Farmers now have the option to remotely collect and manage information from their field equipment by using telematics technology.
“Telematics is a technology that captures data from farm equipment operating in a field and transfers the data to the Internet in real time,” says John Nowatzki, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural machine systems specialist. “Electronic sensors installed on tractors and other field equipment monitor equipment operations. Cellular and satellite communication systems are used to transfer the data directly to computers or e-mail it to individuals. Users then can access the information on their office computer or on cell phones.”
Most agricultural equipment companies are developing telematics systems. Trimble’s Connected Farm uses Farm Works software to manage data transferred to and from the farm equipment. Trimble uses either cellular or wireless technology to transfer the data. Cellular use requires a cell phone service plan with annual subscription fees and is limited only by signal coverage.
Wireless transfer uses radio transmitters and receivers and has no subscription fees but is limited to a few miles of transmission distance.
Raven Industries has a telematics service called Slingshot. It works with major cell phone networks and delivers real-time kinematic global positioning system correction signals, data transfer, Internet connection and real-time Raven technical support in the field. Slingshot allows users to track a vehicle’s location and transfers data from field to office and vice versa. Users also can access their data from any computer connected to the Internet.
John Deere’s JD Link Ultimate telematics service includes road map and driving directions, machine utilization information and remote equipment diagnostics. John Deere offers both cellular and satellite communications services for a fee.
AGCO’s AgCommand Advanced telematics service monitors machine location, engine and transmission status, hydraulic operations, combine operation information and other data. The data is stored in a computer on the equipment but periodically transfers the data to a website. The user can view the information on a computer connected to the Internet or on a cell phone.
“So far, telematics is used primarily to track a vehicle’s location,” Nowatzki says. “However, its increasing sophistication is making it possible to use it for other applications. With the increased use of computer electronics in tractors and other farm equipment, the remote diagnostics and direct technical assistance from the manufacturers’ technical personnel is increasingly attractive to farm equipment operators.”
Telematics will make it possible for agricultural consultants to troubleshoot problems remotely and offer guidance to resolve technical issues without interrupting fieldwork or making trips to the field.
Telematics also has the potential to increase equipment operating efficiencies.
“For example, the equipment operator and farm manager could automatically receive alerts when planters, sprayers, combines and other machines are operating outside predetermined parameters,” Nowatzki says.
The cost of the equipment needed for telematics is approximately $2,000 for a basic system. More robust systems cost as much as $5,000. The cellular subscription service costs are similar to cell phone data plans.