Standing guard for an entire crop season, a red Ohio State University (OSU) flag flew patiently over a plant named Terra Byte. Beyond gathering the most data on a single corn plant across an entire growing season, OSU researchers are using Terra to pick apart the strengths and weaknesses of precision agriculture data. Surrounded by 3.2 million other corn plants in a 100-acre field, Terra was a vehicle to examine methods of data collection, analysis and actionable potential for farmers.
Precision agriculture graduate student Trey Colley used a wealth of research and applied it to an outside-of-the-box field situation. He began by selecting ground worked by farm manager Nate Douridas at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center. Douridas planted three headland passes of 100-day corn around the field where Terra grew. Colley chose ground zero just inside the first pass of 114-day corn and planted the red OSU flag over Terra, accepting the risk of deer, weather or machinery mishap.
Preseason, planting, in-season and harvest, an immense amount of data was collected from Terra: 18.4 gigabytes; 28 megabytes per kernel. (Terra’s record is currently awaiting Guinness confirmation.) Theoretically, if the same rate of collection was applied across the entire 100 acres, the storage requirements would be staggering, Colley says: “The total comes to 60 petabytes of data. To store that much data, you’d need 466,000 iPhones or about 360 million filing cabinets filled with paperwork.”
Kaylee Port, program manager for OSU Precision Agriculture, says Terra was an attempt to showcase various tools available to growers. “Hopefully our work with Terra will allow growers to do more with their data, integrate new data and make better on-farm management and crop production decisions with that data.”
Climate FieldView, AirScout, Trimble Ag Software, MyJohnDeere, time lapse cameras, a weather station, aerial imagery, application data, input measurements, soil sensors and so much more, Terra’s data haul is intimidating in scope, but broken down into individual components, the tale-of-the-tape measurements reveal the hits and misses of farming.
Colley and the OSU team are compiling an overall report and will measure the economics of each technology across the whole field.
“We farm by the inches, which requires tremendous data collection. It’s important to look at as much ag technology as possible and decide if there’s ROI and where,” Douridas says.
For more information on the technology used in the Terra Byte project, visit fabe.osu.edu/node/6355.