Category Archives: Precision Farming

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.

Prime Meridian Champions “Precision Standards” at AgGateway Conference

Last month I had the honor of speaking at the AgGateway annual conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

My topic was “Precision Agricultural Standards” as it relates to data and the sharing of data within the industry.  I told the group attending that the lack of common naming standards and the continued use proprietary data types adopted by precision hardware manufacturers has slowed and even stalled progress when it comes to advances that could benefit the industry – most importantly at the producer level.

For those of you who do not know about AgGateway and the role they play within the agricultural industry I would encourage you to learn more about them.  Their website can be found here: http://www.aggateway.org/

In a nutshell, they are an industry standards advocacy group that has already done tremendous work to move agricultural commerce into the 21st century.  Their work in  areas of agricultural e-commerce has provided the “common language” whenever inputs like seed, fertilizer and crop protection products are transacted throughout the agricultural supply chain.

It would seem only natural that an unbiased, highly respected organization like AgGateway be the one to shepherd the industry players in working toward precision agriculture standards.  To learn more about this subject and what I told those who gathered in New Mexico check out Rich Keller’s post on the AgProfessional’s website by clicking here.

2012 Drought Will Change the Precision Agriculture Landscape

The drought of 2012 will leave a lasting impression on a new generation of farmers. It will change farming in profound ways – ways in which we do not yet realize.

When the dust has finally settled on this year’s harvest, the rains return and the cropinsurance checks are written, change will be in the air come 2013.

Possibly one of the most overlooked changes could come within the industry of precision agriculture itself. It is my contention that this year’s drought will change precision ag more than any one outside event in the last 10 years and quite possibly the most since satellites starting orbiting the Earth.

Why? How? What is this guy talking about?

Well the federal crop insurance system is about to write some of the biggest crop insurance loss checks to producers – ever!  The federal government is also broke – nearly $16 trillion in debt. It also just so happens that this “weather” event aligned when Congress is in the process of debating the next Farm Bill.

Clearing the future hurdles of compliance and claims for government programs and insurance will require new heights in the level of documentation. Electronic production records produced by the computers in the field during planting and harvest will become mandatory. So quite simply that yield monitor with no GPS isn’t going to cut the mustard anymore. Neither is the pocket paper notebook logging where you changed seed corn varieties.

Crop insurance auditors are going to ultimately require “real-time” data. USDA offices will move toward this for reporting as well. We’ve already seen the movement toward such “electronic” reporting within the industry and this drought is only going to accelerate those moves.

Like it or not, precision agriculture is about to become a government mandate. Are you ready? Is your farm ready? No one knows what the weather will do next year or the year after that but requiring more precision electronic documentation is a 100 percent probability.

To ensure accuracy and consistency in your precision ag data Prime Meridian offers reporting compliance through its multi-year Prime Packages program.  For a program that costs $2 to $6 per acre annually it literally pays participating growers back in spades – in good years – or bad.

Crop Sensing About to go Viral, GreenSeeker Handheld Only $495

Set your phasers to stun!

Producers, crop consultants and fertilizer dealers get ready — Trimble’s Ag division just launched a new product that would make Captain Kirk proud.  If nothing else it opens a whole new precision ag technology for mainstream agriculture.

What is it?

It’s a new handheld “GreenSeeker” crop sensor – it quickly and easily measures the health of your crop and provides instant feedback with a click of a button.  GreenSeeker technology is nothing new in the industry but its benefits were not widely known outside the “academic” and “agronomy” circles. Part of the reason for this was cost – it was expensive – costing nearly $5,000 just for a portable unit and nearly $25,000 for an “on-the-go” sprayer unit.

At its $495 price tag it is sure to change the marketplace and the minds of producers when it comes to this technology. Quite simply, this now should be a throw in the pickup seat agronomic tool that every farmer and every crop scout should have. If you have a moisture tester to test grain samples at harvest then why shouldn’t you have a crop sensor to determine the nutrient needs of your crops when they are still growing?

Think of it sort of like an oversized glucose meter for your nitrogen dependent crops like wheat and corn. Trying to determine the “N” needs of a crop is a fast-moving target. The success rate of nailing the N rate ahead of time is somewhere between the odds of winning the PowerBall lottery and pinning the tail on the donkey blindfolded. Not good.

With thousands and thousands more acres of wheat to be planted this fall following another short corn crop the need for N management will be critical. We already saw what excess N left over from a poor corn crop did to wheat last year. Farmers following their gut with normal top dress practices found come harvest they were picking up downed wheat with their combines at a breakneck speed of 1 to 2 mph. Bottom line – lost bushels and thousands of dollars of wasted fertilizer. Makes a $495 handheld look pretty cheap!

For more information about the new GreenSeeker handheld from Trimble contact Steve Cubbage or Justin Ogle at Prime Meridian to learn more or order yours today.

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.”

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:

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.