Farmer Takes DIY Yield Monitor to Market

07:50AM Feb 05, 2019
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Producer Joe Gordon uses FarmTRX for barley, corn, soybeans and wheat, and handled his own installation within a couple of hours.
( FarmTRX )

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Perry Casson had three combines on his farm and not a single working yield monitor, but wanted to collect yield data from his fields. When he searched the market for the right device for his older model harvesters, the high prices drove him back to the computer already in his pocket—a smartphone. Build rather than buy?

Casson’s initiative resulted in a low-cost, simple to install, and easy-to-use yield monitoring system—FarmTRX. The unit records data and pairs with smartphones or tablets via Bluetooth for live in-cab display, and auto-generates yield maps. FarmTRX fits any combine with a clean grain elevator and is typically user-installed in less than four hours.

If money talks, savings talk louder: Casson’s retrofit effort, which began in 2015 as an on-farm DIY prototype, hit fields during harvest 2018 and is commercially available for under $2,000.

Back to the Farm

Casson, 54, is part of an emerging group of farmers versed in both agriculture and computer technology. Navigating around a tight growing window (110 days), Casson mainly raises small grains—barley, canola and wheat on the relatively flat fields of west-central Saskatchewan near the town of Medstead, at the northern edge of Canada’s arable land: “Everything turns into boreal forest above us. Still today, walk out of my yard heading north and you might not see another human till you’re walking south again.”

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After high school in 1982, with a brutal ag economy casting a pall over his farming future, Casson attended a local technical college to become an electronics engineering technologist. Combined with a flair for innovative software development, Casson was a key part of a successful product development that culminated in a radio propagation modeling technology that was the “right product at the right time” during the global cellular network buildout. “It became the leading tool in North America and we sold out in 2001, taking a great offer we couldn’t refuse.”

Casson returned to his family farm in 2003 where “average” fields are a quarter section.  “I came back to farm; I came back to spend time with my family. I was excited to integrate my technical world with my farming roots. We were and are going through an incredible period of technological change in farming, and it was so satisfying to watch it happen.”

Back in the ag rut of the 1980s, Casson never suspected technological opportunity would roar back to the farm, but by the early 1990s, he began sensing the potential for major change. “You could see it coming with things like GPS and crop genetics. But even back in those first years of the 90s, I had a lot of optimism for agriculture. Automation and robotics were coming, it was just a matter of time. It was so exciting to return to the farm in 2003 and see all the opportunity for improvements.”

In 2015, Casson was running variable rate fertilizer tests with Cavalier Agrow, but needed a means to efficiently measure the trial results. Enter FarmTRX.  After 10 mornings of spare time, Casson cobbled together the components of a prototype. “I had the hardware skills to build the data logger and access to a software company I cofounded in 2004. It was a confluence of expertise, new generation affordable chipsets, and existing technology I could leverage.”

By 2018, three harvest cycles later, Casson and his software company had FarmTRX ready.  He found a local hardware partner skilled in manufacturing agri-electronics to handle building logistics.

Counting Kernels

Although designed to measure and display real-time harvest data in the cab, Casson says FarmTRX is suited for “the guy who just wants to get in and get harvest done and doesn’t want data collection to get in the way of doing work. Once the flurry of harvest is over, log into your account and everything is there to help make the complicated decisions.”

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Casson emphasizes the ease of setup and installation. “It’s only a couple of hours if you’re handy hooking up wires and drilling a couple holes. Calibration is straightforward: Start a counter running and harvest a known area. Weigh the output and apply a correction factor to the default value to get the accuracy right. You can also do it all after-the-fact in the cloud if you don’t bother calibrating. Even if you run with the defaults; you can easily fix it all later.”

A wide spectrum of customers lined up to purchase FarmTRX, Casson explains. “I thought our target customer would run mid-2000 or earlier combines that didn’t have factory-installed monitors, but guys have installed these on brand new $500,000 harvesters because the data is high quality and instantly available. No tedious point cleaning or pulling memory cards.”

Profit Per Acre

Joe Gordon, 29, operates a dairy farm and a custom harvesting service in Leeds County, Ontario. Taking time to search for a yield monitor for a 2003 Gleaner R65, Gordon was frustrated by market prices. “We’re talking $10,000 for some monitors and that includes a display that would otherwise just sit in the cab all year unless you had another use for it. I didn’t want to put down big money knowing it might be obsolete in just a few years.”

In the summer of 2018, he bought a FarmTRX unit for fall harvest in barley, corn, soybeans and wheat, and handled his own installation within a couple of hours. The system was an excellent fit, according to Gordon: “It’s been very simple to use, and the calibration is so easy. I use a tablet, and everything is straightforward to understand. I watch my expenses and FarmTRX was ideal.”

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Jared Schott, 50, grows 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans, sunflowers and wheat (in addition to Limousin cattle and commercial Angus) on land just west of the Missouri River and north of the Grand River at the north-central tip of South Dakota. Schott never pulls the trigger on new equipment and doesn’t pay over $5,000 for a combine. “I make repairs and drive them till the wheels fall off, and I’m not the only one. My farming friends stay away from new equipment and add technology as they go along. It’s about profit per acre and that’s what it takes to make it in farming.”

Schott spent a year researching yield monitors before he found FarmTRX. “It was a no-brainer with the price point and capabilities. Even if I dropped $100,000 on a combine, I’d still put one of these in.”

Installed in less than an hour on a 1680 Case IH during late harvest with snow on the ground, Schott says FarmTRX performance was excellent. “I’m software savvy and this matched my wish list. One easy calibration, a few tweaks, and I knew my yields almost immediately. I don’t need an expensive monitor when I’ve already got a smartphone that’s paid for.”

“Having done a little mapping and tracing the fields ahead of time, all I had to do was drive by in the semi, connect with my phone while my dad was in the combine, and upload it to the cloud, and instantly on the way to town I could the see the mapping and the yield and color.”

Schott bought seed for 2019 as yield data from 2018 rolled onto his smartphone. “We knew it right in the cab. We literally jumped down from the combine and sat with our seed dealer and picked varieties for next year.”

From Idea to Box

Casson advises other innovative producers to consider the long-term track when taking an idea to market. FarmTRX required three years and a significant team to move from first prototype to a commercial product cleared by all the compliance and licensing. “It’s a tough road from an idea to a shiny box of product.” 

“I just did what farmers have done for hundreds of years. I had a problem and used the tools I had to fix the problem,” Casson adds. “There are more and more tech farmers out there with good ideas. I’d add that if a product is useful to you as a farmer, it likely will be useful to others as well. If I need three, my neighbor may need six.”

For more, see:

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Blood And Dirt: A Farmer's 30-Year Fight With The Feds

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