DIY Computer Code Arrives

March 4, 2017 02:49 AM
 
DIY Computer Code Arrives

Today’s code controls tomorrow’s task—and it’s getting easier

Learn code, my son. Learn code. Just a decade ago, using computer code to enhance a farming operation was a highly limited proposition, but digital technology has gone river over rock and the current is getting swifter. The DIY opportunity for computer programming in farming is still at a seminal stage, but innovative growers say today’s code will control tomorrow’s task. 

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At its core, a computer is a box of switches, and code is a set of instructions to turn the switches on or off. However, complicated binary chains have given way to code in the form of simple English sentences or code manipulated by dragging boxes on the screen. Bottom line: The age of arcane code has been replaced with accessibility for growers, ushering in a world of farm opportunity.

Jim Poyzer, 66, farms in central Iowa and is crafting many DIY digital solutions. (He started by spending $300 and using a microprocessor to build a planter monitor for a 1969 John Deere 7000.) “Start with a few devices in the field to measure soil temperature and moisture, and have the data sent to your smartphone,” he says.

For beginners, Poyzer recommends an Arduino (essentially, a computer on a tiny board) to hook up moisture and temperature sensors. The programming is simple, and code is controlled with a laptop and basic sentence commands. 

“You can buy Arduino and get a kit, and it doesn’t take long to get familiar,” he says.

Poyzer suggests farmers seek out a wealth of YouTube videos or visit www.element14.com for tutorials and instruction. He also has a website (www.outfarming.com) with his latest backyard farm innovations. “This type of technology is not going to take 20 years to go mainstream in farming. I think it’ll be commonplace in five years,” he predicts. 

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Producer and precision ag consultant Ben Brutlag, 29, is the innovator behind Yield Flexx, lightweight sidedressing equipment designed to optimize nutrient placement. Brutlag, from Grant County, Minn., is a proponent of code learned early and says opportunities are only just beginning. He writes code prescriptions for fertilizer and seed, and also uses Arduinos. 

“Being able to program interactive control devices opens endless possibilities for automation and monitoring,” Brutlag notes.

“Farmers don’t need a degree in computer science, but the ability to write out some simple code can be so helpful on the farm and doesn’t require lots of learning,” says Matt Reimer, 30, a Canadian producer who built automated controls for his John Deere 7930 in 2015 and uses the driverless tractor during harvest. He stresses computer proficiency isn’t required to make adjustments or simple repairs. 

Arduinos have a growing presence on Reimer’s Killarney, Manitoba operation, and he programs the devices to monitor tank fluid levels, control water pressure and operate pumps. He installs the sensors and writes the instructions in code. The sensors turn on warning lights and send texts or emails. 

“This is as simple as it gets, but it’s so powerful and useful on my farm,” describes Reimer, whose sensor innovations have led to Reimer Robotics, a side business focused on automation in remote grain bin monitoring. “Buy an Arduino, learn the basics and you’ll find new ways to use one on your 
farm operation.”

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