
The final EIS moves Monsanto one step closer to the introduction of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, paving the way to provide access to dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Issues Final Environmental Impact Statement On Her…
December 12, 2014
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is issuing a final environmental impact statement on varieties of cotton and soybeans that have been genetically engineered for resistance to several herbicides, including the one known as dicamba. Read More
CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
LegislationARA Applauds CFATS Passage Prior To Holiday Adjournment
December 11, 2014
The streamlined bill provides a four-year authorization of the CFATS program and guidance to DHS on key issues of chemical facility security Read More
Seed/BiotechBayer CropScience’s ILeVO Approved By EPA
December 11, 2014
EPA has approved ILeVO, the only seed treatment that protects the root system against infections caused by the Sudden Death Syndrome fungus and has activity against dangerous nematodes. Read More
Biologicals in Emerging Markets Map.
Crop InputsBiocontrols Could Quadruple By 2025; Will Regulators Pl…
December 11, 2014
The European experience with GMOs offers caution — and a promise — for biologicals. Read More
Crop InputsBASF Donates $75,000 To Feeding America
December 10, 2014
The donation will support Feeding America’s National Produce Program, an initiative that helps with planning, transportation and logistics to ensure fresh produce deliveries to the 200 member food banks around the country. Read More
InsecticidesHow To Avoid Aphid Infestation In Winter Wheat
December 10, 2014
The best strategy for managing aphid infestations in winter wheat — and the potential yellow dwarf diseases that they transmit — is prevention, according to a South Dakota State University Plant Pathology field specialist. Read More
LegislationDufault Installed As New ARA Chair
December 10, 2014
Dave Dufault, Vice President and General Manager of J.R. Simplot Company's Retail Business, was installed as the 2015 Chairman of the Board for ARA on December 4. Read More