Decision tools organize data into single, easy-access spot
Precision agriculture is a concept farmers have been exploring since the advent of personal computers but with the technology improving faster than ever, new tools constantly emerge on the farming scene.
In recent years, the next level of decision support tools have matured to be more user friendly, incorporate multiple sources of data to help growers pick the right products for their fields and use them more efficiently.
“It’s a technology where it went from five years ago we didn’t know about it to almost overnight it’s ubiquitous in some levels of the industry,” said Scott Quinn, a co-owner of the Ag Technology Group. “We’re not too far away from it being part of our everyday lives from the farming perspective.”
Platforms like Climate FieldView, the suite of tools from Granular and AgLeader’s AgFiniti offer growers a way to pull all the data they collect from the farm — from soil tests, weather, equipment and markets, and organize it into user friendly software for better decision making. What corn hybrid is best suited for a field? What field is in most need of more intensive scouting? Will a fungicide application be cost effective in these market conditions?
“This data presentation is what really helps you,” said Keith Leaverton, a Queen Anne’s County farmer and Climate Fieldview user. “We’ve been able to see things that work and don’t work.”
Farming in multiple counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Keith and Susan Leaverton said an initial reason they began using the platform was to help in hybrid and variety selection, but it’s since become in
tegrated into their daily operations throughout the year.
“Hybrid selection is huge, it really is, but I think you can take this product and go beyond that,” Keith said. “You can do all sorts of analysis.”
During planting, the program helps them with variable-rate seeding, regulate planter downforce and tractor speed to get more uniform emergence to optimize yield. During the season, they record comments in the program regarding pest or disease pressure, compaction problems or other things that should be addressed.
“It shows you which part of the field to look at,” Keith said. “It raises a lot of questions for you and incentivizes you to go to parts of the field and pull samples you wouldn’t otherwise, to get smarter. It’s the whole idea of stopping and looking.”
Kennedyville, Md., farmer and Pioneer seed dealer, David Hill said using the Granular platform has streamlined his operation.
“It’s made me a lot more consistent. It’s taking the variability out of everything,” he said. “It gives you the ability to evaluate your whole farm and see where you’re making money.”
Broken up into three units, Granular Insights provides in season imagery, crop health reports and directed scouting; Granular Agronomy provides variable rate prescriptions, hybrid placement advice and, return on investment data for product application; and Granular Business brings in a cost per acre and deeper financial component.
Hill said Granular and tools like it collect and organize the data but, it ultimately falls on the producer to use the data to decide on what areas of their business can be improved.
“It’s not a magic black box that’s going to fix everything. It’s going to tell you where you can improve but you have to make the change to improve it,” Hill said. “There’s no easy button.”
It may reveal parts of a field that aren’t profitable to farm; it may show parts of a field that can sustain an increase in fertilizer.
“You’ve got to go in with an open mind and be willing to evaluate and improve,” Hill said. “It’s going to show you everything you do right and everything you do wrong.”
Susan Leaverton said to avoid problems in using the tools, it’s crucial to input initial information that is consistent and understandable for anyone in their operation who may use the program.
Right away, the Leavertons said they developed a system for naming all the the fields in their operation to eliminate confusion and also made a map book and farm list that coincides with the Climate program for each combine, tractor and sprayer to aid equipment operators in switching the program to the correct field as they move from one to another.
“We’ve learned over the years to make it simple,” Susan said. “Map it the way you farm it. You don’t have to be an IT genius. You do have to be planned and organized in how you set it up.”
Farmer users and precision ag specialists said they expect the tools to become more refined going forward.
Keith Leaverton said he sees things heading in the direction of “variable rate everywhere,” with seed placement, fertilizer and crop protection products getting more precisely applied.
“Ultimately, we’re just trying to find the efficiencies and be more efficient in farming,” he said. “Hopefully we will get to more variable rate application and be more efficient.”
Quinn said in some parts of Delmarva, connectivity to high speed Internet is a limiting factor for growers adopting the tools but once that capability is “perfected to a point where we don’t have to worry about it anymore, farmers are going to be so much more efficient.”
He added he anticipates more services to come to market improving control and accuracy.
Patrick Watkins, a Pioneer field agronomist who works with Hill, said the ability to predict yield with more accuracy earlier in the season is on its way to growers soon, giving them the opportunity to forward-contract a larger portion of their production and lock in a profitable price.
Watkins said as more partnerships between ag technology companies and equipment makers are solidified, it will create more options for growers to integrate technology into their operations.
“As we improve those partnerships, they’re more able to use that data,” he said. “That’s really the ultimate goal, is to put the power back into the grower’s hands.”