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Putting the data togetherPutting the data together

You’re amassing more information than ever; now comes the challenge of bringing it all together. And while the vision is there for cross-brand sharing, work remains.

Willie Vogt

February 9, 2016

11 Min Read
<p>You&rsquo;re amassing more information than ever; now comes the challenge of bringing it all together. And while the vision is there for cross-brand sharing, work remains.</p>

A vision is out there for all this data that farmers are collecting: You spend a day doing a lot of work, and when you have a moment, you open a screen — on your computer, smartphone or tablet — to see all the information collected from your work available.

In many ways, that day has arrived for farmers who have partnered with a single-player system, as companies including John Deere, Case IH, FarmLogs, Ag Leader and others in the information-gathering business have upped their big data games.

But what about sharing with others? And what happens if you have more than one brand of equipment on the farm?

“It’s getting better. We have some of the pieces of the puzzle, and we can start to see the picture, but it’s not clear yet,” says Adam Gittins, general manager of HTS Ag in Harlan, Iowa, a provider and supporter of data collection products from Ag Leader and Trimble.

Gittins shares the example of using Ag Leader and its SMS software, which lets him send information wirelessly from a machine to the AgFiniti cloud, and files can be transferred to and from the field. However, the AgFiniti system can’t send data to a John Deere monitor, yet. And moving information from a competitive system into the Ag Leader software is still a manual process, not automatic from the Internet.

He sees the market aligning, and in 2016 farmers will see some major opportunities. Already, John Deere and Climate Corporation have an arrangement that allows information to flow from a John Deere platform to the FieldView system in near real-time. And John Deere has connections and agreements with a growing number of analytics companies, including DuPont Pioneer’s Encirca.

One common theme when talking to major players in the data game is that every system can read your files, even as the ease of transfer gets worked out.

Leo Bose, who works with the Case IH Advanced Farming System, also makes clear that farmers should know the terms of the user agreement surrounding all of these systems. For example for Case IH, “the farmer owns the agronomic information generated from the system,” he says. “The producer chooses who sees it.”

Bose says as the AFS system has evolved, producers have gotten more access to information. However, he adds that this is from Case IH equipment to the Case IH software. “We can still use AFS Mapping and our Record Suite to review and analyze data and create prescriptions for variable-rate planting or fertilizer,” he says. “For competitive systems, that information must be entered manually.”

Creating new connections

Other systems out there can bypass your tractor’s in-cab monitor system and send field data directly to the cloud for your use on different systems. FarmMobile LLC has such a device, and farmers can pull from the machine’s CANBUS network through an ISOBUS connection.

Another product is FarmLogs Flow, introduced late in 2015. “We spent more than a year developing this system that allows you to connect our FarmLogs Flow to your ISOBUS connection and send data, in real time, to the FarmLogs system,” says Jesse Vollmar, founder and CEO.

He says this direct connect eliminates the hassle of moving files. “We had to do a lot of work to be able to read data off the John Deere data-bus. This is not an open, published thing, and they made it a challenge to get access,” Vollmar says. “This is not the only way a farmer can get information from their machine, but it is an alternative way.”

Climate Corp., a division of Monsanto, is rolling out the FieldView Drive in 2016 in limited quantities. The system connects to a machine’s ISOBUS and shares information through Bluetooth to a tablet and to the FieldView cloud. These ISOBUS connections provide a more common infrastructure for data collection, but they’re also proprietary to the analytic software provider’s platform.

John Deere has a novel approach, too. In 2015, the company developed the Mobile Data Transfer device, which connects to the USB port in a display to transfer data. The information goes from the device to an application on a smartphone, where it is then boosted to the company data cloud where the farmer can put it to work.

“Every producer has a unique situation, and I think we are definitely trying to help make it easier whether Deere or partially Deere or non-Deere technology is involved,” says Deanna Kovar, director of sales channel and customer support for John Deere Precision Ag. “We want to make it easier for farmers to use all of their data, machine-collected or human-collected.”

For John Deere users, the Operations Center becomes the focal point, and that Mobile Data Transfer tool, which currently works with John Deere’s 2630 display, also works with many competitive displays, including Ag Leader, where data can be transferred back and forth with the Operations Center, Kovar says. “This allows older displays that don’t have a JDLink system to send information to the cloud the ability to send information to Operations Center more easily.”

We’re in a new generation of data gathering and management, but as Gittins notes, there’s work to be done if you’re trying to pull in information from different types of systems.

Mike Martinez, marketing director for Trimble Agriculture, sees data transfer in two ways. First is your need to get information from your farm to a trusted adviser, and the second is the data sharing from a compatibility standpoint.

“Sending information between the grower and the agronomist — in either direction — can pose a bit of a challenge if you’re not on the same platform,” Martinez notes. He notes that the company’s Connected Farm platform, has expanded its ability to read and share files with more analytics software recently.

He says when a farmer sends a file to an agronomist, for example, using email or some file-sharing link, the process is “not as easy as we’d like it to be.” He adds that users who benefit the most are on the same basic platform — for example, from a Connected Farm system to another Connected Farm user. Yet the key innovation here is the growth in application program interface development.

Data interpreters

These APIs are like translators, and each is customized to link from one source to another. The John Deere Operations Center has APIs that can share information from many systems, and the company is looking at new ways to innovate data capture. Raven Industries has developed APIs that work with a range of market players, as has Trimble.

Fuse, Agco’s approach to precision farming, uses the AgCommand API, which shows how these tools work. Jason O’Flanagan, field marketing manager for Agco, says there is a Farm Management Information System plug-in that allows data from an Agco machine to flow directly into the Connected Farm System in near real time. “Using a cellular network, the data moves every five to seven minutes, and it’s a constant connection to the machine,” he says. “A lot of other machines package that data [and] tend to send it every hour or once every 24 hours.”

Trimble Connected Farm users can have information from that Agco machine appear on the master dashboard as they work to manage the fleet.

But as of this writing, the easy transfer between different-colored machines is still a little backward, though industry players are working to make it better. In most cases, when you have competing brands, you’re still pulling a stick from your Brand X machine to take it to your central software to be read into the main system. Cloud-to-cloud sharing isn’t happening in any big way yet. However, most “centralized systems” like SMS, Connected Farm and AFS Connect from Case IH, and others can read those shape files from any other system into your centralized software.

And major analytics players like Climate Corporation and DuPont Pioneer Encirca can read those files as well. It’s just the mechanical nature of the process that needs improvement. And those APIs are helping, but it’s a one-off process. There’s no “universal language” for data, so it is being processed as it comes from one system to another. You end up with a kind of United Nations system of translator APIs doing the journeyman’s work of translating information into your system.

Most major players in the market recognize that growers want this kind of transparent sharing. Yet as growers get more sophisticated about their data needs, they’ll be demanding a simpler, cloud-based, easy-to-access-and-share approach.

Standards and the future

Kaleb Lindquist, software sales specialist for Ag Leader, notes the AgFiniti cloud has added versatility to how users get data from their displays to the office (or to agronomists) for analysis. The company’s SMS software has been around for 15 years and can import any data format for analysis, and export prescription files out to any platform. “For everybody involved, to make this all work, we have to play nice with each other,” he says. “And companies are receptive to talking and working together.”

That’s shown in major industry-focused groups that aim to create more transparent sharing of information.

Aaron Ault, who heads the Open Ag Data Alliance (OADA), says farmers have got things working for their operations, but “when you talk to most of them, they’re not happy with how they use it and the hoops they have to jump through to get where they want to go.”

He likens the current system — which if you have multicolored equipment, can involve pulling sticks to take them back to the office to be read by a central system — to having a Dropbox file sharing account, but you “have to drive to the Post Office to pick up the information. Even with the cloud and a central system to pull things in, if you have to go to the cloud to export, you don’t save that much.”

OADA is finalizing a transparent API that would make the process nearly seamless, but that tool isn’t the end-all of the process. “If you have the API, it doesn’t mean it supports the end-user experience. If you have to wait 24 hours after an event happens to synch a data file, you can’t really manage your business in real time.”

He says systems that not only capture yield data but also track machinery live can boost fleet management efficiency. However, often the data shared is done in a batch approach after the work is done. It’s hard to maximize machine management during your busy season if your data system tells you a tractor is low on fuel a day later. These are the challenges OADA is tackling.

AgGateway, a longtime industry standards group, is also working on these issues, developing common data standards. But with multiple players involved, the process can be slow. Yet, the process is moving.

Ault at OADA says that what farmers want from these systems is information from the sensors, not to control the tractor remotely. “Tell me where [the tractor] is, what fuel level it has, how its engine efficiency level is. If it’s a combine, where is harvest progress on the map? Send me error codes if the machine needs to be taken care of. Share agronomic information in real time, like planter downforce,” he explains. And right now on a real-time basis, this isn’t always possible across multiple brands and systems.

He notes that the move to a more horizontal sharing model is happening, but the vertical (brand-centric) model has worked well for agriculture. “That model has gotten the industry to tractors that drive themselves, and they’re the highest tech-capable machines in the history of mankind,” he says. “But farmers now want to make use of new data from these machines, and that is inherently a cooperative thing.”

For example, John Deere doesn’t make semitrucks, or human resource systems, or grain carts, but each of those systems have information that a farmer may want to pull into a centralized management dashboard. The industry will evolve to systems that can bring these disparate parts into a single management system.

OADA has an open data-sharing API that other companies can use to share information even in real time for improved fleet management. The system is nearing commercialization, and Ault says it’s already in use by some in a limited form. “The API does exist and is close to final, and one partner is in conformance testing to be the first to use it,” he explains.

Next is getting others to use the open API in their systems, so a farmer can gather information from many places, in real time, automatically to manage systems. It’s close.

3 tips for managing info

Based on interviews for this report, we’ve come up with three key tactics to help you develop a system for getting data from machine to analysis software, so you can start putting that information to work.

1. Settle on one basic analysis platform.

Don’t confuse data with analysis. The data is the raw information from the machine, and it’s basically worth little without an analysis system. All analysis systems can read files from all other platforms. The key is to choose one as your “base” and put that to work. This may require research. And if real-time access to fleet information is important, that will take more research.

2. Determine the best platform based on key partners.

What does your key agronomist use for data management? Your system should be able to share information quickly and easily, so you can get those valuable prescriptions and other agronomic information in hand quickly.

3. Develop a strategy.

 If you have a multicolored fleet of machines, develop a protocol for getting information from field to farm. A manual step — transferring a stick from tractor to desktop — has to be part of the standard operating procedures for your farm, so data gets analyzed in a timely fashion.

About the Author(s)

Willie Vogt

Executive Director, Content and User Engagement

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