TECHNOLOGY

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Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:18 by Guest Author

By Jennifer Shike

The National Pork Board and Ripe Technology, Inc. have entered an agreement to pilot blockchain technology use in the U.S. pork industry.  

Through this partnership, ripe.io will enable an ecosystem that will allow pork producers to monitor, evaluate and continuously improve their sustainability practices based on the We CareSM framework – six defined ethical principles guiding the U.S. pork industry. Launched in 2008, these principles provide industry standards in food safety and public health, animal well-being, protecting the environment, and improving the quality of life for the industry’s people and communities. The standards also serve as the pork industry’s commitment to continuous improvement.

“The growing demand across the entire food supply chain – including end consumers – is to ‘Know Your Food.’ The ripe.io platform generates powerful levels of transparency and trust by enabling collaboration and consensus of data and activities within food systems,” said Raja Ramachandran, co-founder of ripe.io. “Through blockchain, customers like the National Pork Board can enable its organization and members to create shared, immutable trusted records that address critical food issues such as sustainability, quality, traceability, waste and fraud.”

Working with ripe.io, the National Pork Board will demonstrate to its producers the value of having a responsible supply chain by consolidating sustainability data and activities gathered on the ripe.io platform. This platform will highlight how pork producers create a sustainable pork production environment. In addition, through a distributed permissioned ledger, this program data can be visible to partners in the ecosystem to ensure valid certifications. The data remains anonymous in order to create a benchmark indicator for each ethical principle.

“Over the last 50 years, America’s pig farmers have followed the We Care principles to produce a product that has become increasingly sustainable using 75% less land, 25% less water, and 7% less energy,” said Dr. Brett Kaysen, assistant vice president of sustainability at the National Pork Board. “We look forward to working with ripe.io to use blockchain technology to record proof points through a system that can benchmark performance while increasing transparency of the entire pork value chain.”

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Tue, 03/19/2019 - 10:46 by Sonja Begemann

On the right-hand window of his tractor, Matt Foes scribbles notes to pass the hours he spends in the seat. His goal? Brainstorm ways to improve next season.

In 2018, Foes moved back to the family farm after years of working in research for seed and equipment companies. In the years before his return, he decided he would do whatever it took to make sure his operation was as efficient and profitable as possible.

“I always assume I don’t know the best way to do something, so I learn from other people,” Foes says. “My dream is to figure out how to do things better than I have in the past.”

Ever the tinkerer, the Bureau County, Ill., farmer isn’t going to settle for status quo and run with it. Instead, the former scientist experiments on his own operation and asks questions to find new and better ways to run his farm.

“I farm by the rule of 5s,” Foes says. “I want to be 5% better at growing, 5% less expensive and 5% better at marketing each year.”

Crop production is more than picking the best hybrids and varieties for each farm; it’s making sure they’re fed all season, Foes says. Rethinking his strategy for fertilizer application and management has made a huge difference in his yields.
In 2018, Foes harvested 300 bu. per acre corn on 1.5% organic matter soils and boosted his kernel girth, on average, from 16 rows around to 18 rows.

“We might be applying the same rates we’ve always done, but we need to be cognizant that we’re raising much higher corn and soybean yields than we did five to 10 years ago,” Foes says. “As production goes up we are increasing grain removal from the field, and we need to account for that.”

In addition, he says a lot of farmers are placing the three essential nutrients for corn, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), in the wrong spots.

“Consider the form of fertilizer you’re putting on, its mobility and where you place it,” Foes says. “P and K don’t move, but N does.”

For years his family put dry P and K on the surface and buried N 7" to 8" in the soil before planting corn. By the time the seed hits the soil, none of those nutrients are in the optimal position for plant uptake.

“We’re backward with fertilizer placement—we put the immobile stuff on top and the mobile stuff too deep,” he explains.

Now Foes puts nutrients where they need to be to end up in the root zone at planting. After that, he spoon-feeds corn nutrients at critical stages during the growing season.

Spoon-feeding N is more efficient. Instead of applying more than 1 lb. of N per anticipated bushel, he only applies 0.8 lb. to 0.85 lb. Approximately 25% of his overall N needs are applied as the seed hits the soil with the planter; the remaining three-quarters is fed throughout the season.

When it comes to P and K, Foes applies according to the crop removal rate for the upcoming season. This ensures he’s keeping the crop fed based on current goals and not on his historical yields.

Cutting costs isn’t easy, but Foes found decreasing his machinery lineup goes a long way. The first change he made was switching to strip-till across his 2,300 acres.

“I thought about all the passes we were making—chisel plowing or ripping, running a finisher and paying someone to apply fertilizer—prior to adopting strip-till. When you add up those passes and the equipment it takes, it’s quite an investment,” Foes says. “In addition, I was going to need to replace the chisel plow, cultivator and tractor, so instead I just bought a used strip-till bar.

“It [strip-till] combines a lot of tillage and application into one pass. I can do it all with fewer man-hours and the same tractor,” he adds.

After drastically reducing his tillage and planting costs, Foes took a fine-toothed comb to the rest of his operation to evaluate efficiency.

“We had a self-propelled sprayer for about eight years and having control over what and when you spray is critical to agronomic success,” he says. “But I decided it doesn’t take a $200,000 self-propelled sprayer to be successful.”

Even if the sprayer is paid off he found it loses $20,000 to $25,000 in annual depreciation, and costs about $5,000 each year in maintenance. In addition, it’s only used a few weeks out of the year and sits useless the remainder of the time.

“I had a tractor that was under-utilized in the spring and summer, so I sold the self-propelled sprayer and moved to that tractor with a pull-behind sprayer,” Foes says. “I took the capital investment and spread it over more of the season, and I didn’t lose spraying capacity—it just costs a lot less money.”

Marketing is one of the biggest challenges and most intimidating tasks farmers face. Foes has a degree in organic chemistry and a master’s in agronomy—so he’s no expert in the marketing field, but he’s found what works for his farm.

“Part of it is knowing exactly how much it costs to produce a bushel of grain on your farm,” he says. “I know how many dollars I need to have by the end of the year, how much for rent, seed and inputs specifically. I can set my targets better than just saying I’ll sell for the biggest number possible.”

By the end of planting season, Foes has sold 30% to 40% of his crop. He hearkens back to 2012—his worst production year on record—and knows he’s safe hedging to that level early in the season.

“As the summer goes on and I have a better idea of yields I scale up my selling,” he adds. “I also use storage to capture carry in the market.”

With on-farm storage, he can hold onto about 80% of his corn crop and basically 100% of his soybeans until the market provides an opportunity for profit.

“We’re going to deal with prices that have a 3 in front of them for a while,” he says. His strategic plans are putting him in a better profitability and sustainability position for years of high-$3 corn prices. “What I learned in $6 corn can help keep us profitable in sub-$4 corn.” 

Assess How You Can Benefit From Technology

One of the biggest influences in Illinois farmer Matt Foes’ agronomic decisions is technology. He uses it to manage his crop in-season and to help track fertilizer and chemical applications.

“Technology has always been something I’ve tried to adopt when it has good ROI,” Foes says. “Knowing when and where rain falls and having the ‘right’ control systems on the planter are things I’ve adopted. But, if the technology doesn’t pay off at the end of the season I give it up.”

Face it, each farmer is at a different level of technology adoption. While you might have the latest planting equipment and notifications on your phone every time it rains on a field, another farmer might just be adding yield-sensing technology to his or her combine.

Take the time to evaluate where you are in terms of technology adoption and what components could potentially improve your bottom line.

“Do a self-evaluation,” says Chad Colby, owner of Colby Ag Tech. “There are a lot of ways you can use technology to make your farm more efficient.”

He offers the following tips to evaluate how technology can improve your operation:

  • Build a plan one, two and three years out.
  • Invest in items with ROI—if you can’t see the immediate return don’t buy it.
  • Identify where you can invest that gives real-time solutions.
  • Calculate your results to see if a technology or practice is actually paying off.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail.

 

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Tue, 03/19/2019 - 10:36 by Rhonda Brooks

A lot of the fields Brad Beutke farms look flat and black from the road. But as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving.

“There’s a lot of variability out here that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in central Illinois,” says Beutke, who grows 2,600 acres of corn and soybeans near Clinton with his business partner, Rod Wilson.

Variability in soil types, water-holding capacity and field topography are just a few of the reasons the two farmers rely on information they glean from management zones to help them improve their agronomic practices.

“We started out using management zones to variable-rate lime and dry fertilizer,” Beutke says. “Every year we’re finding new uses for them.”

The zones have helped the partners fine-tune nutrient use, fertilizer application timing, hybrid and variety selection and seeding rates. Beutke adds that being able to variable-rate plant corn by management zone has delivered a 15% reduction in annual seed corn costs.

“We used to plant 36,000 seeds on everything, but now we’re doing that only on the most productive zones,” he says. “We’re down to as low as 28,000 in some areas. In a dry year in those areas we’re helping ourselves, because we’re not trying to feed and water as many plants,” he adds.

Beutke and Wilson work with zones that are as small as an acre and a half, and none is larger than 7 acres. Drilling down to identify variable ground within fields allows them to tailor their management practices to very focused areas, something that predetermined grids don’t allow.

“With this type of management system, we can address the weakest link in each zone,” Isaac Ferrie, field agronomist for Crop-Tech Consulting, Heyworth, Ill., told farmers attending the Farm Journal AgTech Expo last winter.

Ferrie says most farmers get “fired up” about management zones, once they find out how much they can help them improve their fields and crops. But the challenge, he adds, is that zones require a lot of work on the front end to be effective.

“The biggest thing is gathering data--correct data--and using calibrated yield maps and weighing treatments to verify the accuracy of your yield monitor results,” he says.

Soil types, topography, yield and crop history, your recollections of crop performance in wet versus dry years are examples of the kinds of information you need to gather by field to build the zones.

You also need some comfort level with technology. You can start the initial development process by drawing the management zones on paper yield maps with a magic marker. You’ll then need to use a GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping software program to create the zones for variable-rate prescriptions.

If you’re not handy with technology, get help from an independent consulting agronomist to establish the zones. If you can’t identify one, check with local retailers and company sales reps. Some seed companies are beginning to make planting recommendations based on management zones.

Ferrie cautions that with management zones, you don’t wipe the board clean every year. Instead, you can slightly adjust and update your zones each year as more agronomic information is gathered. “This gives us repeatability so we can see how our management practices are working from year to year, especially with different weather conditions,” he says.

Along with that, keep in mind that management zones between various field applications need to match. “The ones I use on seeding population are the same zones as the ones I use for nitrogen,” Ferrie explains.

Once the zones are developed, pick one thing, nitrogen application, seeding rates, etc. that you want to start evaluating. You can start experimenting with how management changes affect yield in your different zones.

Beutke spends one full day each winter evaluating his variable-rate maps and updating his farm’s management zones. “If we see an area that needs more nitrogen, for instance, we then make that adjustment the following season,” he says.

Ferrie adds, “The whole point of zone management is to identify the limiting factors in each zone and to then change our practices so we can economically maximize yields within each one.”

 

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Tue, 03/12/2019 - 14:30 by Ashley Davenport

On the AgPro Podcast with Ashley Davenport, voices from the industry asked, “What is your perspective on connecting agronomic decisions with technology using precision ag?”

To listen to the podcast, click here.


Mark Bauer
Great Bend, Kan.


Precision Ag Specialist, Great Bend Co-op

A: It’s been a learning experience for some of our guys because they haven’t been around any precision tools. We’re realizing some of the things we can do with technology. Pushing growers to do more on-farm trials has been a big thing for me personally. I’m trying to break that mold of doing what we’ve always done and getting some trials out, letting guys see whether it’s a technology-type of too or a product, trying something on the farm and doing a side-by-side comparison and seeing how that can affect their bottom line. Maybe that’s something to integrate on the farm.

 

The AgPro Radio Podcast features insights and perspectives vital to AgPro readers and is hosted by Ashley Davenport. Episodes are available on the new AgriTalk Radio app every Wednesday and wherever you find podcasts. Have an idea for the podcast? Tweet her at @AshD926or send an email to adavenport@farmjournal.com.

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Tue, 03/12/2019 - 14:11 by Chris Bennett

The mavericks of DIY innovation are blazing a trail through the heart of agriculture. Yesterday’s technological hopes are today’s reality on many operations, evidenced by a growing number of farmers involved in automation and open sourcing. If the maxim of “money talks and theory walks” holds true as a measuring stick, then the increase of farmers transferring workbench prototypes to field activity is a plain indicator of success.

Geography once ensured the isolation of DIY innovation, as each farmer tinkered on his own island, but the physical barrier of distance has been spanned by the wireless wonder of a cellular signal. With smartphones in pockets and tablets in cabs, farm inventors from Mississippi to Manitoba are thriving.

Brian Tischler

“Some guys will continue to pay $500,000-plus for a new tractor and all the extras, and others will buy an older model and dress up it with open source and DIY,” Brian Tischler says. “That’s farming.”

Located roughly two hours east of Edmonton, Alberta, Tischler is driven by the possibilities of open source technology, and far removed from the comforts of armchair innovation. Growing field peas, fava beans, wheat, canola, barley, oats, flax, and sunflowers on 2,500 acres outside the tiny town of Mannville, Tischler is boosting open source access with AgOPenGPS—a free software program aimed at precision mapping and tractor automation which has gained global traction.  

Brian Tischler

The potential for DIY-related savings and efficiency is exploding, partially due to a radical decrease in hardware costs, says producer Brian Tischler, designer of AgOPenGPS. (Photo credit: Brian Tischler)

 

Tischler began the project in 2016, initially creating a basic application on a Windows tablet that took GPS data and drew a continuous line showing where he had seeded last. “Agriculture is so proprietary and locked down solid. I thought it was time to go open source.”

He placed the entire project on GitHub for free download, and posted it on The Combine Forum. “I said, ‘Here is a link and it does mapping.’” In short time, Tischler added section control and autonomous tractor control to the program. “There are lots of commercial systems that do all of this, but they are expensive. This one is free.”

Tischler doesn’t shy from blunt assessment or criticism: “I want to give back to agriculture because I’ve been very fortunate in so many ways, but I don’t think the future of farming technology is based on open source; it only has a role. Manufacturers continue to make software that runs with ease—the push of a button that does 800 things in the background. Everyone in ag has to make money.”

The potential for DIY-related savings and efficiency is exploding, partially due to a radical decrease in hardware costs, Tischler explains. The pièce de résistance that has fueled tremendous innovation, and is almost ubiquitous among DIY farming advocates, is the Arduino, a simple, open-source microcontroller originally designed in Italy for high school learning. Essentially, an Arduino is a highly durable microcontroller on a board enabling basic understanding of how a computer works. “They took a $3 computer and built software. Now the silly little thing is used on an inestimable amount of projects around the world, including farming.”

Tischler used an Arduino to connect with a driver which powers a tilt meter and an electric motor turning his John Deere 4560’s steering wheel. “It’s $3 for an Arduino, $3 for a tilt meter, and $25 for the motor driver. You now have autosteer. People are absolutely getting bolder with DIY projects by the month. DIY guys have never had this many affordable parts and pieces available, and it’s happening everywhere.”

Kyler Laird

Agriculture is at technological tipping point, according to Kyler Laird, an Indiana farmer growing 1,700 acres (Lairdscape) of no till corn and soybeans in Jasper County, halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis. At the vanguard of ag automation, Laird has developed a series of DIY robots, starting with a John Deere 420 lawn tractor and continuing up the driverless ladder—Massey Ferguson 2745, Challenger MT765, and John Deere 6330. In 2017, Laird planted his corn fields (535 acres) with a driverless tractor. In 2019, under the banner of his fledgling company, Sabanto, and alongside business partner Craig Rupp, co-founder of 640 Labs, Laird aims to plant 10,000 acres of soybeans from Texas to Canada in a planting demonstration of equipment utilization and robot efficiency.

See here for a collection of Laird’s tractobot videos.

Laird’s “tipping point” analogy rests heavily on the marked decrease in hardware prices over the past decade. “I see more and more DIY. We’ve got access to cheap RTK and GPS, and that hasn’t been the case before, and now it’s a big difference. Anybody can buy a Raspberry Pi for $30 and put together a system. The tech has been there for 30 years, but now it’s off-the-shelf easy items. Almost anyone with a technical bent can do it or quickly learn how to do it.”

Kyler Laird

“One guy has to make a guide sheet and explain what hardware is needed, where to get it, what software to download, how to build it, and go. Once one person does it, it’s over,” says Kyler Laird. (Photo credit: Anne Bartlett Photography)

 

Laird is frequently contacted by producers trying to save costs and steer away from subscriptions. “Often, guys don’t want to spend $4,000 on a guidance system and they’re frustrated by the expense of subscriptions. They want something that’s cheap, but works and is functional. Like never before, that is now possible. Then there are guys who aren’t necessarily as concerned about price, but really want more control, and that’s exactly how I personally got involved with automation: I wanted control.”

The open source collaboration of farm technology is set to jump, Laird contends. “You’re going to see more projects like AgOpenGPS. Someone is going to come in and start banging out better hardware for these type of projects, and it’s going to make things very accessible for a lot of people.”

Laird cites the success of Purdue University’s open source ISOBlue, comparing its functionality at a level similar to FieldView. A significant open source issue is hardware access and setup, he explains: “One guy has to make a guide sheet and explain what hardware is needed, where to get it, what software to download, how to build it, and go. Once one person does it, it’s over. For some people, there’s no reason to buy systems of any kind when they can build for much less.”

Matt Reimer

What did it take to make a driverless tractor in 2015? A batch of free software, some drone parts, a tablet, and one curious farmer to cobble the bits together. Matt Reimer, 31, built automated controls for his John Deere 7930 and uses the driverless vehicle to haul a grain cart during harvest.

“I still think grain harvest is one of easiest areas of ag to automate. I’ve seen where one tractor operates behind another, with the lead tractor having a driver, while the second tractor is automated. That makes sense to me for the future. I don’t see dropping a machine in the field and letting it go entirely solo, but I see automation always needing a person in a lead vehicle to solve problems.”

Matt Reimer

“We’re at one of those times where tech reaches a point and people figure out how to combine things from multiple sources,” explains Matt Reimer. (Photo credit: Matt Reimer)

 

A pioneer in automated tractor technology, Reimer, 31, farms in Killarney, Manitoba, and makes heavy use of Arduinos, monitoring tank fluid levels, controlling water pressure, and operating pumps. In addition, Reimer installs sensors and writes the instructions in code to turn on warning lights, and send texts or emails.

“I’ve sometimes felt I’ve worked in a vacuum, but it is always surprising when you find out somebody is working on something similar and you can see how your efforts have helped. We’re at one of those times where tech reaches a point and people figure out how to combine things from multiple sources.”

Currently in the market for a new tractor, internal cab component costs are a heavy source of frustration for Reimer: “It’s $20,000 or more to set up autosteer and a lot of the time it’s just a software unlock code to make the tractor work with other current equipment or your desired level of GPS activity. It’s mind boggling to pay for hardware and then have to pay for an unlock code.”

Steering and implement control via monitor is an area ripe for upset in the ag market, Reimer asserts. “Monitors might cost $7,000 or more, but do nothing more than an iPad. Someone is going to figure out how to stick an iPad in a tractor, open a single app, and let it do everything. In turn, that opens the door to developers all over the place instead of specific dedicated hardware. In the near-term, instead of dedicated monitors, we’re going to have iPads for a tenth of the cost and still be connected to the net.”

Perry Casson

Perry Casson, 54, part of an emerging group of growers versed in farming and computer technology, grows small grains—barley, canola and wheat—near the town of Medstead in west-central Saskatchewan.

In 2015, he owned a three-combine fleet, but lacked a single working yield monitor. The gap drove him to build an affordable monitor that uses a display most farmers already own, a smartphone. Casson’s DIY prototype resulted in a commercialized product which debuted in 2018—FarmTRX, an easy-on-the-wallet yield monitor system costing under $2,000.

“This started when I had a measurement problem on my farm and I had the tools to fix it. My tool kit is a bit different than what many consider typical for a farmer in terms of things like hardware design and software development, but the tools to build these kinds of things just get more accessible all the time. A younger, more tech-savvy breed of farmer makes me pretty confident this is just beginning.”

Recently, Casson wanted a test platform for a new RTK GPS receiver he and his team are working on, so in 2018, he began crafting a self-driving mower to cut his airstrip using drone technology and open source software packages. “It’s almost an assembly process and not an engineering job. So much has already been figured out for you.”

Casson is planning to test the mower in spring 2019. “Guys have already done this; I’m just following in their footsteps to build one for myself and wanted a useful device that allowed us to test some things.  It’s so cool because technology like this is already good enough to build useful machines for the farm and it’s only going to get better.”

Jared Schott

Driving an Allis-Chalmers D17 across his South Dakota farm lot in mid-January, exposed to a heavy wind and snow, agriculture’s version of MacGyver isn’t averse to old equipment; he thrives on it. Jared Schott, 50, grows 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans, sunflowers and wheat (in addition to Limousin cattle and commercial Angus) on land just west of the Missouri River and north of the Grand River at the north-central tip of South Dakota. Equal parts farmer, rancher and tech cowboy, Schott is hard-wired to improve the mechanical components of his operation, and he’s done so with a never-ending DIY stream.

Jared Schott

South Dakota producer, far left, is hard-wired to improve the mechanical components of his operation, and he’s done so with a never-ending DIY stream. (Photo credit: Jared Schott)

 

Whether spending $20 on old backup cameras and monitors to create an equipment surveillance system to monitor booms, hoppers or belts; building an automatic gate entry for pasture access with parts from a remote control vehicle and lawnmower axles; or creating an online database (shopdrusa.com) with a $15 barcode scanner to search his inventory with a smartphone; Schott is equally comfortable behind a keyboard, in a cockpit, on a tractor, or in the saddle.

Schott graduated from college in the middle of a tough farm economy in 1991, and walked into the tech world, unaware his farming absence was merely an interval. He worked for several digital companies, moonlighting as a mechanic in a Harley Davidson store (and getting paid in motorcycle parts). Kodak caught wind of Schott’s ability and sent him to Washington, D.C., where he was contracted to work on software at the Treasury Department, Justice Department, Pentagon, and Quantico. All the while, Schott learned skills to use on his farm 1,500 miles to the west. At night and on weekends, Schott built his own airplane using ribs from Cubs and other old models, and eventually dropped in a drone engine bought from a military testing facility. Built and flight-tested in D.C. just after 9-11, the aircraft currently plays a big role on Schott’s South Dakota operation.

Farmers need a “go-to” forum for inventions and innovation resources, Schott contends. He wants to create a website (farminvent.com) as a central repository of agriculturally-related tech ideas. “I want to build a database of farmer inventors, with an app as well, so guys looking for a particular type of farming invention can find it easily: Machinery, 3D printing, robotics and everything else.”

Each winter, Schott searches for like-minded innovators and DIY opportunity. “We’re looking for ways to build profit per acre. Farmers are the best resource for other farmers.”

In 2018, he bought a FarmTRX yield monitoring system for a 1680 Case IH combine, and hopes the device is part of a coming wave of similar cost-effective technology. Schott adheres to used equipment, purchases old combines at $5,000 or less, makes all necessary upgrades, and drives them until they die. “It’s extremely expensive for the average farmer to buy in to new technology. I see more guys getting bold with their shop solutions and there is some impressive stuff out there. I think some of these guys didn’t have the opportunity to farm out of college, and were trained in electrical engineering and similar fields. Now they’re coming back with expertise and connecting it to technology already available.”

Jim Poyzer

Jim Poyzer grows corn and soybeans outside of Boone, Iowa, and is crafting back yard digital solutions with a keyboard and hammer in hand. In 2012, ahead of the DIY curve, he spent $300 and used a microprocessor to build his own planter monitor for a 1969 John Deere 7000 planter with adjustable corn meters. In the spring of 2015, he began experimenting with variable rate technology to compensate for sandy areas of lower production in his fields, and wrote a GPS-responsive program to plant according to prescription.

This spring, Poyzer is building a mesh network (eight monitors) of temperature sensors and moisture probes that will report data to his smartphone and website (outfarming.com). Each monitor, including a case made by Poyzer on a 3D printer, costs less than $50. “For such a low cost, I will be able to know the condition of my fields before planting. As I continue to learn about mesh networks and sensors, I plan to post and basically give away the code I’m using and how to hook it up.”

Jim Poyzer

Iowa grower Jim Poyzer is building a mesh network (eight monitors) of temperature sensors and moisture probes that will report data to his smartphone and website. (Photo credit: Jim Poyzer)

 

Initially, Poyzer, 68, delved into 3D printing to connect electronic flow meters together. “I have liquid fertilizer on my planter, both in-furrow and 2x2x2. I’m migrating it all to electronic monitoring. The flow meters hook on my planter and talk to a tablet with an app showing the flow so I can monitor exactly what is happening.”

Currently, Poyzer is fine-tuning a RTK system with a fixed base and a rover. Beside his workbench, he has a box of parts for an RTK correction system that uses a cellphone to receive data, instead of a base station, getting a free correction service from a local airport. “It’s an extremely accurate alternative to a base station. The comparable price off the shelf from a major player was $10,000-$15,000 plus a subscription cost. My parts? Somewhere in the range of $350.”

Poyzer’s 3D printer (Creality Ender 3) cost $200, and the farm applications are “simply amazing,” he describes. “With 3D CAD software I can make almost any shape and even put in threaded holes. I've watched YouTube videos on how to make things out of plastic, place them in a mold, and then remold them in aluminum. I can print objects as large as 9”x9”x10”. This is no toy; this is a tool for me.”

Learn Code, My Child?

Considering the pace of change, what skills might tomorrow’s farmers need? Start with the basics, Laird advises. “Just begin a kid with the basics of code and programming. As things develop, I think you’ll be able to order hardware and it’ll be just a matter of putting it together; you won’t have to know everything. A basic understanding of code and programming is a valuable tool so you can jump in and change or fix the pieces when needed.”

Schott sees an inevitable move toward code instruction: “I can’t imagine any engineering side of any college not teaching you to buy a $20 processor off Amazon and being able to write some code. Kids in kindergarten are going to be able to do this at a basic level. To be able to write code and write your own custom application is going to be very advantageous.”

Reimer believes a mixed skillset will be necessary, but remains uncertain as to what pieces will be most vital. “It’s tricky predicting what a farm kid today needs for tomorrow. Knowledge of programming and mechanical ability is going to factor in, but I’m not sure at what level.”

The Big Tomorrow

How does the near future shape up for DIY, open sourcing, automation and innovation? Tischler sees huge growth potential in weed control. “One big area for future application is robotic crop tending; making your own computer vision to remove everything but the crop. I don’t say this because chemicals are bad, but because we are running out of chemical options. Herbicide resistance may be an area that benefits from automation that people aren’t thinking about.”

Another of Tischler’s concerns: variable rate prescriptions. “The software for VR is so locked up. We send data to the cloud and then a company comes up with magical prescription based on who knows what. Instead, I want automation to get the farmer directly involved in deciding what rates and where to apply.”

Agriculture is entering a period of unprecedented opportunity for DIY farmers or modest engineering firms to develop technology, according to Casson. “This is a golden age. All kinds of robotics, sensing, and communication technologies are just so accessible now. Literally, there are parts out there that now cost $100 that cost $10,000 just a few years back. It’s going to be a fun next 25 years and I want to be around for it.”

A large increase in intensive farm management is coming, Reimer adds. “I think we’ll still go out and plant a single crop in a section, but we’re going to seed at different rates and apply chemicals at different rates. I think smaller, automated machines will be involved, but we are quite a ways away from that whole package. DIY is on the uptick, but even if a given innovation works on a farm, it’s still very tough to convince other guys. However, if something genuinely helps with profit, then other guys eventually will follow.”

“Put yourself in the position of using a horse when then stationary engine came out,” Reimer concludes. “In hindsight, it’s always obvious where technology is going, but it’s not so easy to predict in the moment.”

 

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Tue, 03/12/2019 - 13:48 by Anna-Lisa Laca

Google is one of the world’s innovation powerhouses. During a time in agriculture where change is around every corner, farmers can learn some vital lessons from the global company. Steve Lerch, former Google account executive for advocacy and associations, shares five such lessons. 

1. Innovation comes from anywhere. “There’s no single person, no single team responsible for innovation at Google,”
Lerch explains. “Everyone should be responsible.” 

2. Think 10x. Analyze your business and ask yourself: How can we do things 10 times better? “That premise is what leads to crazy ideas and innovations,” Lerch adds. 

3. Bet on technical insights. Technology is essential, but it’s the analysis gleaned from that technology that transforms. “You have to fundamentally understand what is unique about your business, your skill set, your knowledge base and your team,” Lerch says. “Once you understand you’re unique, you have to bet on it in a big way.” 

4. Launch and iterate. Constant improvement is a pillar in the Silicon Valley, Lerch says. “The belief is based on this idea that you are never done,” he explains. “Sometimes the most important aspect of a product is the ability to get feedback on it. So, launch a product and improve it with user feedback and do it again.” 

5. Fail well. Make sure your failures are coupled with wisdom earned. Some consider Google Glass one of the company’s best-known failures. However, Pokemon Go, was built by Niantic Labs with augmented reality technology. Technology which was first developed by the Google Glass project. Pokemon Go grossed more than $2B in two years—not a bad side effect for a “failure.”

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Tue, 03/12/2019 - 13:43 by Chris Bennett

One touch from old sparky and the current brings death by electricity. Could electricides serve farmers as the ultimate weed killer?

Against a backdrop of ongoing herbicide resistance issues and pesticide litigation, old and new technologies capable of sizzling weeds are attracting attention. RootWave combines a phalanx of cutting-edge electricide technology and aims for market entry in 2020. Lasco Lightning Weeder, an electrical discharge implement, is a late-1970s machine catching renewed interest from producers.

The concept and theory of electric control dates back to the 1800s, but successful mechanical transference to farmland was absent. However, the digital age has enabled technology to catch and pass supposition, according to Andrew Diprose, CEO of
UK-based RootWave.

RootWave will partner with Steketee on a pull-behind unit covering eight to 12 rows using camera imagery to spot and zap weeds on the go, rolling close to 3 mph, with power sourced from the PTO. Essentially, visual recognition identifies weeds in real time and RootWave delivers a 5,000-volt jolt without disturbing the soil.

The scalable unit serves all crop types and the voltage is flexible, Diprose explains. Initially, RootWave targets weeds up to 2". But the next step is to scale and adopt the technology to treat mature weeds as well.

Variations in soil types and moisture content sometimes require changes in voltage. There are also nuances with root type. “Fibrous or taproots aren’t an issue, but a rhizome may require multiple passes,” Diprose describes.

What about microbial activity subjected to electricity? RootWave has undergone environmental tests and Diprose says they don’t see it as a problem, though they’re awaiting a definitive and scientific answer.

And cost? “This will start as cost-comparable with herbicides, but in time, the potential is strong for a lower than chemical cost,” he adds. “There are basically no inputs other than capital depreciation.”

After almost 40 years on the market, Kevin Olson is the last Lightning Weeder dealer standing. Each year, he rents four units to soybean and edible bean growers in the Midwest and has several units for sale.

“This technology doesn’t hurt the soil; we’ve tested a lot and never found any negative results,” Olson explains. “There’s no damage to crops and no safety issues for drivers.”

A metal applicator bar is charged with up to 14,500 volts of electricity, powered by a PTO generator. According to canopy height, the bar can be dropped to the ground or raised just shy of 4' high. Any vegetation contacted by the bar receives a full dose of voltage. However, Olson recommends 30% reduced voltage for early season weeds, depending on moisture.

“If you’re running the bar over 5" to 6" weeds or less, you don’t need full energy because the power is so great you will carry a continuous arc that will destroy the crop,” he explains. “Later in the season, mature weeds get the maximum dose.”

Lightning Weeder has two models: 24' and 30'. The units can be front-mounted or used as a pull-behind unit. Olson suggests a tractor speed of 4 mph with low weed pressure and 2.5 mph with heavy weed pressure.

Olson intends to restart the manufacturing of Lightning Weeders. “I own the rights and I’ve been doing this since 1980. With a touch of the bar, the weed dies right down to the bottom of the root. Contact is death,” he says.

For more information about using electricity as a means to manage weeds, visit bit.ly/electricity-zaps-weeds

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Tue, 03/05/2019 - 12:40 by Guest Author

By Dan Anderson

It's common for mechanics to bad-mouth engineers. We complain about nuts and bolts buried behind other components. We bust our knuckles on unnecessarily sharp edges in tight places.  We disparage the mothers of engineers whenever our job is harder than it needs to be. But I have to admit that, overall, I'm pretty amazed and impressed by what engineers do.

For example, last week I worked on some Precision Planting seed meters, replacing fragment extractors and singulator assemblies. I took a moment to closely look at an extractor. Dang. Who figured out how to cut and bend one piece of tin into that complicated design? Beyond figuring out how to MAKE it, who figured out the need for the flat scraper edge and the little cone-shaped "tit" in relation to the singulator assembly and the entire seed meter? Pretty impressive.

We've all tried to "invent" something in our shop. We figured out a better way to build something, or decided to customize an existing component, and started cutting and welding and grinding. Sometimes we impressed ourselves and came up with something pretty clever. But frequently we found out that thinking of, designing and then actually making even a simple little gadget is way harder than it first appears.

There is a wide array of engineers in the world. There are guys like Greg Sauder, founder and former owner of Precision Planting, and Jon Kinsenbaw, founder of Kinze Manufacturing, who started out building gadgets in their farm shop and grew their ideas into world-class businesses. Then there are the degreed engineers who sit in cubicles and use computers to design intricate widgets and whachamadingees buried deep inside hydrostatic transmissions that rarely see the light of day. Either way, those inventors, designers and engineers have earned my  respect for the way they create things.

I still get annoyed at them when their designs make my job more difficult or nearly impossible. But every so often I have to stop an admit, "Dang, the guy who invented that was pretty darned clever."

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Tue, 03/05/2019 - 12:36 by Steve Cubbage

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, published since 1792, sells 3 million copies each year. It’s nothing short of amazing in this day and age of high-tech weather satellites and Doppler radar that farmers tend to put so much stock in a publication that has been making weather predictions much the same way since the late 1700s.

But let’s face it. Mother Nature is a fickle lady, and she can still make the most seasoned modern-day weather forecasters look like fools.

Until recently, the task of understanding and forecasting the weather defaulted to government agencies, such as the National Weather Service (NWS) and NASA, and private companies such as Weather Underground and The Weather Channel, both now part of IBM. As site-specific precision ag technologies continue to evolve, weather information at the most basic and granular level has to get much better for big data and artificial intelligence to work. Data needs to be delivered in the right format, at the right place and at the right time.

Think of the consequences of the lack of localized weather forecasting and monitoring. What if you chose hybrids from yield data without knowing the seed company’s racehorse hybrid only won because a spotty shower in July just happened to hit the two fields where it was planted. That’s the epitome of knowing enough to be dangerous.

The need for accurate real-time weather at the farm gate is becoming more real every day. For example, warning systems that predict the likelihood of dicamba drift before it actually happens would be helpful. What if forecasts could be tied to grain bin monitoring systems that calculate optimal drying times and simultaneously optimize energy usage? Or, what if you could monitor the potential spread of specific pests and diseases based on minute-by-minute changes in the weather pattern. How much better would tomorrow’s nitrogen models and fungicide applications work when coupled with better weather information?

Funded by investment money, innovative companies are changing the business of weather. One unique young company is ClimaCell, which was formed by three Israeli military veterans who reunited while pursuing graduate degrees at MIT and Harvard. This trio knows how much weather can impact military ops, so they thought together they could do better than NWS. Their solution extracts weather data from cellular networks and combines it with historical and traditional weather data and feeds from a host of other sensors. It’s no secret weather can greatly affect cellular performance. This Boston-based company harnessed that knowledge into a software to create hyperlocal, minute-by-minute forecasts, which is called “nowcasting.”

Startup company Understory, based in Madison, Wis., pins its enhanced forecasting ability on hardware more than software alone. The company manufactures modernized weather stations called RTis (real-time instruments), which monitor hail, wind, rain, temperature, pressure and humidity at the ground level every second of every day. The proof of concept convinced Monsanto to sign on as an investor in 2016.  

Another company a little more established, but still relatively new to the weather scene, is Denver-based aWhere. This diverse environmental intelligence company processes more than 7 billion data points every day to create a complete global ag weather offering that is hyperlocal and claims to be highly accurate. The business offers field-specific, scientifically vetted agronomic models to drive decision-making by automatically identifying plant growth stages, maturity tracking, harvest readiness, pest and disease likelihood and crop stress.

Whether it’s these companies or others, such as Earth Networks, Weather Analytics,  Riskpulse, TempoQuest or startups yet to come, agriculture is emerging as one of the main targets. Some day the Old Farmer’s Almanac might be replaced with a more high-tech option. 

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Tue, 03/05/2019 - 12:34 by Guest Author

By Bloomberg

Renting a farm can now be as easy as finding a vacation home.

Tillable, a website that connects landowners and growers, aims to bring transparency to the $32 billion U.S. farmland rental market. The startup, which offers digital leases to streamline rentals, is being backed by investors including The Production Board, an agtech investment company, and venture firm First Round Capital, with about $8 million in Series A funding.

The online marketplace gathers data from property tax records to find landowners. Tillable then contacts them for additional information to be provided to prospective farmers. There are currently 5,000 landowners and growers on the site, which launched in mid-2018, and the company has plans to triple that number over the next few years.

"It’s very similar to what Zillow does," Tillable chief executive officer Corbett Kull said in a phone interview, referring to the housing search website.

About 40 percent of all American farmland is rented, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lack of available data leads to under-priced rent, according to Kull. At the same time, some fields sit unused because families that own plots move away from farming but don’t want to give up the land.

Kull likened the potential for the unused farmland to the condos and vacation homes listed by property owners on Airbnb. Price is determined by grower offers, and each potential renter has a profile that includes details about their experience and equipment.

The idea was inspired by a friend who inherited his grandmother’s farmland and didn’t know what to do with it, he said. Kull previously founded 640 Labs, a platform that collects farming data. It was acquired by Climate Corp., the agtech company Monsanto Co. bought for $930 million in 2013.

Tillable plans to expand its marketing beyond its current focus on Illinois, Iowa and Southern Minnesota in the coming years.

"Land owners don’t really know what the market value for their farmland is," Kull said. "What we’re doing is running a price discovery process for them."