Category Archives: Farm Data

FBN Takes Data in a Different Direction

“Think different.”

Those words helped define a little technology company called Apple Computer.

FBN Take Data in a Different DirectionToday, another technology company called Farmers Business Network (FBN) hopes that same contrarian approach – thinking differently when it comes to farmer’s data – propels them to similar success.

It was FBN’s intent out of the gate to be a disrupter in the competitive and growing field of agriculture based Big Data firms.  At first glance there are three things that are noticeably different about FBN when compared to the current competition in the marketplace.

First difference – they are independent with no direct ties to any of the big name agribusiness giants – many of whom already have their data hook in the water. Arguably the biggest hook currently in the water is a company called Climate.com aka Monsanto. The Achilles heel of someone like a Climate.com is – whether right or wrong – they are not perceived as biased by most producers and their intentions are certainly going to be questioned when you have a multi-billion dollar agricultural conglomerate as the backside benefactor of such customer information.

FBN knows this and their business model is based on the logic that someone within the industry has got to wear the white hat. Why not them?  Farmers respect such independence and are much more willing to share data with a company that is working for them as their primary day job instead of selling seed, tractors or fertilizer.

Second difference – cost. The price of admission is reasonable and attractive. Rather than complicate things with a per acre pricing model or multiple tier pricing – FBN’s initial entry level product was rolled out to the market at a flat-fee of $500. Simple and affordable is always a good marketing strategy and FBN knew that in order to attract farmers in numbers they couldn’t discriminate based on the number of acres a farmer farms.

There is no doubt that as FBN grows in subscribers and capabilities there will be premium services that emerge. Even Henry Ford when he started out only offered one color of car – black! That soon changed and so will what is possible to do with data as both FBN and farmers continue to discover what is possible and what is practical down on the farm.

TFBN Dashboardhird difference – your data is shared anonymously among your peers – aka fellow farmers – and not among biased industry insiders. The peer-to-peer model of sharing data makes much more sense than the highly filtered data that might be published by private seed, fertilizer and iron companies as part of their marketing efforts.

This sharing of unbiased agronomic data is actually nothing new. In reality, a similar model has been around for years and it is called the university Extension system. As part of the original research mission of the land-grant universities, Extension was the vehicle used to deliver the discoveries of such research to the farmer. In some ways what FBN is trying to do is become the modern-day digital equivalent to the original extension system. However, instead of research being bottled up in tiny university test plots now with FBN every farm and every acre becomes its own test plot.

What is the true power of FBN? That remains to be discovered. But it will likely be discovered by farmers who are able to directly glean unbiased, affordable information from people they trust – peers who have actually tilled an acre of land and seen how things work in the real world and not just in some petri dish. Up until now some growers have been reluctant to share their data with others because they didn’t share the same values and goals. FBN has finally given farmers a choice and a voice when it comes to looking at the world of Big Data.

For more information on FBN and how to start learning ways your farm can benefit from the knowledge of fellow farmers contact Steve Cubbage at Prime Meridian at 417-667-4471 or via email at: steve@primemeridiandata.com.  Prime Meridian is also promoting FBN to its customers by including a free one-year FBN subscription for any farmer that signs up for its Precision First data management plans.

 

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.