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Tech Tuesday

Time for Reflection, Connection

A 'slower' winter gives you time to evaluate all tech on the farm.

Up north where I live, a foot of snow fell last weekend, not bad since I missed most of it being out of town for the weekend. But when the weather closes in and equipment is parked many readers find themselves in the office prepping paperwork for the tax preparer, or looking over field records.

This is also a great time to do a tech evaluation on your operation. How are you collecting yield maps, have you moved up to as-planted or as-sprayed mapping to provide you more information? How do you move that information around the farm? What level of precision do you need for your operation?

It's those kinds of questions that can help you refine your tech approach moving forward. Today, there are a couple of areas I want to touch on - RTK approaches and data handling.

As with any technology there are usually more ways to achieve the same goal. A few years ago getting an RTK-level signal meant putting a receiver in the field you worked. Then we graduated to towers and tower networks (those are still expanding and a great tool). And now we've added new technology that can use a cellular signal (combined with a high-powered cellular modem) to get that correction signal.

If you've considered moving to RTK-level precision, for 2011 you have more choices than ever before. As states add Continuously Operating Reference Stations it's possible to tie into those to get an RTK signal. They use the cellular wavelength to deliver that signal, and several tech providers from Leica to Trimble to Raven are offering RTK in that manner.

The tower networks are also solid performers and offer you added benefits. There's a change for some providers in this area too. Most tower networks operate in the 900 MHz wavelength - which is pretty crowded with cell phones, wireless home phones and other tools working in that spectrum. Now there's a 450 MHz standard moving into the country.

That 450 MHz band will require different receivers - so if you have already invested in 900 MHz equipment, you'll want to consider the newer receivers only as your provider moves to that band and you replace equipment that has been expensed off the books.

For providers of that new correction signal, there are some differences, and that may slow spread of the tech to the field. First, it requires installing new transmitters at those towers. Second, the company that does it needs a special license from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to be able to "broadcast" at that level. But dealers in your area may make that investment. It's something to be aware of as you look at future tech.

Sharing the data

We've talked in the past about the networked farm that could change the way you handle data on your operation. This is something to consider or 2011 too. If you've got multiple machines working around the farm, the ability to move data from place to place automatically can save time and money.

In addition, that raw data is often stored in a secure, off-farm location too. Protecting valuable planting, spraying, tillage and yield data in a separate location is a sound investment.

There are different approaches to this idea from the Raven Slingshot to Trimble's Connected Farm system. If you're interested this new approach to information gathering and handling, talk to your precision ag supplier. Beyond moving the data, these systems can be used to gather equipment efficiency data and monitor how you're using technology on your operation too.

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