Tag Archives: Precision Farm Data

FBN Takes Data in a Different Direction

“Think different.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mavrx – Crop Imagery Meets Crop Scouting

Crop Imagery Meets Crop ScoutingIn the world of precision agriculture, it seems that the number of crop imagery companies is multiplying faster than rabbits at the local county fair.

There is one company, however, that is looking to be different by putting a high-tech twist on crop imagery by mixing it with crop scouting. The name of this company is called Mavrx and it is taking its hybrid concept to the air in full force for the 2015 growing season.

Using in-season images to aid the actual boots on the ground task of crop scouting is nothing new. However, the way Mavrx does it – and the product that it delivers — is what sets it apart in this increasingly crowded field.

The secret sauce of Mavrx is that it takes the images and identifies the hotspots and trouble spots within a field before they are delivered to you. Mavrx automatically tells you where and how important these areas are before you get there. You know exactly how many acres the problems may be, plus the severity of the problem and the calculated economic impact to date. Think of it as your own John Madden chalkboard for crop scouting.Mavrx Screenshot

Crop scouting has traditionally been a very labor intensive task requiring not only long days but also a high-level skill set. The problem is that no matter how long the days are, there just aren’t enough hours to cover more acres and be effective.  Plus, in the past most of the scout’s time was spent in the field looking for problems instead of solving them.  You might have been within 50 feet of a growing aphid infestation, and you would miss the whole thing. These issues are going to be a bigger problem as farms and fields grow in size, while the number of veteran agronomists is not keeping pace.

Mavrx seeks to leverage such agronomy expertise by providing a product that allows agronomists and producers to monitor more acres more effectively.  This is accomplished by streamlining and refining the delivery of the product to the end-user.  Mavrx knew the first issue with past imagery products is that by the time the picture of the field had been taken and delivered, the value of the image had already become stale.  Mavrx seeks to deliver a fully processed product with 24 to 48 hours. You are personally notified by email and text when a new image is ready for you in your personal cloud account on the Mavrx web-based dashboard. Think of it as Instagram for your farm’s fields.

Mavrx’s intent is to make their online dashboard your in season flight control center where you can view changes within a field during the season. You can also integrate Mavrx imagery with other key GIS data to help provide underlying clues as to what is causing certain issues within a field, such as data to help identify troublesome wet spots and historical yield maps to see if such problems have appeared in the field before in similar locations. As a bonus to users, Mavrx is providing multiple years’ worth of field imagery from LandSat satellite imagery library to establish historical markers when evaluating current high-resolution imagery.

Mavrx on Desktop, Tablet and MobileThe functionality of the Mavrx imagery doesn’t stop at scouting. That is only one of the many possible uses for the imagery. When delivered to a user’s dashboard account, the imagery is already geo-referenced and in the correct file format (such as a GeoTiff) so that it can be easily exported to other popular GIS programs (like SST, SMS and MapShots) to create in-season prescriptions for nitrogen, or even targeted pest management.

One of the final feathers in Mavrx’s cap is the diversity of the imagery that you get from a flight. Currently, most of the imagery is flown by manned aircraft, with many of them equipped to capture regular, NDVI and also thermo images simultaneously.  Unlike many other providers who only provide one image type, with Mavrx you literally get three for the price of one. That’s a big deal: each image type has certain advantages. Veteran agronomists say that NDVI is better at telling them whether plants are hungry and need nutrients like nitrogen, while thermo does a better job of detecting whether plants are sick. Many times a thermo image can detect stress days before a regular or NDVI image.

By delivering imagery with a purpose Mavrx has set itself apart in this crowded field. Agronomists and producers who want to learn how Mavrx can help improve their field scouting and in-season crop management contact William Underwood at Prime Meridian at 660-492-5626 or via email: william.underwood@primemeridiandata.com. For more details on Mavrx check them out on the web at: www.mavrx.co.

Farmobile: Making Precision Just Happen

Successfully getting data from the field, out of the monitor and onto the computer has had a less than stellar track record.

Making Precision Just HappenUp until now most precision data has seemingly suffered the same fate as all those socks that get lost in the dryer.  Over the years millions and millions of acres of incredibly valuable yield monitor data never made it that short distance from the machine shed to the farm office. And the problem has grown exponentially as more and more field operations began to be recorded. Most of that data didn’t make it either.

You would have thought that there were mountains as tall as Mount Everest or rivers as wide as the Amazon in that short but “long” journey.  For whatever reason, important digital data is not making the successful trek to the place it can actually have some value and do some good.

Thankfully there is hope on the horizon.  One company called Farmoblie is seeking to drastically change how all this data from combines, sprayers and tractors gets from point A to point B. Not only is Farmobile seeking to change the way that data is transferred but they are intent on altering the way it is visualized, utilized and ultimately who’s in charge of the data at the end of the day.

Farmobile solves the original problem of transferring data by making it just happen – wirelessly. Although wireless data transfer is no longer new, what makes Farmobile different is the fact that the company’s wireless solution is practically colorblind when it comes to what it can connect to. Companies like Raven, Ag Leader, Trimble and now even John Deere all have brand centric solutions that only play nice with their hardware.

Farmobile Device

Farmobile Device

The way Farmobile works to gather and display data is what sets it apart from the competing pack of wireless solutions that have appeared so far. Instead of just transferring a single file of yield data from the combine monitor at the end of the day, Farmobile’s device plugs into a machine’s information nerve center called the CAN (short for Controller Area Network). By plugging directly into the CAN, Farmobile can record and decipher any information from any sensor on the machine itself.  That means access to much more data regarding what’s going on in the field. Plus, it can be viewed anywhere in the world in real-time on your mobile device.

So now instead of just recording and transferring a layer of yield data, the Farmobile user can see all the performance points of the machine while it is still in the field.  You will see things like yield and moisture, but in addition you will now see ground speed, engine rpm and other critical information. With such features Farmobile has become more than just a way to transfer data. It has become a logistics command center for your operation, tracking vehicles and employee efficiency.

Farmobile also addresses head-on one of big questions on the minds of many producers these days – where does all this data go and who’s in charge of it? That’s an area where Farmobile is getting two thumbs up from producers and the agriculture community.  All the data streaming from the field goes directly into your secure cloud account to do what you want to with it. Farmobile calls it your Electronic Farm Record (EFR) Vault and the data is yours and only yours to direct and dissect as you choose.

The current capabilities of the Farmobile device are likely only the tip of the iceberg.  Coming soon will be the ability to push and pull critical files to and from the cab of the Farmobile equipped machine. This means that the device can literally act as a wireless USB storage device and things like variable-rate prescription files can simply be delivered with a tap on the app.

Will Farmobile be the Apple iPhone of the precision ag world? That’s a tall order but it certainly has a robust feature set that makes it worth taking a look even today. Technology aside, Farmobile seeks to be the solution to centralize the “grower’s” data from multiple sources in one place. If it can do that plus solve the age old precision problem of getting yield data out of the combine and onto your computer – then we finally have our precision game changer we’ve anxiously been waiting for.

To find out more about Farmobile or even request a free on-farm trial, contact Steve Cubbage at Prime Meridian at 417-667-4471 or via email: steve@primemeridiandata.com.  Also visit Farmobile’s website for technical details and current pricing – www.farmobile.com.

Whose Data? Growers Are Asking the Wrong Question

As Big Data has become a “big deal” in precision agriculture there are still some big questions to be answered.

The number one question that keeps making headlines in the ag press and even in mainstream publications like the Wall Street Journal is – “Who owns the data?”  Those in the industry who deal with growers on a day-to-day basis have their talking points down to a tee.  “It’s the grower’s data” is the politically correct, knee-jerk response from those who want continued access to your data. The reality of this situation is that even if growers truly “own” their data the question may be a mute point.  Why?  Because how can you truly own something if you don’t even know where it is?  And even if you do know where your precision data is – do you really know how to retrieve it?

datastoragepadlockA deer in the headlights look is the expression I typically get from growers when I ask them these questions directly.  At first their response is that they know exactly where their farm’s fertility data is – it’s down at the coop.   Planting and harvest data?  Well that’s easy – its on my seed dealer’s computer and I’ve got these cool paper maps to prove it!

The bottom line is that most growers do not have in their possession the original data necessary in order to build a successful long-term precision program.  The unfortunate reality is volumes of original data has either been lost in the shuffle of compact flash cards, hard drives that have given up the ghost or USB sticks that get a joyride in the family washing machine.  Then if this data does survive such aforementioned perils many times it is given away in exchange for those colorful paper maps or even worse just a bill in the mail.

Today, it may be necessary to process raw precision data multiple times for key people who serve your farm ranging from your fertilizer dealer to your seed dealer to your crop insurance agent and maybe even your banker – and the list goes on.  Growers must realize that the processing of data is no longer a one and done proposition.

It is important that growers start asking the RIGHT questions, DEMANDING answers and EXPECTING results.  If you do not have direct and easy access to the original precision data from the activities that take place in your fields then frankly you don’t have much.  Before you give away the electronic history of your farm – you need to put it in your own precision safe deposit box. Plus, if you’ve paid for precision services like soil sampling, variable-rate application and even scouting then you need to make sure you get an original “electronic” copy of this data.

So what does this precision “safe deposit box” look like?  The answer is in the clouds – well your “personal” cloud to be more specific.  Putting the grower back in control of his data is why we at Prime Meridian are rolling out this summer an independent, grower-controlled cloud-based service called MyAgCentral.  Its a central data repository and personal “precision safe deposit box” that allows grower’s to store and safely share their “original” with the members of their precision ag team.

If possession is truly 9/10ths of the law then truly independent “cloud” services like MyAgCentral are one of the few ways to realistically put growers back in the driver’s seat when it comes to controlling “their” data.  Do you know where your data is?  That’s the question you should be asking.

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.

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.”

It’s All About Data

Which is more valuable data or dirt? When the mainstream financial press starts running stories about modern farming that includes references of “server farms” and “harvesting data” you know the times they are a changin’.

Recently, an article in the Investor’s Business Daily gave the rest of world outside agriculture a glimpse of how important “harvesting data” has become to some of the big name players in the agricultural industry.

The story is a validation of Prime Meridian’s mission – that it truly is all about DATA.  And we believe the value of that data belongs to those that till the land, plant the seeds and harvests the crops that feed the world.  It’s your data but the eyes of Wall Street and the titans of agriculture have their eye on it as well. Will the producer reap the bounty of his labor from this virtual crop he has harvested?  Only time will tell.

Read the full article: “Today’s Farmers Do Heavy Plowing…Of Data” by Jason Ma of Investor’s Business Daily.