Outlook 2017: The Future of Ag

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Farm Forum

‘Farming is really becoming digital,’ Wheat Growers Precision Ag Manager says

By Shannon Marvel

smarvel@aberdeennews.com

Farming is becoming more digital and wirelessly connected in 2017.

Brent Wiesenburger, precision ag manager for Wheat Growers in Aberdeen, said one of the big technology innovations expected to become more readily accepted by area farmers is wireless and cloud-based decision-making tools.

“There’s been a big uptick in sales of wireless transfer components for tractors and combines,” Wiesenburger said. “When a producer is out in the field doing their farming operations, whether it’s seeding, planting or combining, there’s new technology where you can put a modem in the cab and all that data that’s getting collected can get streamed back into a cloud based software solution that can be used to help make better farm management decisions.”

The data that can be streamed wirelessly into a “cloud” — which simply means storing data on the internet rather than on your own computer — includes yield data, planting rates and seeding rates, as well as the type and location of different plant hybrid or varieties that have been planted in a field.

“The other thing that’s probably coming at us is more access to satellite imagery,” Wiesenburger said.

Improvements to satellite imagery access will allow farmers to assess the health of their crops more frequently and in higher resolution, he said.

“You would see areas in the field that are lagging behind areas that are doing very well. Historically, we’ve had access to imagery about every 16 days, but there’s getting to be enough satellites where we can get an image about every six days and they are getting to be higher resolution,” he said.

The images can be used to manage in-season nutrient needs and demands of the growing crop which leads to better use of the fertilizer.

“A practice like this is not only good for the plant, it is also good for the environment by decreasing fertilizer use rates,” Wiesenburger said.

“There’s another company out there, Planet Labs, which is a privately funded company that’s been wanting to break into the ag space. They’re actually putting enough satellites into space where you can receive daily images,” he added.

“You could see an image that could be a live feed, showing a daily image. You could see if your car was in your driveway yesterday — that’s coming at us,” he said.

This new image technology not only helps farmers manage in-season plant nutrient needs — it can help manage fertilizer inputs for the next year’s crop as well which, again, is good for the health of the overall environment, he said.

For example, an area that had high yields one year will require more fertilizer the following year. The technology could map out those areas and provide data on the areas as to how much fertilizer would be needed.

“We can plan next year’s fertility needs by using the satellite imagery and other layers of data to do directed soil sampling. These samples are sent to a lab for analysis and our agronomy staff can then, much like a doctor, prescribe a recommended fertilizer rate that reaches yield goals of the producer while keeping economics in mind at the same time,” Wiesenburger said.

There’s also new technology in the works that can be used for pest control.

Wiesenburger said there are insect traps that could be deployed that can automatically detect what kind of insect is caught in the trap. Then, the trap communicates with a web-based software solution to show a heat map of where the pests are concentrated.

“So we could go in and see that a certain geographical region has a higher pest pressure that could impact a growing crop — we can then help the producer decide whether or not to spray for the targeted pest, another example of using technology to make decisions that have a positive impact on our environment,” Wiesenburger said.

Overall, Wiesenburger said there are a lot of technology innovations to look forward to in the agriculture industry.

“Farming is really becoming digital,” he said.

Follow @smarvel_AAN on Twitter.