Many growers and crop advisors consider site-specific yield measurement as the best way to start with precision agriculture. The technology reveals differences in terms of quantity, and in some crops differences in quality as well. Every farmer knows that those differences are there, but to what extent remains uncertain until they can be measured objectively. Despite the farmer’s knowledge and experience, the amazement about the real differences within a field is often very big.
Possible in virtually every crop
By measuring the crop yield site-specific you not only harvest your crop, but also a huge amount of useful data about the quantity and quality of the crop. Where the first steps in precision farming with GPS were made about 25 years ago, yield measurement technology nowadays is commercially available for virtually every type of crop.
With the arrival of yield measurement systems for root crops about 5 years ago, it became possible to monitor yields in (for The Netherlands at least) big and moneymaking crops. Usually inexpensive weigh cells underneath webs or tanks/bunkers are used which makes the technology suitable for many pulled and self-propelled harvesters including potato, onion, sugar beet, chicory, celery, cauliflower, carrot, cabbage and flower bulb harvesters.
The majority of Agritechnica visitors is of course drawn to the – literally – big new tractors like the John Deere 9RX and the Fendt 1000 series. Not surprisingly, Agco said the Fendt 1050 was the most photographed product at the Agco booth. Another tractor, but with the size of a small car and parked somewhat secluded in hall 26, also attracted much attention. Not by that many visitors, but moreover by a lot of engineers from (tractor) manufacturers, including the above mentioned global players. I’m talking about the autonomous Greenbot tractor developed and manufactured by a Dutch company called Precision Makers. In fact, the roots of this vehicle lie at Dutch Wageningen University. It undoubtedly opened the eyes and ears of all tractor manufacturers. I definately see an analogy with ‘start-up’ car maker Tesla and the ratrace to introduce the first autonomous car between Apple, Google and the established car manufacturers.
For those of you who looked beyond the big machines and tractors, different trends were undeniably visible in the area of precision farming and smart farming, or should we call it (big) data farming? Almost all manufacturers of slurry / manure application equipment displayed NIR (Near Infra Red) spectroscopy solutions for inline nutrient content determination. John Deere and a number of partners (again) won a gold medal for their Connected Nutrient Management concept. Dutch company Veenhuis showed its Nutri-Flow NIR application and German company Zunhammer introduced VAN-Control 2, also with NIR. At the end of this year the first commercially available NIR systems will go into practice.
The neccesaty of collecting, transmitting and processing of big data was another unmistakable trend. Several companies showed telematics systems to send data wirelessly from field to office. The collection and transmission of data from implements and machines via the telematics system of the tractor was presented amongst others by Claas and by Kverneland (in a bèta version). Claas’ system goes by the name of TONI (Telematics ON Implement). Tractor manufacturers increasingly put effort in TIM or ICT solutions: Tractor Implement Management and Implement Controls Tractor. In Hall 15, the number of drones (UAVs) on display was enormous.
In its so-called Industry Note 513 from October Dutch Rabobank focuses on the impact of big data on farming. According to the report (Dutch) “From intuition to information”, data intensive farming can generate over 10 billion dollars extra value in arable farming. With the massive amounts of data, it is possible to base decisions on facts rather than on intuition allowing for increased economies of scale, says the bank. Data-intensive farming will also change an put stress on the relationships between farmers, their suppliers and their customers.
Smart farming requires cooperation
According to the report, the development of smart farming methods calls for close cooperation between farmers, suppliers, agronomists, developers of technologies and customers. In the absence of a proven revenue model, the farmer and producer of all self-contained data, might not get the majority share of the value created with the data. Cooperatives should play a more important role and should also ensure that the farmer instead of his suppliers benefits most from the value of analysing and combining the data. In the US, South America and Asia this will most likely result in the accelerated development of large agricultural cooperatives.
Potential value big data over $10 billion
Rabobank estimates that the transition to data-intensive farming can generate over $ 10 billion additional value per year for farmers worldwide. This figure is based on an estimated revenue increase of 5 percent to 80 percent of the acreage of the seven most popular crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, canola, barley and sunflowers). The actual value will be higher because the same benefits also apply for smaller crops such as sugar cane, potatoes, sugar beet, vegetables and fruit.
Precision farming in Europe took off about 20 years ago. The GPS and sensor aided technique in principle offers huge potential to improve efficiency and precision with respect for our environment. Nevertheless, the impossibilities seem to prevent a real breakthrough.
As from the beginning, the main focus has been on technology. Technology that, if you take a close look, hasn’t changed that much over the past decades. Of course we now use centimetre precision and autopilot steering systems, but the problems still are interpretation and translation of the collected data. How can you relate lower yields to soil conditions or nutrient deficits, or both?
Agco recently announced its new technology strategy Fuse Technologies. This platform is aimed at offering ‘leading-edge precision ag solutions’, says Agco. Interesting and about time as the various Agco brands all have their dedicated solutions for precision farming. AgCommand telematics for MF & Challenger vs. Variodoc telematics for Fendt and MF Auto-Guide vs Fendt Vario Guide steering systems. Besides Agco joined forces with precision ag specialist TopCon.
Fuse Technologies successor Fieldstar?
MF Fieldstar terminal
What amazes me is that Agco is not marketing and communicating its Fieldstar precision farming system anymore. Mid nineties of last century, Fieldstar was the pionering system in precision farming. The system was developed by the Danish combine harvester manufacturer Dronningborg. Partly owned by Agco at that time, it also manufactered the MF combines. In from 1997, Agco bought all shares. Fieldstar was a yield mapping system that registrated cereal yield per square meter using GPS. As precision farming is not only about yield mapping, but also about applying inputs at the right spot, they created the precision farming circle or cyclus. I couldn’t find it online, so I scanned it from my internship report of September 1998. With Fuse Technologies, Agco seems to initiate a renewed path of own precision farming developments. I’m very Q-rious what the strategy will bring! Will they pioneer again with revolutionary innovations? The near future will tell!