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sensors can help planting Willie Vogt

Crop tech innovations keep coming

The winter is a time for tech to shine, and there are some interesting new ideas out there.

Wrapping up the winter means getting ready for show season again. National Farm Machinery Show is nearing and we're working hard on our seminar program for the event - more on that in a future blog. This week I noticed a couple of news items that offer some interesting innovations for farmers, and I thought I'd share them with you.

First, Precision Planting is holding its events to share new technology for farmers, which this week included the launch of the SmartFirmer for organic matter and furrow environment sensing. We ran the release online yesterday as soon as we saw it (a feature we try to do when possible). But this innovation bears further examination.

When we talk about sensors in agriculture a lot of times its with monitors on systems - like planter row monitors, or engine sensors. But this SmartFirmer really puts a sensor where the rubber meets the road - right in the furrow. So what?

Turns out having that kind of information could provide improved planter performance and a better stand. Think about it - if you knew exactly how much soil moisture you had at a specific planter depth would you change planting depth on the go? This is a question where the answer might be "yes" but the true answer is "how the heck would I do that?"

Precision Planting answers that by putting the sensor in a seed firmer - and it's a 'visual' sensor so it can 'see' soil moisture and organic matter. Agronomists have long known there's a correlation between soil color (comparatively) and other conditions like organic matter. Putting that to work in the field hasn't been easy.

Longer ago than I probably care to remember, I saw a nitrogen sensor that was designed to provide real-time organic matter feedback which would allow a farmer to raise and lower nitrogen rates on the go. The sensor worked, but back then I think there were challenges in the way you could control that anhydrous flow in real-time.

Today that's not a problem, we have so many sensors and control systems on machines that the SmartFirmer is almost the next logical innovation. With this information you can get a row-by-row reading of organic matter in the field; and you can know soil moisture to manage planting depth. That map of organic matter can be captured and recorded right into Climate FieldView, so you get that information into a usable layer pretty fast.

Sensors and their application are a big thing for ag in the future. We shared Sol-chip, which offers a way to put a low-power chip in the field and have real-time sensor data transmitted about soil moisture, and other factors. With SmartFirmer you have a rolling sensor gathering real-time info, and that same info could be used to control planting depth or trash wheel aggressiveness, to provide the perfect planting environment.

It will be interesting to see how this new tech tests out in planting season. The maps generated from this system will be new information for farmers to interpret. Interesting tech for sure.

Predicting insect patterns

Along the line of the 'sensor' world comes word that Spensa Technologies, Inc., a precision ag startup that is at work in the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, Ind., has come up with a way to more accurately predict insect movements in near real-time.

The company calls the tech its Dynamic Phenology and it makes use of trap data from a specific field to accurately predict future insect stages. For corn and soybean farmers, this may be valuable for monitoring aphid populations or corn rootworm migrations. The system pulls together real-time weather data and trap-based pest observations to predict different stages, including when insects hatch, and when they fly.

The company already makes a smart trap that can detect insect activity, this next step is a logical evolution in the process. The key is modeling the information so that scouts and others can make decisions about insect populations. Interesting stuff, learn more at

TAGS: Planters
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