Tag Archives: Precision Agriculture

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.

Precision Agriculture doesn’t have to be Puzzling

What is the most important piece of a puzzle?  Is it the corner piece?  Is it the centerpiece?

The answer?  It is none of these.  The most important piece of the puzzle is actually the picture on the front of the box.  It shows what the completed puzzle looks like.

This “big picture” view is exactly what is missing from most growers precision farming programs.  Everyone has handed them “pieces”.  The iron dealer has sold them a few of the hardware pieces.  The fertilizer supplier chips in with some of the fertility pieces.  The seed dealer contributed the agronomic elements.  And ultimately the grower added a few of his own.

What is wrong with the current picture of precision agriculture is most of the players in the precision arena are not really selling precision first. Instead they are using the facade of precision to sell tractors, fertilizer and seeds.  The end result is an aimless, scattered and disjointed precision program that leaves the grower frustrated, rudderless and frankly more confused than when he started his so-called precision journey.

One of the main reasons Prime Meridian exists is we believe there is a place in this “New World of Agriculture” for a new player — the independent precision advisor.  The primary role that this precision service provider fulfills is to serve as a guide to all players to help the grower bring the big picture of precision agriculture into focus.

At Prime Meridian we utilize a method called “precision profiling” to discover what pieces a grower may already have but more importantly find out the pieces he or she is missing and we are looking for pieces that simply do not belong.  Last but not least, we have the grower paint in their mind what the big picture of precision agriculture should look like on their farm in the future.

At the end of the day, this “Precision Profile” becomes an individual grower’s “big picture”.  It is the picture on the front of the puzzle box.  With it growers can discover how to use their current precision resources more effectively, what types of hardware they should be buying and when and what to do with the data they are collecting and pointing out the data that they desperately need to collect.  Most importantly, at the completion of a “Precision Profile” they have a multiple-year plan that uses precision to achieve positive agronomic and economic goals for their operation.

Until that precision picture is painted the grower will only be left with meaningless puzzle pieces that could have been so much more in this New World called precision agriculture.

Lining Up Your Precision Ag Data – Square Peg? Square Hole.

Remember that preschool exercise of putting the square pegs in the square hole?

Interestingly enough the same rules apply when it comes to precision agriculture data management – the square pegs have to fit the square hole.

The square hole in the case of precision agriculture is simply a field’s GPS boundary.  The digitized boundary is unique and so are the latitude and longitude coordinates that go with it.  No other location on planet Earth shares those same coordinates – in other words each field is unique.

Because of such uniqueness – every geo-referenced byte of data that belongs to a field fits perfectly within a field’s GPS boundary.  In layman’s terms that means every combine yield map, planter variety map and every GPS grid soil sample point that belongs to that field will fit seamlessly within that digitized field boundary.  Think of it like Legos that stack perfectly on top of each other.

As more and more GPS data is collected from field operations and other sources it is vital that producers have a master set of field boundaries that can be used to “sort through the laundry” of data.   When a producer asks where he should start when it comes to precision agriculture the answer is simple – start with the field boundary.  The field boundary is the foundation – the square hole – of everything to follow.

With today’s sophisticated mapping programs like the one’s Prime Meridian uses – all data from almost any sources can be sorted by a field boundary.  But be careful – not all GPS field boundaries are created equal.  Some can be created literally without even going to the field by just clicking a computer mouse around an aerial image of your field – just like how it is done down at the local USDA office.  Better than nothing but certainly not the best square hole when it comes to digital field boundaries.  The best field boundaries are still obtained by being onsite and physically running the boundary with a GPS device.

Because of its importance – Prime Meridian offers a specific field boundary service called Precision Boundary to make sure field boundaries are accurate, up-to-date and named properly to make sure that all the square pegs to come has a perfect square hole to call home.

USDA Report on Precision Ag – The Devil is in the Details

This past summer the USDA’s Economic Research Service released a report on the current state of precision agriculture in the United States written by David Schimmelpfenning and Robert Ebel.

At first glance it would suggest this is a segment of agriculture that is going Mach 2 with its hair on fire.  Yield monitoring is used on over 40 percent of all combine harvesters in the U.S. and both manual and automated GPS guidance continues to grow at exponential rates.

It’s there where the warm, fuzzy part of the report ends and the real story begins.  The authors of the report note that while yield monitor use has seen steady growth  – actual GPS yield mapping has not.  Another precision horse that is lagging is the adoption – or maybe more precisely – the implementation of variable-rate technologies.

None of us who have been around the precision ag industry this past decade are shocked by this lack of “progress”.   Precision agriculture is still finding its way.  It is still searching for its true identity.  Yield monitors took hold because they are like the “I Love Lucy Show” – they’re good entertainment in the cab.  GPS guidance took off because for lack of a better reason – it was simple and growers didn’t want their neighbors to have straighter rows than they did.

Frankly, the industry as done a poor job of preparing and training those who use and can benefit the most from precision agriculture technology.  It is like we sat them in a cockpit of a 747 and asked them to fly from New York to Paris without any flight lessons or manual.

From day one the industry also sold producers on the premise that precision ag was easy and they could do everything themselves – sort of like brewing your own beer in your basement.  Precision ag data management is hard and is getting harder.  Growers don’t know where to turn or what comes next.  We’ve handed them a 1,000 piece puzzle and forgot to give them the picture on the front of the box.  The reality of the situation is that there are real benefits to be had but we cannot expect producers to complete this journey alone and without some sense of direction.