Precision’s Next Frontiers

January 28, 2014 06:43 PM
Precision’s Next Frontiers

High-definition is on the horizon

Precision ag technology has come a long way in the past two decades. The industry has made numerous strides in hardware and software. Innovations such as auto-steer were cutting edge a decade ago but are standard now.

Everyone has their sights set on the next big innovation. All bets are currently on a multi-hybrid planter, and most major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have a prototype in development.

Aside from that, what other new advancements and discoveries are left to be made in ag technology? For starters, incremental accuracy will continue to be an industry push, says Kevin Cobb, product manager with Topcon Positioning Systems.

"In some ways, we are going through a transition from precision ag to high-definition precision ag, much like television went from tubes to flat-panel LCDs to HD LED," Cobb explains. "Now 3-D TVs are becoming popular. We can compare this to precision farming—evolving will never be done."

Today’s big data requires sensors to fuel its effectiveness. Because of that, Cobb says to be prepared for a future where sensors are more commonplace. "With more sensors, we’ll have more granular data being collected and used for decisions," he says.

According to USDA, agriculture accounts for about 80% of the water consumed in the U.S. Factor in depleting aquifers, such as the Ogallala, and water access will be a critical issue in the future, says Chris van der Loo, market manager for Trimble’s Water Solutions division.

"We expect more regulation, and water conservation will be more and more important, as will be water quality of runoff," he says.

Precision has a valuable role to play in water conservation, van der Loo says. To that end, Trimble made two water-related acquisitions in 2013, IQ Irrigation and RainWave, which will help the company better monitor and apply variable-rate irrigation; van der Loo hopes that the adoption rate of variable-rate irrigation will continue to grow.

"It hasn’t really taken hold yet, but the technology currently available will make this type of application more prominent in the short-term," he says.

Maximize Capacity. Another trend in precision ag will simply be getting farmers to use the technology they already have, says Craig Marsh, an agronomist with South Dakota-based Complete Agronomy Solutions.

"We’re finding the majority of growers can collect data, but they’re spending a lot of money to drive in a straight line and print one or two yield maps," Marsh says. "This is about 5% of what they could be doing. With more information coming out of the combine, we have more opportunity for data interpretation and analysis."

Joining together disparate layers of data—including yield information, soil variations, hybrid selection, rainfall, temperature, humidity and more—will also be a strong trend moving forward, says Erik Ehn, business area director of smart machines at Trimble.

"Once you start piecing those things together, you can make recommendations at a really granular level," Ehn says. "The common theme is connectivity." 

For a glimpse of how precision technology is being incorporated into the livestock sector, visit

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