Yield monitoring and precision ag technology have been on the farm for almost three decades. However, many industry voices say there are still huge strides to be gained in maximizing today’s technology as well as the gains that will come from future technologies used on the farm.
“Agriculture needs technology, but technology needs agriculture because it can showcase the opportunities of technology,” said Josh Henretig, senior director of Microsoft’s AI For Earth at the 2018 Farm Journal AgTech Expo. According to AgFunder, in 2017 there was $2.6 billion invested in agtech.
Henretig went on to say that we are collecting, creating, using, and storing data in ways like we never have before, which are all catalysts for how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used.
“There are four ways AI is empowering decisions: descriptive analytics (what happened), diagnostic analytics (why it happened); predictive analytics (what might happen); and prescriptive analytics (what can I do based on available resources),” he explains.
Others also see the emerging potential of AI in agriculture.
“I see artificial intelligence as a game-changer, but we have to have the quality and quantity of data to back it up,” says Steve Cubbage of Record Harvest. “I still question if we have good enough data to make AI come to the farm level. Also, I’m looking for a company who can bring together the Internet of Things. Right now, it’s very disjointed out there. You adopt a sliver of a technology on your farm, but who ever can bring that together as a whole will be a game-changer.”
One AI-enabled technology that might come first is remote sensing to improve scouting, says Tim Norris of Ag Info Tech in Ohio.
“I look at the Teranis product as an example, which can see the weed pressures and insect pressures with imaging and measure infestations. This could take our scouting to a new level,” Norris says.
In his consulting business, Norris applies the motto “precision with a purpose.”
“We want every technology a farmer implements on their farm to actually solve something they are having trouble with,” he says.
This focus on ROI is echoed by Cubbage.
“As we look to 2019, I encourage farmers to take a deep breath and really look at what will pay back on their farm. Farmers have to have a laser focus on what will make them money in the coming year because we have really tight margins, and technologies should be looked at as what can help immediately,” he says.
When it comes to the agronomic applications of technology, Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie says farmers can keep focused on management to maximize three things: sunlight, water and nutrients. He says a sound agronomic foundation will be required for any return on the technology investment to be achieved. This includes hybrid selection, placement and populations.
Plant genetics are another application of technology with accelerated results coming to the farm. As former Monsanto (now Bayer) chief technology officer Robb Fraley said at the 2018 AgTech Expo, with all of today’s breeding technologies, we can find the one in a trillion trait in just three months of research work.
Plant breeders are using technologies such as AI and gene editing to be more precise and faster in their development of advanced genetics.
So where are other opportunities? Pete Nelson with AgLaunch, who works every day with emerging technologies and startups, says the biggest winner with technology will be the good growers who are already able to synthesize data, genetics and all of the pieces in their daily farm management to optimize efficiencies.
“I see new market opportunities for farmers, so in 10 years, I think there will be 20 crops instead of five, and the supply chain from on-farm storage to customer development will change,” he says. “There won’t be one silver bullet with technology tools. It’ll be a wholistic approach to look how all the pieces fit together.”
Many of the above sentiments were illustrated at the AgTech Expo with the four agtech startups participating in the Innova $100,000 Row Crop Challenge powered by AgLaunch:
- Kopper Kutter: Kopper Kutter, LLC offers ARRO (Alternating Rotary Rowcrop Option) conversion kits for cornheads so that they can reliably harvest sorghum, sunflowers, and many other crops.
- Rogo (formerly AgNext): The SmartCore by Rogo (formerly AgNext) uses a fully-autonomous robot that collects and packages soil samples with complete depth-, pattern- and location-consistency to give farmers more accurate soil data so they can make more profitable fertilizer decisions.
- SioTeX: SioTeX is an eco-friendly specialty chemical manufacturer that makes a pure biogenic amorphous silica from rice hulls. Agricultural customers use the silica as a high-quality soil amendment to protect plants from mites, fungus, and stress and to increase crop yields.
- Smart Farm Systems: Smart Farm Systems provides farmers with a precision irrigation monitoring and control system that allows them to apply just the right amount of water at just the right time on a field-by-field basis, conserving resources, improving crop yields and profitability.
The winner was the Arro corn head conversion kit for harvesting specialty crops.
Learn more about where agtech is headed from our expert panelists featured on stage during the AgTech Expo: