There was no shortage of ag tech advancements in 2017. Following are 10 areas seeing innovations that look to transform how farmers do business now and in the years ahead.
1. FIELDWORKERS OF THE FUTURE
A number of companies are working to incorporate robots into their portfolios.
Introduced by AGCO Fendt, Xaver uses small robots that work in swarms to plant corn. Twelve of these units, the company says, can replace an eight-row planter.
“Each robot has its own integrated planting unit, which is driven electronically,” says Benno Pichlmaier, director, global technology & innovation. “The machine is equipped with a 48-volt battery that powers the four electric motors on each wheel and the electric motor that drives the seeding unit. The battery lasts about five hours, and it takes about 30 minutes to charge.”
The innovation won a silver medal at the 2017 Agritechnica, which is a biennial event held in Hanover, Germany.
Also unveiled at Agritechnica, SPL takes mechanical weeding one step further by modifying its tracked electric vehicle to work autonomously in the field. The company says the robot has its own in-house crop-detection system that relies on a camera that uses machine-learning algorithms to differentiate between weeds and crops. It is also GPS-compatible and can make headland turns on its own.
Back in the U.S., initiatives like the agBOT Challenge are working to move robots from the development stage to active fieldworkers faster. Over the last two years, teams have gathered at Gerrish Farms in Rockville, Indiana, to showcase their autonomous machines, which are capable of planting seeds, identifying plant health, eradicating weeds, gathering layers of data, and more. Universities, entrepreneurs, and private groups are currently being recruited to enter the agBOT Challenge 2018, which will take place from May 17 to May 19. The competition will include both a Weed and Feed and Harvest categories. Learn more by visiting agbot.ag.
Drones have become an efficient way to identify areas that need to be replanted and even ones that couldn’t be replanted. This device also became a useful tool in identifying weather-related damage without adding compaction to fields.
“The advantage of using a drone is that each picture is georeferenced, which allows you to get accurate measurements for your claims adjuster with scientific evidence to back up that claim,” says Landon Smith, PrecisionHawk.
While some are still unsure about the role these devices can play in agriculture, Smith says utilizing a drone to scout your fields can help you stay on top of potential issues. It can also help you be proactive when it comes to managing weeds.
“PrecisionMapper released an algorithm that allows you to determine weed pressure in your field,” he says. “With this information, you can increase your efficiency in spot-spraying and identifying problem areas while they are still manageable and, in some cases, invisible to the naked eye.”
3. SUPERIOR SENSORS AT AN AFFORDABLE PRICE
By adding the Double 4K sensor as an option for the DJI Phantom 4 professional, advanced, and standard drones, agronomists, crop consultants, and growers gained Double 4K quality at an entry-level price and expanded their late-season data-collection options.
“We’ve experienced tremendous demand for our Double 4K sensor during the first half of the 2017 North American growing season. We are excited to extend compatibility to the popular Phantom 4 drone family – just as critical late-season applications are being calculated,” says Kris Poulson, vice president of agriculture for Sentera. “This solution gives ag professionals more control over their data capture than ever before, offering multiple configuration options on an easy-to-use platform.”
4. DATA FOR SALE
In 2016, farmers using Farmobile’s PUC, a passive data-capture device, created more than 4,000 electronic field records (EFRs). The result is a wealth of information for buyers interested in field, machine, and agronomy data, which can be used to power digital services or platforms or to facilitate side-by-side comparisons in search of innovative breakthroughs.
This year one of those buyers, global risk and reinsurance specialist Guy Carpenter, purchased enhanced data sets to optimize risk assessment and potentially improve the underwriting capabilities of its clients. As a first step, Carpenter plans to buy EFRs directly from farmers through Farmobile’s Data Store.
A first of its kind, this commitment, says Jason Tatge, CEO of Farmobile, validates the open market for farm data.
“This is a historical moment in the history of agriculture. Farmers have long been searching for a return on the high-quality data they capture. Now, we’re helping them open up an entirely new revenue stream by licensing their data to vetted third parties,” says Tatge.
5. DATA CONTROL
AgXchange is a platform developed through the collaboration of Grower Information Services Cooperative (GiSC) and Agricultural Data Coalition (ADC). GiSC has a working data storage and visualization platform. ADC developed a data storage and sharing pilot repository, featuring data connections to several precision farming data platforms. The two entities will integrate their complementary platforms to improve functionality and value, improve grower control over their data, and allow growers to share their data with universities and other researchers, in addition to other service providers, if the growers choose to do so.
“After meeting with each other, we realized we were working toward the same end goal, though from slightly different approaches. It was quickly clear that combining efforts would provide substantial benefits and move us all toward the objective of a grower-controlled, independent data storage repository,” says ADC president Ben Craker. “The central idea was to use the capabilities and resources of the diverse members of the ADC to establish a centralized, dynamic, but completely neutral, resource. Any time growers who have an AgXchange account want to share their data with a service provider, researcher, or other business interest, they will be able to grant permission if they so choose.”
6. QUALITY DATA
Having quality, actionable data from all field activities is a crucial component to the profitability of an operation. Yet, many farmers don’t take the necessary time to calibrate their yield monitors correctly to ensure that quality data is being collected.
The InCommand displays from Ag Leader Technology now feature new efficiency gains during harvest including a simplified calibration process. What that means for farmers is fewer calibration loads, as well as on-screen resettable bushel counters.
7. BETTER BIN CLEANOUT
GSI’s FlexWave technology uses two large liners that take turns inflating and deflating to gently push any leftover grain into a centrally located conveyor trough. A control system automatically senses the amount of grain and shuts off once the process is complete.
“FlexWave technology results in 99% cleanout and eliminates the risk of entrapment from falling grain or auger entanglement since it is truly a zero-entry bin unload method,” says Greg Trame, GSI director of engineering.
Not only does this technology eliminate this labor-intense, inefficient task, but also it keeps farmers from having to enter a bin to manually sweep out grain on the bin floor.
The innovation won a silver medal at the 2017 Agritechnica.
8. YOUR FIELD’S FUTURE
You can look into the future of your fields with the new R7 Field Forecasting Tool from WinField. This web-based crop-modeling solution, which is designed for corn, soybeans, and wheat, helps you improve input decisions by providing validated, trusted agronomic insights. “The Field Forecasting Tool offers a forward-looking perspective that you can use to help address in-season crop stresses,” says Joel Wipperfurth, WinField United ag technology applications lead. “The tool takes into account data from the Answer Plot Program and tissue samples from the NutriSolutions 360 system, and it uses the plant as a sensor to measure variables that data models can miss.”
9. SMART SPRAYING
Pocket Spray Smart is an iOS app, which works with Agrible’s Morning Farm Report software, to help farmers decide when to spray their fields. It shows farmers, up to three days in advance, what conditions look like hour by hour for spraying.
The app provides information on wind speed and direction, timing, and duration of temperature inversions that could impact spraying, and whether the soil will support equipment in the palm of your hand to best determine when to spray herbicides.
0. OPTIMIZED INPUTS
Corn Manager, the latest addition to the Farmers Edge farm-management platform FarmCommand, equips growers with tools for tracking corn growth, planning nitrogen applications, and visualizing overall crop health and variability.
“Efficient, fast, and exceedingly easy to use, Corn Manager represents a major breakthrough for the industry as it transitions from precision agriculture to decision agriculture,” says Solomon Folle, senior cropping system modeler at Farmers Edge. “Tapping into real-time, field-centric data monitored at a finer spatial scale than ever before, this new toolset optimizes nitrogen application rates on a zone-by-zone basis.”