Once upon a time, a tractor was just a tractor. Today’s tractors, however, can be transformed into high-tech offices and roving data collectors with the proper equipment and know-how. Here is a quick review of the latest round of precision ag technologies that collect more data—and, more importantly, put it to work.
"The challenge is turning that data into useful information," says David Swain of AGCO Corporation. "A lot of the operating data from a farmer’s vehicles can be collected using
AgCommand, our telematics product, to make key decisions that can impact profitability."
AgCommand has been around for a couple of years as a web application but is available for the first time in 2012 as a mobile app. Farmers can set alerts for up to 25 parameters to help them operate equipment more efficiently. Swain says users can have interesting and sometimes unexpected insights from these alerts.
"For example, if you see a lot of wheel slippage," he says, "first off, you want to ask the operator about conditions. Was it wet, or was there a heavy dew? If it’s a new tractor or new implement, was the vehicle balanced correctly? Or is the implement too big or too small for the tractor?
With this information, you can make adjustments to improve efficiency and equipment operation."
Trimble is another company with a web application that allows you to manage your farming business from a web browser with live access. With Connected Farm, users can pull up a virtual dashboard for each vehicle that accesses real-time fuel level, engine oil pressure, hydraulic levels and more. The new app allows you to map field boundaries, mark flags, take georeferenced photos and enter scouting information on pests. All data collected can be uploaded to Connected Farm.
Marketing manager Brian Stark says Connected Farm’s value is in its versatility as well as its flexibility. "You can look at it live," he says.
"Ultimately, it’s about tracking data and storing, analyzing and printing reports for you and your agronomist."
|Mobile apps such as Trimble’s Connected Farm provide more flexibility in reviewing information.
A new face. Connected Farm taps into Farm Works Software, which Stark has been working with since 1996. He says that while the bottom-line goals of the software have remained unchanged for the past 20 years, it has become much more intuitive and user-friendly over time.
The web application interface has been enough of a game-changer that the entire industry is moving in that direction. Farmers no longer need a GPS-enabled laptop or handheld computer to scout or map boundaries in the field and then sync the data on their home computer.
Hemisphere GPS is the latest company to join the fray, with its Outback MAX and ConnX package. The company is focusing on simplicity by featuring shortcuts and favorites for the most commonly used tasks.
Product manager John Lueger says the process is also made easier through the company’s recent acquisition of AgJunction.com. "Participating ag retailers can create complex prescription maps through AgJunction on behalf of the farmer," he says. "From that point, it’s a pretty simple setup. The retailer pushes prescriptions to the tractor, and the farmer can then pull out the resulting data."
Lueger says he hopes these innovations help more farmers adopt variable-rate technologies. Swain suggests the inspiration for the next wave of precision ag advances could come from unconventional places.
"We won’t go to farm shows to see where the next products will come from," he says. "We’ll go to electronic shows, car shows. The tools are going to get better—the functionality is just in its infancy phase."