Category Archives: Farm Data

Yield Mapping Failure Is Not An Option

“This year’s crop is so bad I just don’t see the point of yield mapping.”

I’ve heard that line repeated by more than a few farmers this fall as they prepared to go to the field to harvest a severely subpar crop.

I don’t know who started the rumor that yield monitors were only to be used for good crops!  Granted there certainly is no pride down at the local coffee shop showing off maps of fields that only produced half a crop.  But that shouldn’t be the point of yield maps in the first place.  It is not a work of art.  It is an agronomic record to learn from.  Sometimes Mother Nature teaches us from very hard lessons.  Accept them, learn from them and move on.

I understand the inclination to want to wipe disaster years like 2012 from your memory.  But turning off a yield monitor or trashing yield data on a crop because it didn’t measure up should never be an option in the age of precision farming.  It’s sort of like turning off your young child’s baby monitor because you don’t want to hear them cry.  It’s irresponsible in both cases!

I would argue that you actually learn less about your fields and your management practices in a good year than you do a bad one.  A lot less! How do you fine tune seed populations to soil in a perfect year?  The answer is you don’t.  How do you evaluate drought tolerant hybrids if it rains just the right amount every week?  If there was ever a year that tested modern seed genetics it was this crop year!  How do you gauge nutrient removal if you don’t have a precision fuel gauge like a yield monitor?  Nutrient management alone is worth keeping a yield monitor on in both good times and bad.

As you can tell at Prime Meridian we take yield mapping very seriously.  It is the cornerstone of many of our multiple year Prime Packages.  It is critical information that provides the template for many variable-rate seeding prescriptions.  And finally it has become necessary digital data that will be required by government agencies and federal crop insurance.  Even if you do nothing with it – collect it, save it and protect it in a secure online AgriMAX account.

You only have so many harvests in a lifetime. They all tell a unique story.  It is important to you and your farm’s future not to skip a single chapter.

50, 100, 70 – Winning the Food Production Lottery

No, these are not the first three numbers of the latest winning PowerBall ticket.  However, don’t discount them. Their meaning is linked to this interesting tidbit of information that is circulating among agricultural academics.

“By the year 2050, we will need to produce 100 percent more food coming from a 70 percent increase in technology.” 

Such a challenge almost sounds like a script worthy of a Mission Impossible episode.  The reality of the situation is that it is going to be quite a job for the less than 1 percent of Americans who claim production agriculture as their primary source of income.

For those of you banking on biotechnology as the probable savior of feeding the 9 billion of us in 2050 I would encourage you to go buy another lottery ticket – you might have better luck.  You see, biotechnology can only be part of the answer and that’s only if it is used wisely.  It is far from the total solution.

Just take a look at this year – the worst drought in a generation knocked average corn yields back over 30 percent in spite of all of our modern “genetics.”   We fell from an all-time high in 2009 of nearly 165 bushels per acre to barely clearing 120 bushels per acre this year once the counting is done.  Mother Nature just reminded us that we’re far from knowing it all!

In 1950 the average corn yield in the U.S. barely reached 40 bushels per acre.  By 1970 it was 80.  And as mentioned the high water mark came in 2009 – almost reaching 165 bushels per acre.  In essence, I would contend that there have been 3 technological “revolutions” that have propelled modern agriculture forward.

Technological “Revolutions”

First, there was the “Mechanical” Revolution that saw the switching out of the horse for horsepower.  Today my great grandfather who picked corn by hand with a team of horses and a wagon would be in awe of today’s modern, mechanized combines.

Second, there was the “Green” Revolution where hybrid seeds, commercial fertilizers and new chemistries fueled an agricultural abundance like no one had ever seen before.

Finally, the “Biotech” Revolution – where science unlocked the Holy Grail of the secrets of life.  For many it was the last turn on the Rubix’s Cube of agriculture.  With biotechnology anything was deemed possible – drought resistant crops, corn and cotton that make their own nitrogen and a “chicken in every pot.”

But even a company like Monsanto realizes that the biotechnology boon alone will not get us to 50, 100, 70.

So what kind of technology are we counting to increase production by 100 percent if it’s not primarily biotechnology?

That will come from the next revolution – the “Information” Revolution of agriculture.  This is the reason Monsanto bought the precision hardware company Precision Planting – it was to gather information from millions of acres.  It was to take that information and mine it, analyze it and scour it for the secrets that will lead agricultural production forward.  Putting all those “secrets” together, in the right order, is what is really needed to solve agriculture’s Rubix’s Cube.

Agriculture has a big job in front of it. And it’s not just about raising more.  It is about using “information” to farm smarter.  It is about growing more with less and preserving our land and resources for generations to come.  That’s the real mission that the modern agricultural producer must choose to accept.

Looking for a Data Oasis in the Precision Desert

For much of the past decade agricultural producers have been left wandering in the precision desert.  The industry has sold them multiple mirages promising them oasis after oasis of economic prosperity if only they chose their precision path.  What have growers gotten in return? In many cases – a precision canteen full of sand and nowhere closer to the precision promised land.

It is time to put the producers in charge of their data and their precision destiny.  It is time for them to lead instead of being led.  To do that they must take back “ownership” and “manage” the information that will determine their future fate.  This will require an independent place, a home, an exchange, a robust platform where growers can store, share and add value to all the data that matters to their agricultural business.

Until recently (the last 3 to 5 years), most precision data fell into two categories or silos – fertility data usually captured and controlled by input suppliers and yield data from which farmers created maps from their own personal PC or more recently handed off to their seed dealer that gave them colorful paper maps in exchange for the valuable golden nuggets of raw data.

Today the industry is on the verge of monumental shift when it comes to precision data and precision services.  Growers, and frankly the people that serve growers on the local level, expect more than what the status quo is delivering.  Second, there is simply more data from all sorts of devices and sources.  Third, wireless and cloud technology has the potential to converge all this data for a greater good.  Fourth, growers are desperately seeking a new precision messiah – a trusted precision advisor, data traffic cop or precision accountant – that can direct the flow of data, ensure the integrity of the data and ultimately add maximum value to the information collected.  And finally, growers and the industry cannot afford to ignore the cumulative good or management potential that can occur when multiple years of multiple layers of data intersect.  Consider this to be the agronomic equivalent of the movie Moneyball.

Even with corn prices over $8 and soybeans over $17 – growers still need to realize that their most valuable crop is the precision data that is produced from their farm.  Make sureyou – the grower – puts your data in a safe BANK – and that YOU – not someone else has the key to YOUR Data Safe Deposit Box.  At Prime we believe we’ve created that Bank and its called AgriMAX.  For more details, click 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.”

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:

Precision Data: The Harvest That Lasts Year-Round

Even as planting season started this spring so too did harvest.

No not the harvest of corn and soybeans but the harvest of data.  And the big players in this space are the mega bio-science companies Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred who are harvesting millions of acres worth of data annually.

Those living alongside the dusty country roads out in the Heartland have had a front row seat in watching these companies jockey for position in this new digital agricultural sweepstakes.  It is also catching the eye of Wall Street as well.  In last week’s June 14th edition of the Wall Street Journal there was a feature article on the new “Data Harvest” taking place in agriculture.

There is no doubt in my mind that the recent purchase of the precision hardware company Precision Planting by the genetic powerhouse Monsanto prompted the writer to pen this article.

If you will recall a few weeks ago on my blog I wrote about Monsanto shaking up the precision ag world with this purchase. I said then that the purchase had little to do with the purchase of a profitable hardware company.  Rather it had everything to do with access to some of the best real-time planting data a researcher and a sales team could ever ask for.

But what was really intriguing about the article was the mention of another company – MachineryLink – who is also entering the race for data.  For those of you who have not heard the name MachineryLink it is a company based in Kansas City that leases combines to producers all across North America.  MachineryLink has created a company called FarmLink that is going to be collecting valuable real-time harvest data from their massive fleet of combines.  FarmLink will then distribute that data to its grower customers and then market it to crop insurers, farm management firms and farmland investors such as pension funds.  Now you know why Wall Street is so interested in what’s going on in the country!

Monsanto, Pioneer and FarmLink are just a handful of the companies that are attempting to fill the niches of this new market.  It has the feel of a modern-day gold rush and no doubt there’s going to be booms and busts and plenty of excitement along the way.

Jeff Banker a FarmLink representative quoted in the article summed it up the best of what’s going on.

“Every business that exists now is a data business,” said Banker.  “Farming is just on the cusp of that.”

To read more about this story check out the article entitled:  Farmers Prepare for the Data Harvest from the Thursday, June 14th Business Technology section of the Wall Street Journal.

Precision Agriculture needs a “Jitterbug” and an “Easy Button”

The other day the daughter of one of our customers said something that made so much sense that it bears repeating.

“Wouldn’t it be great if there was actually a Jitterbug monitor for precision ag,” she said. “This stuff needs to be simpler so people like my granddad can use it.”

Photo via Toptechreviews.net.

For those who don’t know what a “Jitterbug” is – it is a cell phone made specifically for those who are “technologically adverse” or simply were a generation ahead of the “personal computer revolution.” In other words – a simple cell phone – with an emphasis on being a phone and double emphasis on being simple. No smart phone apps or complex data plans – simply a nice phone with big buttons, large display and robust volume. You know – the important things you might want in phone!

These comments reveal a persistent problem that plagues precision agriculture. It’s still too complicated! The hardware is too hard to run! And sometimes you truly may need to be a rocket scientist in order to operate this stuff.

For a segment of the agricultural industry that is nearly two decades old – precision agriculture should be simpler and offer a better user experience than it currently does. When the most complex task most operators of the hardware can achieve is simply pushing a button marked “A” and another button marked “B” so that you can drive straight – that is not what I would call fulfilling the promises of precision ag.

A $25,000 autosteer system should be able to do more than just drive a straight line. It should be a management tool that is like your own personal assistant that you take to the field with you recording exactly what you’re doing agronomically on your farm. It should be easier than it is to record the varieties you plant, the number of seeds you plant, the herbicides you spray and the number of bushels you harvest.

But those tasks are still hard to do because iron and hardware companies remain clueless or too hardheaded on how to easily collect the most basic, yet most important agronomic details regarding crop production. In order to outdo each other these precision ag companies continue to awe us with their latest bells and whistles. Meanwhile, the basics and the agronomic promises of precision ag have been left behind in the dust.

So it my contention that whoever comes up with the “Jitterbug” or the “Easy Button” of precision hardware will win the game. Technology can only truly fulfill its promise when it becomes transparent. Because it is not the hardware that should be the focus of precision agriculture it is the agronomy. And if we’re too confused about which button to press we’ll never get there.

That’s why Prime Meridian has worked very hard putting together BASIC multi-year precision plans called “Prime Packages” that focus solely on getting good data to and from the field. It would be a lot easier if the hardware companies would jump on the precision agronomic bandwagon but until then we’ll keep fighting the good fight and continue delivering SIMPLE to our customers.

“Paint-by-Numbers” Agronomy: A Black Eye for Precision?

A disturbing trend is emerging within precision agriculture creating a literal agronomic minefield. And growers are walking right dangerously into the bloodshed because the shiny new precision technology has blinded them from reality.

New Pitfalls

As the pendulum of precision technology has swung from the fascination of automated steering to more agronomic based hardware applications it presents some potential new pitfalls.

Sales of new planters have skyrocketed in recent years and most are decked out with individual row clutches, singulation seed monitoring, automated down-pressure and variable-rate seeding capability. What’s cooler than being able to variable-rate your seed population when going through a field? Sure, you’ve got to use it. Sort of like having a T-top Trans-Am and still obeying the speed limit. Hey, even I can’t drive 55.

In attending many of the Precision Planting grower meetings in our region one question is always asked of the group – “How many of you have variable-rate capability on your planter?” Typically, over 50 percent and sometimes upwards of 70 percent of the farmers in the group have planters capable of variable-rate.

Then comes the follow-up question – “How many of you ACTUALLY utilize variable-rate prescription seeding?” Crickets. Usually, less than two or three hands in a crowd of 60 farmers goes up.

Why so few? The answer is simple – many farmers have not done their agronomic precision homework over the past several years. Multiple years yield monitor data – the foundation for sound variable-rate agronomics – either doesn’t exist, is incomplete or frankly is so flawed you’d be better off saying the dog ate your homework!

Too Many Shortcuts

But instead of buckling down and collecting vital historical precision production data, many growers are looking for a shortcut to “agronomic” precision. Unfortunately, some precision hardware companies, so-called precision consultants and proclaimed agronomists are selling “precision agronomy in a can” or what I like to call “black box agronomy.” In other words, they are offering a “shortcut” to the precision “promise land” and growers are buying it.

Some may offer growers the ability to “variable-rate by soil-type” right from their monitor screen. In essence, it’s the precision equivalent of the old pre-school exercise “paint-by-numbers”. No one knows what numbers to put in but you sure have a pretty map when you’re done planting. Meanwhile, some consultants may “create zones” from something like a Veris machine, which reads the electro-conductivity of the soil (EC). From the readings some consultants are creating “zones” and that is the sole data they hang their hat on when it comes to variable-rate.

All these one-and-done methods are extremely shortsighted and each is like handing a grower an agronomic grenade with the pin pulled. Someone is going to get hurt because they don’t know what they’re doing or they’re in a hurry and don’t understand the agronomic and management consequences.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to making agronomic decisions with modern precision tools is that there is no substitute for due diligence. Do your homework! Let your own data – layers and layers of it – tell you the story over time. Good precision takes time. Just think of it as if the Bible ended with the Book of Genesis. As we know, there was a lot more that came after that!

“Spring Forward” with your Precision Goals with “Monitor Prep”

Sure you changed your clocks last weekend for Daylight Savings Time. But the question is – are you ready to go to the field to start the 2012 crop year? Sure you’ve greased the planter and the seeds in the bag are ready to go, but are you really ready?

As I was resetting all my clocks in my house I wondered why producers shouldn’t do the same thing with their “electronic devices” before they go to the field in the spring.

If synchronizing all clocks and changing out your smoke alarm batteries are a spring ritual – shouldn’t prepping your precision equipment for the season be just as important?

At Prime Meridian we created a service that we hope becomes a spring ritual called “Monitor Prep” – a lot like setting your clocks forward. Monitor Prep is like spring cleaning — wiping the slate clean to start the new year fresh when it comes to collecting good and complete data from your precision monitors all season long.

Good precision agriculture just doesn’t happen. It’s a lot easier to collect good data if a precision display has been properly prepped with the right field names, the right field boundaries and the correct labels of all the seed varieties and crop inputs that made your pick list for 2012.

Failing to walk away from your field operations without collecting the right data is a great waste of precision technology that will impact the management of your farming business for years to come. Precision displays should not be treated like Etch-a-Sketches that you doodle on during the season for entertainment value – and you can’t just shake them clean when you’re ready to start another season.

Those of us at Prime Meridian believe the real rewards in precision and farming’s future will go to those who think of the equipment as true tools – just like they would with their tractor, combine, planter, disk, etc. For equipment perform correctly it has to be set correctly – and that in a nutshell is the first step to success on the path to precision.