The Big Picture on Precision Ag

February 11, 2017 01:02 AM
 
The Big Picture on Precision Ag

Veris Technologies Inc. designs, builds and markets sensors and controls for the precision ag industry. Veris President Eric Lund discusses the growing precision ag marketplace, the impact on the industry and offers insight for farmers climbing the agtech learning curve. 
 

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How did Veris get started? 
When I worked in Chicago for a few years, I had one foot on the farm in Kansas and one in Chicago. Then, I had the opportunity to join a startup in Salina that didn’t have a sales manager, which was Great Plains Manufacturing. The company grew over 17 years, and I became COO. In 1996, I started Veris with partners, and I took over my family farm. We started using precision ag on the farm and converted to long-term no-till and, at the time, some advanced crop rotations. 

At Veris, we were focused on building soil sensing technologies for precision ag. I partnered with Geoprobe, a company using sensors in totally different applications, but the circuitry is still the same. For example, they log electroconductivity (EC) in the soil 100' deep. In most applications, they ignore the top 3', but that’s what we focus on for agricultural applications.

How do you describe the impact of precision agriculture on the industry? 
I really see the precision ag industry as bifurcated: machine control and precision agronomy. Machine control includes row section shutoff, steering, etc. It’s raised the level of professionalism with applied maps and efficiency. Precision agronomy is the other side; it’s site-specific management, and this is just now beginning to come to fruition. There are $20, $30, $50 or even $100 per-acre gains we can get by managing every field to its potential. 

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What’s the benefit of zone management versus grid? 
In some ways, it’s a controversy we need to move on from. I think most research on pH variability has concluded the 2.5-acre grid is just too coarse to be accurate and have significant advantage over blanket-rate lime. Most research says the area needs to be a half acre or 1 acre, but you can affordably sense variability smaller than a 2.5-acre grid. There will be variability in those zones. There are enough old hog lots and banding that no matter what you do, you’re going to leave variability you can’t afford to find in sampling. 

How do you describe the opportunities with in-the-soil sensors and remote sensing? 
Remote sensing could be seen as a competitor because you could use that to form zones. We differentiate by saying we map the soil. The big opportunity with crop images, whether it’s yield maps or remote sensing, is for them to be used with soil maps. What’s a $10 per acre map cost when you’ve got hundreds of dollars in inputs? When you go to the doctor, they look at your symptoms, which are all external. Now, they might do an MRI or a CT scan. They still want to know symptoms, but then, they also look inside. Crop images show symptoms. Yield maps are the postmortem. Soil sensing goes inside the issue. Put it together, and you can solve problems. 

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