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Tech Tuesday

Precision Ag Reaches Critical Mass

Readers involved with yield maps since the early 1990s, may be surprised to learn this tech is just really catching on.

It's hard to quantify precision ag use. Ohio State University conducts a study every few years to learn about adoption of the latest technology, and the numbers of farmers who use the most advanced tools (beyond real-time kinematic-based auto steering) remain relatively small. Yet, a trip to a field day or time spent at a farm show will give you an idea that more growers are looking at these tools as a way to boost productivity.

There are some advances that make that possible. New cellphone-based RTK systems make it easier to get high-level precision anywhere in the country. But there are more advances. I'll mention a couple - and these are not endorsements, just points of information.

Raven has a product - Slingshot - which offers a range of technology in the cab (including on-the-go Internet access). This tool, which offers enhanced precision, the ability to move key information from machine to machine without moving a memory stick or card, and other enhancements, is a potent tool. It is also challenging at first to sell as farmers work to get their heads around all a tool like that can do. Add in that Raven is using what computer geeks call an "open architecture" design that uses what the same geeks call an application programming interface -API in shorthand - and you can see why it might be confusing at first.

That API architecture allows third parties to develop their own interface to the Slingshot system to collect pertinent data and move it from tractor or combine to office computer - and back again if needed. Several companies have developed APIs for Slingshot and they offer a range of enhancements. Raven wins because those developers add value to their product, making it an easier buy for more growers. Developers of software win because the can link up with a precision ag, GPS tool for data collection and management to enhance their own products.

Satellite data on hand

Another tool out there that can bring precision ag to another level is what Winfield calls the R7 Tool. This is an extensive database-driven tool that provides farmers unique data for individual fields. From bare-surface soil maps - to match with your own soil record data, to in-season yield prediction maps, this system cuts a new path in managing data.

One feature I heard about at a recent Answer Plot field day in Santiago, Minn., was the ability for a farmer to access historical satellite information for a given field. This is a great tool for a producer who takes over a field as a new renter. Data from previous renters isn't always available, but the R7 has historical maps of those fields from a satellite imagery database with an eye-in-the-sky provider they work with.

Using historical maps you could check out drainage, soil types and other information about the field to help eliminate yield variability and work through any unforeseen challenges in that field. Access to that kind of data has a quick payback as you determine the best approach to tile, fertility and crop choices for a specific field. And the maps can be used on your own fields as added data in addition to your own yield maps.

We're moving faster with a range of technologies. If you're exploring those ideas yourself, you know what I'm going to recommend. Consider a trip to the 2012 Farm Progress Show, or the Husker Harvest Days where you can learn about all the new technologies (including those mentioned here) for your farm. You'll find a lot of help from a range of companies that are working with the hardware and the software of precision agriculture. As you work to ramp up efficiency on your farm, a show trip can be a valuable investment.

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