Precision agriculture has officially left its infancy. The days of simple autosteering and yield-monitor technology are over. Those technologies still exist, to be sure, but precision ag companies have layered a full suite of products and services on top in recent years, including remote alerts, geo-tagging/geo-fencing functionality, fleet management services and much more.
Data management is the next challenge to conquer, say industry experts.
"Early innovators have upwards of 15 years of yield data and soil maps, but not many are doing much with that information," says Jeff Farrar, vice president of sales for Outback Guidance.
Some ventures, such as the Monsanto Integrated Farming Systems program, will develop highly farm-specific field prescriptions that help deliver localized hybrid and planting rate recommendations. The initial offering, FieldScripts, will double its testing efforts through Monsanto’s Ground Breakers research program with DeKalb corn hybrids this year, and will be commercially available in 2014.
With FieldScripts, the prescription is delivered as a complete product to the farmer. Other recent partnerships between seed companies and precision ag technology let farmers tinker with parameters during the selection process.
By understanding geography, soil types, nutrient levels and maturity levels, Ohio-based Steyer Seeds works with each farmer to pick the right portfolio of hybrids for his individual farm, says Ben Steyer, administration with the company.
"To be successful, we have to help the farmer be successful," he says.
With the help of MyFarms, Steyer Seeds combines proprietary product knowledge with the farmer’s data to procure hybrid selection and plant population recommendations.
The program, launched at the 2013 National Farm Machinery Show, is called ACRES (Advanced Crop Revenue Enhancement System).
After they sign up, customers start by selecting their fields from Google Earth maps. Back-end programming then pulls up a wealth of information – everything from soil type to yield potential. As farmers enter in additional information about their farm, such as crop rotation, traits used, etc., the ACRES algorithm spits out recommendations, which users can accept or tweak as needed.
Chris Fennig, MyFarms founder, says the process is essentially a massive, complicated decision tree that has been distilled into a user-friendly website for seed selection.
Steyer says the process allows the farmer to be the "ground specialist," and his company to be the "seed specialist." Adding precision ag becomes the tool that brings the two together, he says.
"We have a lot of data on our seed, and the farmer knows his fields better than anyone else," Steyer says. "Precision ag lets us put these two things together to help him get the most out of his ground when using our products."