Trust in precision agriculture

Photo1. Graphic showing the yield data created by a combine yield monitor.

Precision agriculture and big data are a couple of today’s buzzwords in the ag industry. Companies are offering precision agriculture services in the way of anything from grid or zone soil sampling (see photo 2 for zone map example), variable rate fertilizer and lime applications, drone imagery, to precision planting prescriptions. The term ‘big data’ refers to all the information required or created when completing precision ag services.

Photo 2. Example of a zone map derived from drone imagery or combination of drone imagery and yield map overlay.
Photo 2. Example of a zone map derived from drone imagery or combination of drone imagery and yield map overlay.

Services such as variable rate fertilizer or lime applications are not new to many. What is new is the constant questions about yield monitors and planters. What kind of guidance system does it run on? What kind of software do you need to download and read the maps? If you’re a farmer and these questions puzzle you, you are not alone.

How does someone who’s new to the precision side of agriculture learn about the technology? Do they ask their equipment dealer? Do they ask their ag-retailer? Do they have to hire someone to process the data that these machines produce? What do I do with all this data? Send it to the cloud? What is the cloud? Can you trust the cloud with your farm-business data?

The question I get at home is, “how do I supply my customers with yield data on the fields that I combined?” I’m frustrated to say, that I’m not sure how to answer that! Numerous phone calls with the equipment dealers led to more phone calls to a precision ag specialist, but ultimately, we still have not produced a map from the recent wheat harvest.  Is it reasonable to take the card into the ag-retailer you deal with to get them to produce the map, even though it might be for a non-customer? Are today’s crop specialists the same as precision ag specialists?

The goal of all this data and precision work is to make farm management more profitable and more efficient. More efficient use of fertilizer, and better seed choices and seeding rates for certain farms and soil types. It all sounds like we’re heading in the right direction, but the start of this road is bumpy and has a few potholes. I welcome you to share this, and please comment with your experiences, frustrations, or pointers!

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