Category Archives: Precision Farming

Non-GMO Push Will Change Precision Priorities

Non-GMO Push Will Change Precision PrioritiesThere is now something missing in your regular box of Cheerios and it has possible big implications for where precision agriculture may be headed.

If you haven’t been down the breakfast aisle at your local grocery store lately you probably haven’t seen some of the big changes going on in the food industry. Cheerios has gone non-GMO and there are several other brands and boxes that are now doing the same thing.  Non-GMO is the trend and more and more companies like General Mills know it and there is already serious product segregation going on in the consumer marketplace.

So what does all this mean for production agriculture and more specifically for precision agriculture?  Well in short – it is time for producers to wake up to what is going on. A growing number of consumers say they don’t want GMO’s as a part of their diet.  That’s a big problem because, according to the latest numbers, over 90 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified.

Non-GMO Project Verified

Non-GMO Project Product Verification

It is becoming increasingly evident that producers are losing the trust of their customers. It doesn’t matter to them whether the science is sound – they simply don’t like sound of “genetically-modified.”  In their eyes its just not natural.  GMO is a three-letter acronym looked at in the same vein as the IRS, the KGB and DDT. Like it or not the poor perception of GMO’s has become reality and that is not likely to change anytime soon.

That’s why the Walmarts and the General Mills of the world are doing what any sound business would do – they are listening to their customer and giving them what they want. Appeasing the consumers of today – especially the millennials – will not be as easy as just printing the words Non-GMO on the side of a cereal box. It doesn’t end there. They want to know the story of how their food was produced and where it came from.  Farm to fork is finally here and that’s where precision ag has a huge role to play.

“Trust, but verify” were the words used by Ronald Reagan when dealing with the Soviet Union over the issue of nuclear warheads.  Modern consumers want the same thing when it comes to their food. Producers will have to prove where it came from, what seeds were used to plant it, what inputs were used to grow it and what farming practices were used to produce it.

That’s where the tools of precision must go to work.  Every field operation will have to be documented digitally.  The old pocket notebook just isn’t going to cut it.  Fields where non-GMO crops are planted will have to be geo-tagged and all production information will have to be made readily available to the buyers in this new non-GMO marketplace.  That means information must be complete, correct and timely – not the chaos that characterizes most precision data today.

Whereas most precision technology that has been deployed to date has been more about solving on-farm production and economic challenges such as yield monitoring and autosteer – this next round will go far beyond the farm.  Instantaneous wireless data transfer from the field will become standard fare. Meanwhile, RFID technology or some version of it will likely track the seeds going in the ground and the grain coming out at harvest.  Cloud computing and a centralized online account shared between the producer and key players in the food chain will replace USB sticks and the office PC.  And on-farm sensors that monitor weather, resource usage and even the quality of the grain in the bin after harvest are all part of the transformation of the farm that will be driven – correct that – demanded by the modern consumer.

The bottom line is that producers who want to remain relevant in the future are going to have to wake up and gear up – soon. If you’re thinking about producing non-GMO crops then you better be getting your digital ducks in a row. Documentation will be your passport in order to be able to play in this two-tiered marketplace. The big question is – do you have your passport?

One place you can get your initial precision passport is Prime Meridian through their Precision First program. Precision First is a precision data management plan for producers that ensures that comprehensive key production data is collected and recorded correctly.  Planting data, yield data along with standardized variety naming and tracking are all part of the package that can easily be shared with third parties – perfect for those considering producing for the emerging non-GMO market. For more information on Precision First and other data management technologies contact Justin Ogle at Prime Meridian at 417-667-4471 or email him at justin@primemeridiandata.com.

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.

Priming Yourself for Variable-Rate Irrigation

Fertilizer does it.  Seeds do it.  Why not water?

To date precision agriculture has focused its cost saving variable-rate technologies on major crop inputs like fertilizer and seed.  Ironically, the most important and precious resource needed by any growing crop is water.

Variable-rate irrigation technologies have by no means hit the mainstream as many producers do not even fully know what it is or what it can do for them.  That may have to change.

Aqua Prime Irrigation ImagePumping water is expensive and its not getting any cheaper.  Plus, Mother Nature isn’t helping the situation as headlines about drought continue to spread across the country.  Some towns in Texas have less than a 90-day supply of water.  California is the driest its been in over a 100 years.  And in Nebraska, some irrigation water districts have now placed new limits on the amount of water that can be applied in a single crop year.

Part of the problem of implementation comes back to the old conundrum between the chicken and the egg. Deploying VRI on a field with a center pivot requires upfront the collection of some very specific precision field data such as detailed soil electro-conductivity (EC) maps and also ultra-accurate topographical information. Then if by chance they do have such information, many growers’ existing center pivots may not currently be equipped with technology to actually implement a VRI prescription.

In order to make it easier for growers to get started with VRI, our company Prime Meridian recently launched its new AquaPrime service.  We’ve teamed with a software company called PCT out of Australia that allows us to create very specific water application maps based on the soil and terrain characteristics of the irrigated field.  In turn, those recommendations can be uploaded to a variable-rate equipped center pivot system where water can be varied by sector or zone depending on the pivot’s capabilities.

VRI has many benefits beyond just water savings.  It saves energy – lots of it.  In fact, many electric companies are now starting to look at possibly cost-sharing the retro-fitting of existing systems with such VRI technology.  Regardless of such incentives the technology is ready for the mainstream. It is important that growers start preparing today because there’s a lot of precision work to be done in the fields before turning on this technology called VRI.

For more information or to schedule a free farm review about VRI and to learn more about Prime Meridian’s AquaPrime irrigation solutions, please contact Steve Cubbage at 417-667-4471 or email:  steve@primemeridiandata.com.

 

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!

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.

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.

Moving Beyond the Iron to Precision Data Services

AgLeaderYieldMonitorIron dealers were there at the beginning of precision agriculture. For many, the piece of precision hardware called the yield monitor started this whole technological revolution in agriculture. Today, it has become integrated into machine as just one of the hundreds of sensors that make up a modern combine.

Yield monitors, planter monitors, sprayer monitors all should be the “domain” of the iron dealer. Because of that fact, machinery dealers are now being faced with whether or not to be more than just a “seller of iron” when it comes to precision agriculture. A recent forum by Farm Machinery magazine at the Ag Connect conference in Kansas City took a look at where and how machinery dealers should position their businesses when it comes to the business of precision data services.

View the full article, “Data Management: Waking the ‘Sleeping Giant’ in Precision Farming,” which features an interview with Steve Cubbage of Prime Meridian, by clicking here.

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.