Category Archives: Ag Precision News

Drones on Demand – The Future of UAV’s in Ag

IDrones on Demandn the field of agriculture drones are still sitting on the precision runway.  Many in the industry still look upon them as more of a hobby than the agronomic workhorse they have the potential to be.

There are several reasons for such perceptions.  First of all many of such said perceptions are true. Unfortunately, for all intents and purposes, the only fully legal way to fly a drone is as a hobby and not for commercial purposes.  Hopefully, this will change but for now we have to sit back and watch the Federal Aviation Administration and the slow-moving wheels of government come up with their new commercial rules for drones.

The other big problem in making drones practical for agriculture is that they are still too small and inefficient to make an impact on a large scale.  That’s understandable given the restrictive regulatory black cloud still hanging over the industry.

But it hasn’t been all dark skies.  The silver lining has been that early drone adopters were not going to be denied.  The technology is too intriguing and holds too much potential even at an individual grower level. So in order to put an “early bird” in the air so to speak – the drones had to be small in order to comply with the only FAA rules currently on the books – the ones for hobbyists.

These early adopters have blazed a trail for what is to come.  Kudos for them. They have stoked a fire that is likely to become a full-blown inferno once the FAA finally does settle on its official direction for drones.  How drones are ultimately used and leveraged within agriculture is likely to be dramatically different than the rogue do-it-yourself environment that we’ve seen so far.

When drones get the green light from the FAA, the industry is then going to treat it as a real business.  That means being able to fly more than just a few hundred or thousand acres a day or being able to stay in the air longer that 30 to 45 minutes.

NetJets

NetJets Fleet (Photo Source: corporatejetinvestor.com)

One of the most likely future models for the agricultural drone business is one that mimics a Warren Buffet owned company called NetJets.  It’s just not practical for even most high-powered businessmen to own a multi-million dollar corporate jet by themselves.  But it does make sense to own or even rent a piece of one – in essence timeshares for jets.  Such a scenario makes total sense for producers who want access to the benefits of a drone but don’t want the overhead and time commitment.

Such businesses may already be forming – laying the groundwork and getting ready to shoot out of the gate as soon as the FAA clears the runway for drones for commercial agriculture purposes.  One early-bird company touting a “drone as a service” model is a company called Measure based out of Washington, D.C.  It looks to leverage drone resources across the country and even the world. And from the looks of their website these aren’t the “baby” drones we’ve seen in the past.  Take a look and I think you’ll get the idea – www.measure32.com.

Another company with a fleet of larger drones is one based out of Newport, Virginia called Digital Harvest.  It has already been providing imagery services for larger commercial farms and specialty crop operations with drones that stay in the air hours at a time – not minutes.  Check their services out at http://www.digital-harvest.net.

The irony in this whole drone discussion is that the real value of a drone is not the drone itself. No doubt their coolness factor shot them into the limelight, but it is their potential to vastly improve upon the data and how it is delivered that has both producers and professionals intrigued.  Let’s face it, fuzzy red pictures from satellites were not cutting the mustard when it came to delivering relevant in-season crop imagery.  The number and quality of the types of on-board sensors a drone can carry – especially larger drones – is about to explode.

For these reasons it is drone service companies that will likely have more impact on the direction of drones in agriculture rather than any single drone manufacturer. Get ready to book your season tickets because these companies will be coming to play ball.  It should be fun to watch.

Mavrx – Crop Imagery Meets Crop Scouting

Crop Imagery Meets Crop ScoutingIn the world of precision agriculture, it seems that the number of crop imagery companies is multiplying faster than rabbits at the local county fair.

There is one company, however, that is looking to be different by putting a high-tech twist on crop imagery by mixing it with crop scouting. The name of this company is called Mavrx and it is taking its hybrid concept to the air in full force for the 2015 growing season.

Using in-season images to aid the actual boots on the ground task of crop scouting is nothing new. However, the way Mavrx does it – and the product that it delivers — is what sets it apart in this increasingly crowded field.

The secret sauce of Mavrx is that it takes the images and identifies the hotspots and trouble spots within a field before they are delivered to you. Mavrx automatically tells you where and how important these areas are before you get there. You know exactly how many acres the problems may be, plus the severity of the problem and the calculated economic impact to date. Think of it as your own John Madden chalkboard for crop scouting.Mavrx Screenshot

Crop scouting has traditionally been a very labor intensive task requiring not only long days but also a high-level skill set. The problem is that no matter how long the days are, there just aren’t enough hours to cover more acres and be effective.  Plus, in the past most of the scout’s time was spent in the field looking for problems instead of solving them.  You might have been within 50 feet of a growing aphid infestation, and you would miss the whole thing. These issues are going to be a bigger problem as farms and fields grow in size, while the number of veteran agronomists is not keeping pace.

Mavrx seeks to leverage such agronomy expertise by providing a product that allows agronomists and producers to monitor more acres more effectively.  This is accomplished by streamlining and refining the delivery of the product to the end-user.  Mavrx knew the first issue with past imagery products is that by the time the picture of the field had been taken and delivered, the value of the image had already become stale.  Mavrx seeks to deliver a fully processed product with 24 to 48 hours. You are personally notified by email and text when a new image is ready for you in your personal cloud account on the Mavrx web-based dashboard. Think of it as Instagram for your farm’s fields.

Mavrx’s intent is to make their online dashboard your in season flight control center where you can view changes within a field during the season. You can also integrate Mavrx imagery with other key GIS data to help provide underlying clues as to what is causing certain issues within a field, such as data to help identify troublesome wet spots and historical yield maps to see if such problems have appeared in the field before in similar locations. As a bonus to users, Mavrx is providing multiple years’ worth of field imagery from LandSat satellite imagery library to establish historical markers when evaluating current high-resolution imagery.

Mavrx on Desktop, Tablet and MobileThe functionality of the Mavrx imagery doesn’t stop at scouting. That is only one of the many possible uses for the imagery. When delivered to a user’s dashboard account, the imagery is already geo-referenced and in the correct file format (such as a GeoTiff) so that it can be easily exported to other popular GIS programs (like SST, SMS and MapShots) to create in-season prescriptions for nitrogen, or even targeted pest management.

One of the final feathers in Mavrx’s cap is the diversity of the imagery that you get from a flight. Currently, most of the imagery is flown by manned aircraft, with many of them equipped to capture regular, NDVI and also thermo images simultaneously.  Unlike many other providers who only provide one image type, with Mavrx you literally get three for the price of one. That’s a big deal: each image type has certain advantages. Veteran agronomists say that NDVI is better at telling them whether plants are hungry and need nutrients like nitrogen, while thermo does a better job of detecting whether plants are sick. Many times a thermo image can detect stress days before a regular or NDVI image.

By delivering imagery with a purpose Mavrx has set itself apart in this crowded field. Agronomists and producers who want to learn how Mavrx can help improve their field scouting and in-season crop management contact William Underwood at Prime Meridian at 660-492-5626 or via email: william.underwood@primemeridiandata.com. For more details on Mavrx check them out on the web at: www.mavrx.co.

Farmobile: Making Precision Just Happen

Successfully getting data from the field, out of the monitor and onto the computer has had a less than stellar track record.

Making Precision Just HappenUp until now most precision data has seemingly suffered the same fate as all those socks that get lost in the dryer.  Over the years millions and millions of acres of incredibly valuable yield monitor data never made it that short distance from the machine shed to the farm office. And the problem has grown exponentially as more and more field operations began to be recorded. Most of that data didn’t make it either.

You would have thought that there were mountains as tall as Mount Everest or rivers as wide as the Amazon in that short but “long” journey.  For whatever reason, important digital data is not making the successful trek to the place it can actually have some value and do some good.

Thankfully there is hope on the horizon.  One company called Farmoblie is seeking to drastically change how all this data from combines, sprayers and tractors gets from point A to point B. Not only is Farmobile seeking to change the way that data is transferred but they are intent on altering the way it is visualized, utilized and ultimately who’s in charge of the data at the end of the day.

Farmobile solves the original problem of transferring data by making it just happen – wirelessly. Although wireless data transfer is no longer new, what makes Farmobile different is the fact that the company’s wireless solution is practically colorblind when it comes to what it can connect to. Companies like Raven, Ag Leader, Trimble and now even John Deere all have brand centric solutions that only play nice with their hardware.

Farmobile Device

Farmobile Device

The way Farmobile works to gather and display data is what sets it apart from the competing pack of wireless solutions that have appeared so far. Instead of just transferring a single file of yield data from the combine monitor at the end of the day, Farmobile’s device plugs into a machine’s information nerve center called the CAN (short for Controller Area Network). By plugging directly into the CAN, Farmobile can record and decipher any information from any sensor on the machine itself.  That means access to much more data regarding what’s going on in the field. Plus, it can be viewed anywhere in the world in real-time on your mobile device.

So now instead of just recording and transferring a layer of yield data, the Farmobile user can see all the performance points of the machine while it is still in the field.  You will see things like yield and moisture, but in addition you will now see ground speed, engine rpm and other critical information. With such features Farmobile has become more than just a way to transfer data. It has become a logistics command center for your operation, tracking vehicles and employee efficiency.

Farmobile also addresses head-on one of big questions on the minds of many producers these days – where does all this data go and who’s in charge of it? That’s an area where Farmobile is getting two thumbs up from producers and the agriculture community.  All the data streaming from the field goes directly into your secure cloud account to do what you want to with it. Farmobile calls it your Electronic Farm Record (EFR) Vault and the data is yours and only yours to direct and dissect as you choose.

The current capabilities of the Farmobile device are likely only the tip of the iceberg.  Coming soon will be the ability to push and pull critical files to and from the cab of the Farmobile equipped machine. This means that the device can literally act as a wireless USB storage device and things like variable-rate prescription files can simply be delivered with a tap on the app.

Will Farmobile be the Apple iPhone of the precision ag world? That’s a tall order but it certainly has a robust feature set that makes it worth taking a look even today. Technology aside, Farmobile seeks to be the solution to centralize the “grower’s” data from multiple sources in one place. If it can do that plus solve the age old precision problem of getting yield data out of the combine and onto your computer – then we finally have our precision game changer we’ve anxiously been waiting for.

To find out more about Farmobile or even request a free on-farm trial, contact Steve Cubbage at Prime Meridian at 417-667-4471 or via email: steve@primemeridiandata.com.  Also visit Farmobile’s website for technical details and current pricing – www.farmobile.com.

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.

Drones and Precision Agriculture: The Sky is the Limit

Autosteer literally changed the face and direction of precision agriculture. That whiz-bang technology came about because once highly sophisticated military technology was commercialized. Just take a look at what has happened. Tractors and combines now roll off the production line complete with GPS from the factory just like it was as common of a technology as AM/FM radio.

Now another military technology is about to infiltrate precision agriculture. Last week the Wall Street Journal took a look at drone technology and how it could change the agricultural landscape when it comes to managing crops in the future. I had a chance to chime in on what it might mean for our industry and I believe we have only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Pardon the pun, but in this case I really do believe the sky is the limit! What do you think?

View the full Wall Street Journal article, “Drones Hit New Turf: U.S. Farmlands,” by clicking here.

Who is Your Precision Data Master?

CropLife Magazine’s annual “State of Precision Ag” article was revealing in one aspect – producers are tired of the status quo and they’re looking for more.

I was lucky enough and also honored to be featured as part of this yearly insight of where the industry is headed and where we need to go.  In many ways the reports highlighted in this piece are encouraging because industry professionals and growers are recognizing the most good is going to be found within the mountains of information being collected.  The discouraging part of the article is the realization that we still have a very long road ahead of us before any of us get this whole thing figured out.

The other tidbits that came out of the article show that producers are no longer just settling for “paper maps” of old school precision services like yield mapping and grid soil sampling.  Growers want it all put together and they want it now on their mobile devices.  They want access to premium services like crop imagery, aggregated data and variable-rate services.

More than anything growers want access to a data master or in layman’s terms – a precision service provider.  We think that definition defines Prime Meridian and what we do very well.

Who is your precision data master?  According to this article you’re going to need one, if you expect the “Force” to be with you in the future when it comes to the subject of precision agriculture.

Click here to read the full article, “2012 State Of Precision Ag: Data Masters.”

Record Wheat Crop Falls Victim to Too Much of a Good Thing – N

A strange sight began appearing in many wheat fields of Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri this past spring. No…they were not alien crop circles but they certainly looked like it!

Instead it was many, many acres of downed or lodged wheat.  This year’s wheat growing season evolved into the perfect storm that set the stage for this phenomenon, but the single greatest culprit may have been too much nitrogen.

The issue had its beginnings last summer as a corn crop wilted under the worst drought south of I-70 since 1980.  What was left behind was thousands of acres of crop insurance worthy corn and excess nitrogen left over that was never used.  Many of those same acres got planted to wheat and no one knew just how much residual N was left come topdressing time in the spring.

At the end of the day come harvest time these pockets of wheat were on the ground and serious money was left on the table because of it.  It was not uncommon that downed areas were making 10 to 20 bushels less than the wheat right beside it.  For growers that experienced this it was in some ways a double-whammy because not only did it take bushels off the top end off an otherwise outstanding wheat crop but it also meant they probably wasted fertilizer dollars for nitrogen the crop obviously didn’t need.

Talk about kickin’ a guy when he is down!  Pardon the pun.

The truth of the matter is that much of this could have been avoided with the use of new precision agriculture technology called real-time variable-rate application sensors.  The most common name in the industry for such sensors is GreenSeeker.  GreenSeeker is just one of the names of players in this space. There are others such as Crop Circle (OptRx) and CropSpec are also players in this space.  They may be better known by the precision hardware companies that represent these names – Trimble, Ag Leader and TopCon respectively.

Whatever your brand preference the concept is the same – sensors coupled with GPS provide instant feedback of plant health as you travel across a wheat field applying N.  This means you now can vary the rate more precisely to give the plants what they need not what the seat of your pants tells you.

Even in “normal” years this technology has shown to yield about 5 bushel more per acre and net a $14 per acre advantage over doing it by the seat of the pants method according to a University of Kentucky study.  There is no doubt this year those numbers would have been dramatically higher for many of the wheat growers across the Heartland.

To learn more about leveraging this technology also in corn, check out an agronomy brief from Pioneer Hi-Bred by clicking here.

We’re here to help! Inquire about this technology by contacting Justin Ogle at Prime Meridian (justin@primemeridiandata.com or 417-667-4471) and see how real-time VRA technology can be incorporated as part of the Prime Packages precision management program.

 

IDEAg – Connecting the Disconnected World of Precision Agriculture

We live in a “connected” world.  Everything we now do or care about is literally just a touch, click or voice command away. But if you would ask Apple’s new virtual assistant Siri what the current state of precision agriculture is she would probably hang up on you!

Unfortunately, in the world of precision ag there is still a lot of disconnect.  Vital field data is lost or never collected, other is banished forever to the internal prison of a grower’s desktop PC while other data sits in a sterile white room full of servers run by industry giants John Deere, Monsanto and Pioneer.

How do we reconnect a disconnected industry?  That is the question that will be the focus of a first of its kind agricultural symposium called IDEAg being held outside of Des Moines, Iowa the first of next week.

Called the IDEAg Connectivity Conference attendees from all corners of the agricultural industry will gather to put into focus where we’re at today in regards to the “Connected Farm” as Trimble has dubbed it and who are the future players in this space are going to be.  The conference takes place June 25th through June 27th in Altoona, IA.

Looking through the exhibitor and speaker list some of the familiar names are there – John Deere, Raven, Trimble, SST Software – but there are some smaller players as well as industry outsiders who may be the ones to watch at this conference and beyond.   Names like AgSense – a company who has put center pivot control at your fingertips or AgIntegrated who will announce new ways to get data to and from the field are just some of the companies to put on your radar screen.  The other 800-pound guerrilla attending is telecom giant ATT who just happens to be a major sponsor of the IDEAg conference.

If the disconnect that exists in the precision ag realm today is to be solved it will first take a wireless solution in order to solve it.  It is not the final answer but it is the bridge that is necessary to be built so that the rest of the industry hopefully can walk across it together.  Whether it’s a massive government rural broadband initiative or a multi-billion dollar investment by telecom giants like ATT and Verizon – connecting agriculture to the modern world starts by connecting it where agriculture actually takes place and that is in the field.  If and when 4G cell coverage comes to the Back 40 it will be like Christmas has come to the country.

We’ll keep an eye on what comes out of Iowa next week but Precision Ag 2.0 is all about connectivity and sharing information and ultimately extracting value from it.  IDEAg hopefully is a symbolic step like the driving of the first spike in the trans-continental railroad.  We just hope that in the future all parties are able to connect at a common place that ultimately benefits the grower farming the Back 40.

For more information on IDEAg check out their web page by clicking here.

 

Unmanned Drones: Big Brother or Agronomic Asset?

Get ready for a lot more UFO sightings.  The age of the unmanned drone is here and it’s not just for flyovers of hostile lands far, far away.

Real soon you might look up and see one buzzing over your Nebraska feedlot or your Iowa cornfield or Wisconsin dairy farm.

Seriously. Don’t be surprised if very soon they’re as common in your backyard as the mosquitoes during your picnic barbeque.  The hysteria has already started.  Just last week some people thought they saw a UFO along the Capitol Beltway in Washington.  Turns out it was not outer space aliens headed to the capitol but instead a military X-47B drone headed to a military base in Maryland for testing.

Why the sudden buzz – pardon the pun – about drones?  Well, in February, President Obama signed into law a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that requires the agency – on a fairly rapid schedule – to write rules opening U.S. airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles.

With that action the genie officially came out of the bottle and it has profound implications for many sectors of our society.  And if you think domestic use is going to be limited to patrolling borders and assisting law enforcement in big cities you are very wrong.

Just the other day I got an e-newsletter from Beef magazine telling the story about the aerial surveillance of Nebraska feedlots by the EPA.  The problem – the feedlot operators had no idea they were being monitored.  Now in this case the EPA was “monitoring” via traditional manned aircraft but can you imagine the EPA armed with a fleet of drones to monitor “agricultural” activity?

Such potential abuse is real and could undermine the real good this technology could actually do for precision agriculture and basic agronomy.  Crop scouting millions of acres in detail from above would be a game changer for agronomists and precision agriculture service providers.  No more waiting on hit and miss satellite imagery.  It could greatly reduce the overall cost of imagery and allow practical deployment of new sensors measuring nutrient levels and insect infestation.

Whether we like it or not drones are in our future.  The question yet to be answered for agriculture is whether the technology will be its friend or foe.  I sure hope it is embraced for good because it has the greatest in-season management potential of any agronomic tool I’ve seen in a long time.

For more information on this subject, please check out the following articles: