Author Archives: Steve Cubbage

Whose Data? Growers Are Asking the Wrong Question

As Big Data has become a “big deal” in precision agriculture there are still some big questions to be answered.

The number one question that keeps making headlines in the ag press and even in mainstream publications like the Wall Street Journal is – “Who owns the data?”  Those in the industry who deal with growers on a day-to-day basis have their talking points down to a tee.  “It’s the grower’s data” is the politically correct, knee-jerk response from those who want continued access to your data. The reality of this situation is that even if growers truly “own” their data the question may be a mute point.  Why?  Because how can you truly own something if you don’t even know where it is?  And even if you do know where your precision data is – do you really know how to retrieve it?

datastoragepadlockA deer in the headlights look is the expression I typically get from growers when I ask them these questions directly.  At first their response is that they know exactly where their farm’s fertility data is – it’s down at the coop.   Planting and harvest data?  Well that’s easy – its on my seed dealer’s computer and I’ve got these cool paper maps to prove it!

The bottom line is that most growers do not have in their possession the original data necessary in order to build a successful long-term precision program.  The unfortunate reality is volumes of original data has either been lost in the shuffle of compact flash cards, hard drives that have given up the ghost or USB sticks that get a joyride in the family washing machine.  Then if this data does survive such aforementioned perils many times it is given away in exchange for those colorful paper maps or even worse just a bill in the mail.

Today, it may be necessary to process raw precision data multiple times for key people who serve your farm ranging from your fertilizer dealer to your seed dealer to your crop insurance agent and maybe even your banker – and the list goes on.  Growers must realize that the processing of data is no longer a one and done proposition.

It is important that growers start asking the RIGHT questions, DEMANDING answers and EXPECTING results.  If you do not have direct and easy access to the original precision data from the activities that take place in your fields then frankly you don’t have much.  Before you give away the electronic history of your farm – you need to put it in your own precision safe deposit box. Plus, if you’ve paid for precision services like soil sampling, variable-rate application and even scouting then you need to make sure you get an original “electronic” copy of this data.

So what does this precision “safe deposit box” look like?  The answer is in the clouds – well your “personal” cloud to be more specific.  Putting the grower back in control of his data is why we at Prime Meridian are rolling out this summer an independent, grower-controlled cloud-based service called MyAgCentral.  Its a central data repository and personal “precision safe deposit box” that allows grower’s to store and safely share their “original” with the members of their precision ag team.

If possession is truly 9/10ths of the law then truly independent “cloud” services like MyAgCentral are one of the few ways to realistically put growers back in the driver’s seat when it comes to controlling “their” data.  Do you know where your data is?  That’s the question you should be asking.

Prime Meridian’s Free Flyover Program Takes Off

Is a drone a toy or a tool?

What truly is the value of the imagery and information that can come from this technology?

Can drone imagery help me farm better or offer better agronomic services?

In order to help growers, agronomists and agri-retailers answer these questions first-hand, Prime Meridian has launched its Free Flyover Program for summer 2014.

The program is simple. Fly one field FREE with an AgEagle UAV by simply calling 417-667-4471 and schedule your flyover.  After the flight, Prime Meridian will deliver to you a complete set of agronomic relevant imagery for that field – again all FREE.  And to cap it off you’ll receive a FREE 30-day subscription to MyAgCentral – your new home to access Prime Meridian’s new Precision Pixel imagery solutions and complete portfolio of precision services.

Fly one field for FREE with Prime Meridian!

Why are we doing this?

The biggest reason is education. Currently, there is an extreme amount of buzz in the industry regarding drones.  Unfortunately, there is also a lot of noise and conflicting claims about what this technology can actually achieve in a real production agriculture setting.

The reality of the situation is that not all drones are created equal.  And the same is true when it comes to drone imagery and imagery services. It is not as simple as snapping a “selfie” with your smartphone and posting it on Facebook!  It can get complicated, especially if you want to do anything with it – like write an in-season nitrogen prescription or compare differences between seed varieties.

Bottom line – there is a ton of value that can be extracted with this technology.  It is our job at Prime Meridian to show you how to do that in the smartest, simplest and most economical way possible. And although it may not be the Blue Angels, a personal flyover from an AgEagle still is worth seeing.  Call TODAY to schedule your flyover, because who doesn’t like FREE!

What Does Netflix and Drone Data Have In Common?

Drones are the current hot commodity in the precision agriculture world. In fact, many growers and ag professionals are acting more like a kid on the night before Christmas – they can’t wait to get their hands on one.

But what happens the day after Christmas? Will the precision ag crowd still be as attached to this technology or will it become just another discarded toy in the precision toy box?

The greatest threat of turbulence to the agricultural Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) market is not further FAA regulations or issues regarding individual privacy. The biggest issue is the data – the sheer volume of the data that is being collected by all those flights. How do you process it?  Where do you store it? And the biggest question very few have thought of is – how to upload it to the web.

Ag Eagle UAV

The answer to this issue may be similar to what a movie rental company did to rent DVD’s for those who lacked “good” internet services. That company was Netflix and their service was simple. They’ll send you your favorite movies to watch in the mail. When you’re done just drop them back in the mailbox and they’ll send you the next movies on your “must watch” list.

Those flying agricultural UAV’s face a similar dilemma. Lot’s of data and limited internet bandwidth in rural areas.

That’s why we at Prime Meridian have just introduced a new service called Precision Pixel Express which allows you to drop your day’s worth of flights in a pre-paid UPS envelope where they are sent to a high-speed upload center for processing. Your data is immediately processed and is viewable and downloadable through an online cloud service called MyAgCentral.  Your raw and processed data along with your data storage device is then also returned to you.

Stitched Collage Photo

The fact of the matter is that the UAV’s used for serious agronomic purposes take hundreds of infrared “snapshots” as they fly over a field. One UAV flight over a single 80 acre field can generate nearly 1 gigabyte worth of image data. In order for those images to become a whole picture of that field they must be woven together by a sophisticated software “stitching” program.

Many UAV buyers were told that they could “stitch” their own images on their own PC. This is true and can possibly work on a small scale. But the reality is that “processing” those images from that 80 acre field will probably take between 1.5 to 2 hours to stitch together on your own PC. That doesn’t even begin to count the time to geo-reference the images which is necessary in order to create a GIS layer to share with other mapping programs or create fertility recommendations.

That’s why, unless you have IBM’s “Deep Blue” supercomputer in your garage not many agricultural UAV owners are likely to chain themselves to their PC to make maps of fields flown. However, because of the lack of access of high speed Internet out in the country many thought they did not have a choice.  Now they do.  For more information on Precision Pixel Express and Precision Pixel imagery processing services, please contact Justin Ogle at Prime Meridian by calling 417-667-4471 or email him at justin@primemeridiandata.com.

Who knows? Maybe with all that extra time you can sit back, relax, pop some popcorn and enjoy a movie!

Drone Diaries – Our first flights with an “Ag” UAV

I guess you could call it our Orville and Wilbur Wright moment!  A few weeks ago Prime Meridian took to the air to discover what all the buzz is about regarding “agricultural” UAV’s – the so-called politically correct term for aerial drones.

Our bird of choice is the Ag Eagle – a four-and-half foot wide flying wing that sort of looks like a B2 Bomber on a mission from Whiteman Air Force Base.  However, its mission is not to deliver ordnance down the chimney of some Third World dictator’s summer home but rather to discover with a bird’s-eye view what is going on within a growing field.

Ag Eagle UAV Being Launched
The benefits we are finding because of that bird’s-eye view have been many and I have a feeling we are just getting started.  Our first flights involved taking pictures of wheat fields a week or two before flag leaf emergence.  Unfortunately, what we saw wasn’t very pretty but it brought into focus the toll of wet conditions at planting, a terribly cold winter and an usually dry spring.

The value of these images were evident immediately.  In some cases nearly 10 to 15 percent of the growing crop had been lost due to “drown-out” conditions at time of planting.  In the future we’re going to use these “images” to create prescriptions to make sure we’re not applying topdress N on bare dirt.  In addition these images have prompted a call-to-action that come fall after harvest there is a serious water management plan implemented on fields showing such losses.

Ag Eagle with Prime and APIS Crew

This is just the beginning of the possibilities we can glean from UAV’s in agriculture.  We’re going to be learning about making nutrient prescriptions from infrared images, monitoring things like herbicide and storm damage and getting a jump on pest and weed infestations. Like anything UAV’s are not a magic bullet but a tool – a tool that can spur more timely and even more common sense management decisions.  That’s what it is all about.

There is an old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees.  The same thing could be said of a 8 foot tall growing field of corn.  Bottom line – your view is limited.  It’s amazing how much more you can see from an altitude of 400 feet.  Stay tuned.  We’ve got a lot more flights to go this season and we’ll be reporting back on just what we find.

Big Ag has Discovered Big Data…and it’s Making Big News

Photo courtesy of Climate

Photo courtesy of Climate Corporation.

Big Ag has discovered Big Data in a Big Way and it’s making Big News.  In fact, it made the front page of the Wall Street Journal last week as industry representatives and producers chimed in on the brewing debate over the subject of data and data ownership.  Bold moves especially by firms like Monsanto buying a “big data” firm like Climate Corporation for nearly a billion dollars only has added fuel to the fire. 

It was a very sobering article regarding the great number of questions that are yet to be resolved regarding this subject of data and who is in control.  The biggest question for producers is who is driving this ship – them or the seed companies?  If producers want to take the wheel they better grab it before it is too late.  Also is there a place for smaller independent data management firms like Prime Meridian amongst the industry giants like Monsanto, Deere and Pioneer.  Here is the link to the very in-depth and thought provoking article in last week’s Wall Street Journal.

Farming Data Moves to the Cloud

Mostly cloudy.  That is the one forecast that most farmers can take to the bank over the next couple of years.  No we’re not talking about the weather because that’s anybody’s guess. Instead it describes where farming is headed – it is headed to this abstract thing called the cloud.  The online “cloud” is going to be replacing clunky storage devices like USB sticks and flash cards and bypassing desktop PC’s and in-house servers and going to internet based storage sites affectionately known as the cloud.  

I had the pleasure of sitting on an industry panel that addressed this subject with growers attending the Commodity Classic in San Antonio. Here is a news article, titled “Farming Moves to the Cloud,” from the San Antonio Express-News that highlights some of the excerpts from that discussion.

SteveCubbageCommodityClassic2

Steve Cubbage, pictured on the left, addresses the crowd at Commodity Classic.

Prime Meridian and IDEAg together in June…What a Great Idea!

Prime Meridian is set to connect with growers and industry technology leaders at the second annual IDEAg Interconnectivity Conference to be held June 26-27 in Altoona, Iowa.

IDEAgConferenceIDEAg is literally a “meeting of minds” coming together to discuss the farm of the future when it comes to connectivity and data. Prime Meridian will be there alongside industry names like John Deere, Raven, SST, SatShot and wireless telecommunication players like Verizon.

For Prime Meridian, IDEAg is the perfect venue to show how its services can connect clients to their data but also “interconnect” all the data coming from multiple sources.  The term interconnectivity is being pushed to the forefront in modern agriculture as nearly everything on the farm whether moving or stationary will literally be “talking back” in the future.

If you’d like to connect with Prime Meridian in Iowa at the IDEAg Interconnectivity Conference, visit booth #20 and check out the IDEAg website at:  http://www.ideaggroup.com/ideag-interconnectivity.

The Magic Is Back: EC Makes A Comeback

In the early days of precision agriculture there were a lot of technologies arriving on the scene that captured the title of “The Next Big Thing.” One of those “Big Things” was something called “EC” – the acronym for electrical conductivity.

The theory was that by shooting an electrical current into soil to measure resistance and logging that data with GPS you could make an “EC Map” of your field.  Why? For many it was like being able to peer into a soil’s soul as you could discover its character and how it might react under certain conditions. In scientific terms the EC data told you how much of your soil was sand verses clay and helped determined its water and nutrient holding capabilities.

verisECmachineinfield

In the early 2000’s the “IT” piece of hardware to have in your precision stable was a pull-type coulter EC rig called a Veris or an EM-38 machine that sort of looks like you’re pulling a landscape timber with wheels attached!

So, it was that EC maps became the “IT” layer to have in your precision portfolio trumping at the time the even still fascinating colored yield maps and those variable fertility layers.  For a brief moment in time EC soil data was considered the “magic bullet” – the “go-to” layer for making management decisions involving variety selection, seeding rates and nutrient and herbicide applications.

What happened next?  Reality sank in and it was discovered EC data is not exactly magic – but it isn’t snake oil either.  It is tool – a layer of data – no different than yield data, topo data or fertility data.  Unfortunately because of this reality, EC mapping went through a sophomore slump as precision service providers went back to their meat and potatoes services like making GPS soil sampling and making yield maps deeming EC data not worth their time or effort.  Both metaphorically and in reality EC became regulated to the fencerow right next to the 5-bottom plow that nobody used anymore.

Fast forward to today.  EC is back – and so is a little bit of the magic!  Retooled and this time with a purpose. The difference this time is that EC data is being leveraged to validate traditional data such as yield maps and soil type maps. It has also become a foundational layer as variable-rate seeding technology has hit the mainstream. It just makes sense to better understand things like the water-holding capability of your soils before deciding on how many seeds per acre to plant.

The other big reason for EC’s comeback is another new acronym called VRI – “Variable-Rate Irrigation”.  VRI is literally an electronic prescription that tells your pivot how much water to put on as it moves across the field. Again, it is just common sense that something that determines the water holding capabilities of a field’s soil be used when determining how much water to apply to the soil!

It is because of these reasons that we at Prime Meridian believe that this time EC is back and it’s here to stay simply because now there is relevance as we’ve discovered ways to apply what we can learn from it.

At Prime Meridian we saw this coming and for the past several months we’ve been gearing up to integrate EC services into our offerings to our clients. We already offer basic ala carte EC data collection and mapping but be looking for pending announcements on how you will be able to integrate EC data into popular our multi-year Prime Packages – making it more affordable and easier than ever to collect EC data on your farm. In addition, we’ll be offering new EC data combos by combining it with other advanced data layers like topo data and aerial imagery.

It’s nice to know that EC data was not a one-hit wonder and it’s good to see that the sophomore slump is over.  It is now clear that it is about to graduate to a whole now level.

What do you think?

There’s An APP For That! Prime Meridian Offers Digital Field Scouting Reports

When Prime Meridian first brought its multi-year precision data packages to market nearly 2 years ago we did something a little groundbreaking.  We decided that for any qualified client that signed up for one of our Prime Packages we would include a free Apple iPad tablet.

What we discovered was that delivering digital information via 3-ring binders should have been ditched a long time ago.  Our clients fell in love with receiving digital precision information digitally.  Imagine that?

But what we’re finding out along with the rest of the agricultural world is that these mobile devices are more than a digital one-trick pony.  Not only are they good at receiving and displaying digital information but they make pretty awesome field data collectors as well.

ScoutProScreenShot

There are a lot of great agricultural apps out there but one in particular caught our eye this spring and we’d like our retail partners and grower clients to give it a spin this growing season.  It’s called Scout Pro and what’s different about it is that it does one specific task very well – field scouting.  In fact, it is so specific the company offers separate apps for scouting corn and soybeans.

Up until now there has not been a really robust, full-featured scouting application that took full advantage of the power and simplicity of the new mobile platforms like iOS or Android.   What makes it so different?

1) Just a few touches and flicks through the app will reveal a rich multi-media library with almost every plant specific pest or disease you can think of.  Just identify, tag and touch and everything is geo-referenced and synced back to an online database where all data is sorted by field boundary.  Not sure of a particular pest?  Just snap a pic with you mobile device and it gets geo-tagged to the field and shared with key advisors.

2) In addition, to collecting data Scout Pro digitally disseminates scouting reports that look like works of art compared to their previous hand scribbled paper counterparts.  Plus, reports can literally be sent when exiting a field instead of having to sometimes wait days for a written report.

3) The final and most important perk we see with the Scout Pro app is that all the data once synced with the database is exportable to other key GIS packages.  This is critical as scouting data needs to be married with other real-time field information like variety and seed population information and yield maps and fertility data.  Wouldn’t you like to be able to relate yield loss in a field to insect damage?  Better yet wouldn’t you like to know which variety of corn was more susceptible to things like green snap?  That’s the exciting power of this app.

It is for these reasons Prime Meridian is looking to integrate the Scout Pro app and the data collected into its multi-year Prime Packages’ offerings.  It certainly is a natural fit and since you’ll have the free iPad anyway, you might as well take it everywhere you go – including to the field to scout bugs and weeds!

Want to learn more? For more information on getting set up on Scout Pro or its cost, please contact Justin Ogle or Steve Cubbage at Prime Meridian at 417-667-4471.

Making it Pay: Applying Aerial Imagery at the Ground Level

There is the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. But the question that many growers are asking is…what is the value of in-season aerial crop imagery?

Up until now the answer probably would have been – “not much”. Historically, many factors have diminished the value of “in-season” field portraits in the eyes of growers.   Either it wasn’t timely enough as some past services had turnaround times of over 2 weeks. Then, there was the issue of “grainy” images as the resolution on some “satellite” or even “flown” products was less than adequate. Then there was the issue of bang for your buck – in other words was the product worth it?  Probably not, if it didn’t arrive on time and/or even if it did it had the clarity of an out-of-focus eye-chart.

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All that being said there is another saying that says don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The fact is, there is tremendous value in timely, high-resolution aerial imagery that can have an immediate positive affect on a growing crop and future crop-year management decisions. And the good news for growers is today such services are much more timely and the technology has improved greatly.

Seeing the present value in this for its clients, Prime Meridian has teamed with Bill Stocks of Aerial Imagery Solutions of Chadwick, IL to add aerial imagery as an advanced agronomic service for its agri-retail partners and producers.

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The goal is to provide real “information” –  not just images back to agronomists and growers so that they still have time to “take action” while the crop can still benefit.

For example, in-season aerial imagery can address such issues as:

  • Nitrogen deficiency
  • Fertilizer and herbicide misapplication
  • Weed and insect infestations
  • Pivot irrigation equipment or sprinkler malfunctions

In addition to the “real-time” management benefits listed above, there is an agronomic and economic bonus that comes by taking a “rear-view mirror” management approach to the data. By comparing geo-referenced imagery data such as NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) to ground truth data like GPS yield, variety and population information there is a lot one can learn from a bird’s eye view.  Some of the types of post-harvest data analysis possibilities include: 

  • Correlation of image NDVI values to actual yield map values
  • Comparison of image NDVI values to actual nitrogen rates
  • Evaluating NDVI value differences between different varieties
  • Looking for correspondence between seeding population rates and NDVI values
  • Possible relationship between NDVI to actual field topo evaluation values
  • Comparison of soil EC readings to NDVI values

And the list goes on… As you can see from the above possibilities aerial imagery can produce more than just a “pretty picture”.  It is a real-time and rear-view mirror management tool that can yield real results when applied properly. To discover more about Prime Meridian’s new aerial imagery offerings or if you’re ready to schedule your “farm’s” portrait, contact GIS specialist Justin Ogle at 417-667-4471 or via email at justin@primemeridiandata.com.