TECHNOLOGY

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Tue, 04/02/2019 - 13:02 by Guest Author

DOT Technology Corp. and New Leader Manufacturing are proud to announce their collaboration on a state-of-the-art dry spreader for the DOT Power Platform. This agreement will advance autonomous agriculture by strengthening an already robust offering of DOT-ready implements, including the SeedMaster 30-foot drill, the Connect PLU S120 Sprayer and C40 Coulter, and the SeedMaster grain cart.

On March 27 the New Leader engineering team unveiled a CAD drawing of their concept at the demonstration hosted by DOT Technology Corp. at the University of Arizona, Maricopa Research Farm.

"New Leader is known for designing and manufacturing innovative, high quality broadcast spinner spreaders that lead the industry," said Norbert Beaujot, president and founder of DOT Technology Corp. "The company has a well-known history of leveraging technology to make its equipment more productive and effective. We are very excited to work together with them to offer farmers the opportunity to have a G5 spreader on their DOT Power Platform."

New Leader is designing a custom dry spreader based on their NL5000 G5 for the DOT Power Platform. The G5, through its patented swath width control technology, lets operators apply nutrients to the soil with pinpoint accuracy. The G5 can spread material in up to 16 sections, thereby reducing overlap, decreasing nutrient waste, and optimizing the placement of nutrients; making it a perfect accessory for farmers pursuing precision fertilizer application.

"We're proud to be working with DOT on this exciting project. Both companies are committed to bringing versatile equipment to the marketplace that meets the needs of this ever-changing industry. We're confident the combined solution between our companies will bring a real opportunity for growers to increase productivity and efficiency," said Rob Rudolphi, Director of Global Business at New Leader Manufacturing.

As DOT Technology Corp. increases the number of implement partners it is working with, farmers will have more implements they can use on their power platforms, thus increasing the versatility of the Power Platform.

"We are keen to continue working with other implement manufacturers who are seeking to extend their products into autonomous farming," said DOT CEO Leah Olson-Friesen. "Our collaboration with companies like New Leader will broaden DOT's value to farmers significantly, enabling them to spend more of their time focusing on the overall operation of their farms."

The innovative DOT Power Platform is helping farmers in myriad ways, by utilizing the mobile, diesel-powered, machine to handle a large variety of implements commonly used in agriculture. Through the continuous development of artificial intelligence capabilities, DOT reduces greenhouse gas emissions and creates efficiencies such as: approximately 20 percent savings on fuel, labor, and equipment capital costs – resulting in a reimagination of how farming is and can be done.

Earlier coverage: Dot Technology Names Rob Saik As Lead to Develop Distribution

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Tue, 04/02/2019 - 12:47 by Margy Eckelkamp

Ag Ventures Alliance (AgVA) and AgLaunch Initiative have recently signed an MOU to co-invest in new early-stage companies, as well as to create new opportunities for farmers to participate in the innovation value-chain.
Pete Nelson, Executive Director of AgLaunch recently presented the keynote address to the AgVA Annual Membership Meeting. The presentation highlighted AgLaunch’s Farm-Centric Innovation Model, a unique approach to building agtech companies in which farmers incubate new agtech and value-added companies in exchange for equity in the new enterprises.

“AgLaunch is honored to address AgVA’s farmers about how to pool their resources into jumpstarting the agtech industry and next generation of value-added processing. AgVA’s history of farmer-led innovation and investment in new technologies is a natural extension of AgLaunch’s Farm-Centric Innovation Model,” said Nelson. “Expanding our farmer network beyond the Mid-South Delta region allows AgLaunch to build on its current work and gives startup companies additional opportunities to test and develop their products.”

AgLaunch and AgVA are committed to establishing a network of farmers to incubate new technologies that includes pilot trials, farmer feedback and guidance, as well as providing startup capital.

“We are pleased to have AgLaunch at our annual meeting to further advance the collaboration between the two organizations,” said Jude Conway, Executive Director of Ag Ventures Alliance. “Investing in the future of agriculture with AgLaunch is adding tremendous value to our farmer-members and provides a new collaborative opportunity for startups we are investing in.” 

Currently, the two organizations are jointly supporting startup companies like Agrisync, SwineTech, Shepherd, Soil Nerd, and Rantizo through direct investments, farm-scale trials, and business support. Additionally, AgLaunch and AgVA also support value-added enterprises related to new crops, new market opportunities, and processing. 
 

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Tue, 04/02/2019 - 12:38 by Rhonda Brooks

Wind took a big yield bite out of one of Mason Lantrip’s cornfields this past summer. When the insurance adjuster showed up to verify the claim, the two men enlisted help from Lantrip’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) to assess the extent of the crop damage. “He said, ‘Fly it to your four worst spots.’ So, I flew the drone over the field and hovered it. He walked to the drone, came back and said, ‘Oh, it’s really bad in there,’” recalls Lantrip, who farms near Coatesville, Ind.

Ultimately, insurance paid nearly twice the amount Lantrip had expected for the wind damage, and that wasn’t the first time the drone, a quadcopter, improved his bottom line.

“You know, it’s paid for itself 20, 30, 40 times over, and it’s done that three or four different years,” he says.

When UAVs entered the ag market, they did so with considerable fanfare. But today, only 31% of farmers say they find value in using a drone. Sixty-nine percent don’t use one, according to a March Farm Journal Pulse survey of more than 900 growers. An April 2017 survey showed similar results, with 68% of farmers saying they didn’t plan to use one.

Why the low rate of adoption, given the buzz around drone technology?

“Cost and the time required to fly the drone and then analyze the results are roadblocks,” says Steve Cubbage, president and owner of Record Harvest, a Nevada, Mo.-based precision farming company. “Some farmers don’t want to own a drone because they have to be licensed to fly one on the farm, legally, if they make business decisions with it.

“You can hire a high schooler to fly it over your fields, but you still have to figure out what to do with the data,” Cubbage adds.

There’s more than one way to capture value from a drone. Leonard Meador is licensed to fly a drone but doesn’t. Instead, his family works with their local fertilizer retailer who does in-season aerial scouting, and then his brother, Larry, uses the images and data to make agronomic decisions. Meador says, in a way, it’s a reverse progression from when they started collecting in-season data on their farm using an airplane.  

“Flying over the fields helped us address things such as drainage problems and weed pressure,” says Meador, who owns land in Indiana and Washington and works as an agricultural business consultant. “A little bit later, we used a rocket we made. We’d shoot it up in the air and it’d take pictures on the way down.”

That was in the 1980s. Today, Meador believes independent crop agronomists, fertilizer retailers and seed dealers might be your best and most cost-effective resource for aerial intelligence in-season.

New collaborations in the UAV space for 2019, such as Syngenta with Sony and Corteva Agriscience with DroneDeploy, appear to support his view. Both partnerships are designed to help you, either through company or independent agronomists, gather aerial imagery and data so you can make in-season decisions to improve crop yield outcomes.

Despite those options, Bill Horan, a Purdue University Extension educator, believes farmers can benefit from owning a drone. In 2018, the university purchased 17 UAVs and distributed them to educators throughout the state to identify ways they can be used to help farmers.

“There are so many things you can do with one beyond crop scouting,” Horan says.

Crop growers are using drones to identify fields or parts of fields that are washed out and need replanting, check irrigation systems for plugged nozzles, take pictures of tile installations to show where the lines are, and fly over grain bins and barns to identify damage when storms occur. Likewise, livestock producers find drones useful to locate sick animals, mama cows that are calving, monitor outbuildings and facilities, and even find sections of fence that might need repair.

Because of the jobs drones can do, Horan encourages farmers to not be put off by the UAV licensing process, which requires doing online “book work” and taking the exam at one of the 700 Federal Aviation Administration-approved licensed testing centers. Test takers need a 70% to pass the exam, Horan adds.

Total cost for the process is about $150. More information on the test, called the Part 107 licensing exam, can be found at www.faa.gov/uas/commercial_operators.

If you decide to purchase a drone, consider what you want it to do before you buy. That seems obvious, but doing your homework now will help you avoid disappointment later. There are many companies, types of drone and price points in the agricultural market. AgriTech Tomorrow, an online trade magazine, reports “AeroVironment, DJI, DroneDeploy, GoPro, PrecisionHawk and Trimble Navigation are some key players in the agricultural drones industry.”

There are two basic drone types to consider: multirotor and fixed-wing. Multirotor drones tend to have a shorter battery life but are on the lower end of the cost spectrum. Horan’s DJI Phantom, a multirotor drone, retails in a bundled package (includes a transmitter, battery and case) for about $1,500 on Amazon. He says a “starter drone” costs about half that amount.

“If you had a one-time insect infestation that the drone helped you identify and treat, that would probably more than cover your $750 investment,” Horan says.

Farmers wanting to cover a lot of acres might consider buying a fixed-wing drone. It will cost you more upfront but has a longer battery life.

One drone, the Quantix, combines the benefits of both rotors and fixed-wing capabilities. It has enough juice to fly 45 minutes and cover up to 400 acres in a single flight.

As for analyzing the data, there’s software available for farmers to purchase. Another option is to subscribe to an online service. The cost is often less than $100 a month, and some providers allow you to subscribe short-term and even try their programs for free.

In Lantrip’s case, he flies his quadcopter manually over fields in-season to take video and still pictures. He also works with Granular to map entire fields and get NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) imagery.

“The NDVI pictures help me find and treat diseases and pests, and I can overlay those images with my yield map to improve my ROI,” Lantrip says. “This is all about the bottom line, and the drone helps me improve my productivity.” 

Image removed.

 

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Tue, 03/26/2019 - 09:26 by Steve Cubbage

Maintaining the right equipment balance is harder than Goldilocks trying to figure out which chair she wants to sit in. Making such decisions are obviously first driven by the weather. What might seem like the right balance one year might be blown up by Mother Nature the following year. Then you have a myriad of variables such as labor availability, crop prices and if the number of acres you need to cover has increased or, in some cases, decreased.  

As sensor and reporting technology have advanced so too have the software services that can digest and start to interpret such data in layman’s terms. Ironically, calculating the cost and depreciation of motorized farm machinery is not much different than doing the same thing with the average Joe’s automobile. Instead of miles and model year for a car, it is hours and model year for a tractor. Factor in per-hour labor and fuel costs plus interest, and the math hasn’t changed much since the Farmall M and Johnny Popper days. But keeping track of costs for a John Deere 4020 on a 500-acre farm 50 years ago was simpler than the tractor, planter and combine fleets on today’s farming enterprises.

Real-time, real-machine data streaming wirelessly now provides the detail that can truly move the needle on machine ROI. For the first time you can see not only hours in the field working but more importantly the hours or minutes it took to get to that field and how much time you spent idling while filling the planter or waiting for a load of fertilizer. Tachometer hours matter to the tune of $150 to nearly $200 per hour for modern-day tractors, sprayers and combines. How much more profitable is the 7,000-acre farmer who averages only 8% to 10% road time verses the guy who thought he had to expand to 10,000 acres but spends more than 25% of his total machine hours on the road? Was picking up that extra 500 acres an hour away really worth it?

Given 2018’s late harvest and a prolonged winter that pushed a majority of the fieldwork to this spring, machinery what ifs are more real than ever. Continued tight margins mean increased ROI has to come from someplace other than just crop inputs.

What if I trade in my two 24-row planters and two MFWD tractors for a single 90' high-speed planter and 570-hp articulated four-track tractor?  That’s exactly what one of our farmer customers did, and even though the price tag was near the million-dollar mark, his per-acre cost actually calculated to be less than before.

In today’s environment, question every machine, operator and field operation. Do I buy the bigger grain cart? If I add acres can my current combine handle it? Do I make repairs or trade? Only real data about and from your machines can deliver the best answers.

Bottom line: Real-time machine data is as valuable as yesterday’s yield maps. That’s why tons of money is being poured into enterprise software and services such as Conservis and Granular. Asset use efficiency is a key metric of such platforms, which need the automatic flow of data from your tractor and combine to work.

Then you have machine efficiency software such as CropZilla that focuses on finding the “right machinery mix” for your operation. It is specifically geared to handle the what ifs to tell you if that million-dollar purchase was an economically sound decision or an emotionally bad one.

Dec. 16-17, 2019     JW Marriott, Indianapolis
How are you keeping up with this brave new world of technology? Attend the Farm Journal AgTech Expo. For details, visit www.FarmJournalAgTechExpo.com

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Tue, 03/26/2019 - 09:18 by Guest Author

By Jennifer Shike

 

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) researchers are engineering new precision technology to help producers continuously monitor animals and use the data to ultimately improve animal well-being.

The system processes 24/7 video footage from livestock facilities and applies machine learning that uses statistical algorithms to help computer systems improve without being explicitly programmed, according to a university release. The technology identifies individual pigs and provides data about their daily activities, such as eating, drinking and movement.

“We want to make a tool that is available to the livestock producers,” said Ty Schmidt, UNL associate professor of animal science. “In a competitive agricultural market with rising costs, producers are looking for solutions that streamline operations while enhancing the health and well-being of their animals.”

The UNL interdisciplinary team includes electrical and computer engineers Lance C. Pérez, Eric Psota and Mateusz Mittek, and Schmidt, who developed the technology using video footage of pigs.

So how does the technology help producers? Researchers say this system can estimate how much each pig weighs and its rate of growth.

“I believe we can make significant strides in the efficiency of pork production with this technology,” Schmidt said. “Ultimately, we’d like to see this system rapidly and accurately identify pigs that are sick or displaying destructive behavior prior to observations by caretakers. We are hopeful that the system will be able to assist producers throughout the entire production system.”

From a behavior standpoint, the team is working to program the system to identify animals that are displaying symptoms of illness and pigs exhibiting aggressive/damaging behaviors such as fighting and tail-biting. The technology can also help identify a pattern of typical behavior.

“When an animal deviates from that pattern, then it may be an indicator that something’s wrong. It makes it easier to spot problems before they get too big to fix,” said Psota, research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “

Using deep learning networks, the team created a system utilizing a form of machine learning with millions of coefficients and parameters. To identify pigs from all angles, the networks processed images large and small, rotated, skewed and otherwise transformed. The team uses ear tags to help with identification but plans to rely on unique physical characteristics such as ear shape, saving producers the added work of tagging.
“We would also like the system to identify abnormal changes in behavior related to other factors, such as environmental changes like heat stress and cold stress, Schmidt added.

The team is pursuing further development with the help of NUtech Ventures, the university’s technology commercialization affiliate. Although the system has been developed to identify pigs, its algorithms can be used for other livestock, such as cattle, horses, goats and sheep.

What’s Next
In the future, the team plans to explore the technology’s ability to predict illness. They recently received $675,000 from the National Pork Board to fund two studies. In collaboration with Kansas State University, the team plans to collect data from both healthy and immune-compromised pigs, training the system to distinguish early symptoms.

The second study will explore the lifespan of sows — female pigs of reproductive age — and traits that may be associated with longevity. The Nebraska team’s technology will track sows over time and identify changes in movement, gait patterns and physical activity — data that may yield links between genetic background and longevity, the release said. It’s a connection that hasn’t been measured because there hasn’t previously been technology to do it, Schmidt said.
 

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Tue, 03/26/2019 - 08:45 by Sara Schafer

Does it make financial sense to apply a late-season fungicide? Would adding a niche crop generate a consistent revenue stream? How can you prove your farming practices are sustainable? 

To answer these questions with confidence, farmers need to be able to analyze layers of agronomic, financial and management information—both individually and with their trusted advisers. That’s the purpose behind a new partnership between Rabo AgriFinance and Conservis

In late 2018, the two companies announced a partnership that will ultimately help farmers better use ag data to make informed business decisions. The companies will co-develop technology for U.S. crop farmers to seamlessly connect their real-time field and management data with financial results.

“With the extended period of low commodity prices, producers really need to zero in and understand their cost of production,” says Robert Lubben, head of digital, Rabo AgriFinance. “So, getting their information organized is critical, and that information is going to come from a variety of sources.”

The Conservis platform provides real-time production, planning and inventory management information across a farm operation for row and permanent crops. By partnering with Rabo AgriFinance, Conservis can deepen their financial reporting options so farmers can make faster and smarter decisions and be able to generate lender-ready, up-to-date reports, says Pat Christie, founder of Conservis.

“Lenders are always saying, ‘We need better information,’” Lubben says. “This platform gives you all that information and it makes the flow of information very simple and easy for clients, while keeping them in total control. Our clients are still empowered on how they share their data.”

Lubben says the financial reporting capabilities will save farmers time and create a more efficient decision-making process for the loan renewal process. “We've heard from clients and our own staff that these types of reports cut the time and back-and-forth questions down by half,” he adds. 

In working together, the Rabo AgriFinance and Conservis teams plan to explore industry advancements such as benchmarking, integrations with accounting software and other new services to help improve decision making and profitability.

 

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Tue, 03/26/2019 - 08:31 by Darrell Smith

With the advent of multi-hybrid planters, in addition to GPS and variable-rate applicators, you now can plant the ideal hybrid on every type of soil you farm and manage each one for top yield. But which hybrid should go where? Leaf structure is one of the most important factors you need to understand to match hybrids to soil management zones, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie.

“A plant’s leaves capture sunlight, the energy source that drives growth and yield,” he explains. “Through the miracle of photosynthesis, plants use the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide, water and nutrients into starches, sugars and, ultimately, grain.

“To maintain constant growth, plants must produce more starch during daylight hours than they can burn during an entire 24-hour period. If the plant runs short of starch, it will begin to cannibalize itself, transferring starch from older parts of the plant to the newer, growing parts. This creates stress, which can be detrimental to yield,” he adds.

As water is pulled through plants by transpiration, nutrients are carried along with it. Energy from the sun drives the process in which water and nutrients are turned into starch. But sunlight hitting the ground is wasted—worse than wasted because it causes evaporation of water that will not be available to plants.

“You can’t change the amount of sunlight hitting the crop,” Ferrie summarizes. “But you can change how much light you intercept.”

You can increase light interception by increasing leaf area index (LAI). LAI compares the area of leaf surface to the area of soil surface. For example, an LAI of 4.0 means there’s 4 sq. ft. of leaf surface area for every 1 sq. ft. of soil surface—or enough leaves to cover the soil surface four times.

Depending upon a variety’s branching characteristics, soybeans close their rows at an LAI of 4.0 to 6.0. But with corn, row closure is affected by both leaf type and LAI.

“With a fully upright-leaf hybrid, whose leaves point straight up, you can have an LAI of 6.0, but sunlight will still reach the soil surface,” Ferrie says. “In comparison, a pendulum-leaf hybrid that is growing rapidly because of good management practices and starter fertilizer might reach full canopy at an LAI of 4.0.”

Anything you can do to increase LAI is beneficial, Ferrie says. The more sunlight plants capture, the more water they transpire and the more nutrients they turn into starch. Sunlight capture and water transpiration are maximized when the crop canopy closes.

You don’t need to measure LAI to determine if you’re maximizing light interception. Just look beneath the canopy of soybeans or corn midday, and see how much sunlight is reaching the soil surface.

You want to reach full canopy, and capture at least 97% of the sunlight with the plant’s leaves, as quickly as possible. “Your opportunity to capture more sunlight ends with tasseling because the corn plant will not put on anymore leaves after that point,” Ferrie says.

If you’re not achieving that goal, there are several ways to increase light interception. Although you can’t achieve full canopy when the crop is knee high, applying starter fertilizer might produce faster growth and larger plants with more leaf coverage.

“With corn, increasing leaf area by achieving faster plant growth pays off until tasseling time,” Ferrie says. “At that point, when there are no more leaves coming out, LAI has peaked, and it soon will begin to go down as the plant cannibalizes lower leaves.”

Eliminating restricting soil layers, or compaction, will also help plants grow faster. Lastly, you can increase population, or plant density. If plants shoot suckers or put on multiple ears, your population is likely too low.

“That suggests plants are receiving surplus sunlight, and producing starch faster than they can burn it,” Ferrie says. “In contrast, soybeans that receive excess sunlight will continue to branch until they close the canopy.”

Once you capture 97% of the sunlight, increasing population with that variety or hybrid will not increase yield. “In fact, it might decrease yield because there’s no more energy for the plants to use, and each one will receive less water and fewer nutrients,” Ferrie says.  

“Another way to increase leaf area and light interception, which is now possible with variable-input technology, is to plant hybrids with two types of leaves,” Ferrie says. Leaf structure has evolved through the years.   

“Older hybrids, with wide leaves in horizontal format, were designed to capture all of the available sunlight in wide rows and at lower populations,” Ferrie explains. “They succeeded in capturing sunlight at lower populations, but they put in a yield ceiling.

“Once all of the sunlight has been captured, water transpiration plateaus. If the crop has been transpiring ¼" of water per acre per day at 36,000 plants per acre, it will transpire about the same amount at 40,000 plants per acre. Increasing the population will only increase plant stress because less water and fewer nutrients are available for each plant.”  

Plant breeders realized they had to increase sunlight interception and starch production to increase yield. “To do so they introduced more upright leaves, especially at the top of the plant,” Ferrie says. “That let more sunlight reach the lower leaves. The upright-leaf plants broke through yield plateaus.

“Now you can buy hybrids with pendulum-type, upright or almost any leaf combination,” Ferrie says. “But seed companies have no standard nomenclature for leaf type, so you encounter many terms, such as open, closed upright and pendulum.”

Ferrie and his staff group hybrid leaf types as pendulum, semi-pendulum, semi-upright and upright:

  • Pendulum leaves are parallel to the ground. Pendulum-leaf hybrids tend to be tall, and the flag leaf is parallel to the ground. Tassels are high, above the canopy—easy to see when driving down the road.
  • In semi-pendulum hybrids the top three or four leaves are upright and the rest are pendulum.
  • Semi-upright hybrids will have pendulum-type leaves to the ear and upright leaves on the rest of the plant.
  • Upright-leaf hybrids have upright leaves from top to bottom. The top two leaves are parallel with the tassel, almost hiding the tassel from the road. They tend to be shorter in stature.

The easiest way to identify hybrid leaf types is to plant a hybrid plot. “Use a hybrid you’re familiar with as a ringer, or check hybrid,” Ferrie says. “After pollination, when all leaves are present and the plant has finished growing, but before leaves are lost through senescence, cut some stalks at ground level. Carry the plants out of the plot, without damaging the leaves. Stand the plants up next to a building and compare the ringer and other genetics for height, leaf structure and tassel type. Take pictures for future reference. After you study hybrids this way, the differences in leaf type will become clear.”

Use your knowledge of leaf types to select hybrids and place them in the right management zone. “Upright-leaf plants tend to harvest more sunlight and push yield higher,” Ferrie says. “Some of our highest corn yields have come from more upright genetics.

“Letting more sun into the canopy increases the evapotranspiration rate, so plants use more water. The canopy gets warmer. Place upright-leaf hybrids on soils with good water-holding capacity and high yield potential,” he adds.

If upright-leaf hybrids don’t have enough water to sustain high evapotranspiration rates, they can burn up, Ferrie cautions. For example, during the drought in central Illinois in 2012, some fields of upright hybrids yielded zero bushels.

Pendulum-leaf hybrids belong on light, droughty soils where water is likely to run short. “They let you lower the population and use less water, which is the limiting factor on these soils, while capturing all the sunlight,” Ferrie says. “During the 2012 drought, pendulum-leaf hybrids sometimes yielded 150 bu. per acre, while upright-leaf hybrids in the same field yielded nothing. The canopies in the pendulum-leaf hybrids were 10°F cooler in the daytime than the canopies of the upright-leaf hybrids.”

Understanding leaf type can prevent costly mistakes. “Based on drought-year yields, some growers cut back on upright-leaf hybrids and planted more pendulum-leaf varieties the following season,” Ferrie says.

“In 2013 and 2014, water was plentiful. Hybrids that died from lack of water in 2012 kicked yield out of the park. Pendulum-leaf hybrids yielded well, but they couldn’t keep up with the more upright-leaf genetics. Those farmers dropped good hybrids after only one season because they didn’t realize they were placed incorrectly for the growing conditions,” he adds.

When you understand leaf type, you’re ready to implement the final step in variable-input technology: the ideal hybrid on every soil type.

Matching Leaf Type and Row Width

Forgetting that upright-leaf hybrids fit high-yield environments and pendulum-leaf hybrids maximize yield on sandy, droughty soils is a recipe for disaster, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. One aspect of the environment is row width.

“Pendulum-leaf hybrids were designed to capture all the sunlight when planted in wide rows,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “If you plant pendulum-leaf hybrids in narrow rows (twin, 20" or 15") and push the population, yield will likely go backward. The only time to use pendulum-leaf hybrids in narrow rows is when you’re trying to protect a low water supply by planting an ultra-low population, such as 18,000 plants per acre, in dryland corners of an irrigated field.”

Conversely, upright-leaf hybrids will fail where water is limited. “As soon as leaves begin to roll, light interception is reduced and starch production falls,” Ferrie explains. “If this goes on long, the plant starts to cannibalize itself. Any stress reduces yield potential.”

Some hybrids are so upright in leaf structure it’s impossible to plant them thick enough in wide rows to capture all the sunlight, Ferrie adds.

“They are designed for narrow rows, when you’re trying to capture all the sunlight by pushing plants closer together,” he says.

Tools are available to vary the rate of every input for every soil type in a field. Ready yourself for variable-input technology by following along with this seven-part series at bit.ly/VIT-series

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Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:37 by Steve Cubbage

By now, there’s little doubt the younger generation is changing the look and feel of the ag industry. After all, millennials now outnumber baby boomers. For these up-and-comers, food is personal. How, where and by whom food is produced matters a lot to them.

On the surface, this younger generation, who are stereotypically labeled as harsh critics of our food production system, only seem to want to voice their dissatisfaction vicariously. It’s easy and safe to go after genetically modified apples and Roundup in Cheerios on Facebook and Twitter. What’s becoming increasingly apparent is there’s a much, much lower percentage of this next generation that actually wants to “get their hands dirty” when it comes to being a part of the solution to the problem they’re essentially creating.

How bad is the problem we are facing? According to a 2016 National Science Foundation survey, the percentage of adults who said they found GMOs dangerous was a staggering 79%. That’s up dramatically from surveys in 2000 and 2010. Want more proof? A 2018 International Food Information Council Foundation survey concluded six in 10 consumers noted food sustainability was important to them. The better question might be, do consumers know what sustainability even means?

For something so dangerous and important, you would think more bodies and minds would flock to the ag industry in an effort to “transform” it more to their liking. Right now, the numbers show that isn’t the case. In 2016, an industry study by Land O’Lakes found only 3% of college graduates and 9% of millennials have considered or would consider a career in ag. Such numbers, if true, are alarming. If, according to recent statistics, it takes 15% of the American workforce to produce, process and sell our nation’s food and fiber, then we have a problem. A math problem.

There’s a glimmer of hope this numbers gap is closing. The old ways of ag and the new values voiced by this next generation are finding common ground in nontraditional ways. And as it turns out, some urban-grown millennials are finding it’s OK to “get their hands dirty,” and they don’t have to leave the city to do it.

 Urban agriculture is not an oxymoron but a real thing that’s growing a new breed of agriculturalists. It’s happening in shipping containers, high-tech greenhouses and abandoned high-rises in downtown Detroit. In small and big ways, urban ag is fundamentally changing how food is grown and delivered, and it’s catering to the farm-to-table movement.

Although urban agriculture can’t supply the volume of food needed to feed a nation, it just might be able to teach an old dog new tricks. In the U.S., a mere 4% of the farmers produce nearly 66% of total ag products in terms of value. The technologies, ideas and methods coming from urban farming ventures that drive less water usage, less pesticide usage and little to no nutrient runoff will certainly find their way from the city to the back 40 sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, back on the rural, traditional farm, a generational shift is underway. According to AgAmerica Lending’s “2017 Fast Facts About Agriculture,” millennials make up 8% of U.S. farmers. Couple that number with the fact 20% of all current farmers are considered “beginning farmers,” meaning they have less than 10 years of farming under their belts. Who better to understand and communicate with a millennial than another millennial?  

If millennials truly want to change the world, then there’s no better place to start than with the industry that feeds it. One of the questions ahead is will there be enough people who are motivated to transform the industry for the better and continue to feed a nation and the world like the previous generation did so well? Maybe, just maybe, they might decide it’s OK to get their hands dirty. Who knows, they might even find out ag is one of the coolest and most impactful careers on the planet.

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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.