Farmers watch crops grow in real time


Digital agriculture. Precision agriculture. Smart agriculture. E-agriculture.

These buzzwords currently circulating in the industry indicate a new evolution in agriculture: using digital technology to collect, store and analyze data from producers’ fields in order to improve the production of their farms.

The process is not entirely new. For some time, farmers have used hardware and software systems for yield mapping, GPS guidance, variable rate applications and other practices.

But while these tools collect large amounts of data, they don’t organize that data in a convenient place where farmers can view it and make decisions from it for the benefit of their farming operations.

This is exactly what a new digital tool of agribusiness companies is now doing. It represents the latest wave of the ongoing digitization of agriculture. Some call it a revolution in agricultural technology.

“Many farmers have collected data over the years,” says Ron Makowsky, digital integration specialist at Bayer Corporation, which markets a digital platform called Climate FieldView.

“They applied it through monitors across their farms. But in the past, there was no way to easily review this information throughout the season because it was stuck in this monitor. What digital technology does now is take that data – herbicide spray, fertilizer placement – and visualize these different layers as growers watch their crops grow so they can see the effect of what. ‘they did in these apps.

Side-by-side Climate FieldView maps of a field showing plant population (left) and field health (right).

Photo:
Climate fieldView

Indeed, says Makowsky, farmers are taking the data they already have and moving it up a notch to observe the development of their crops in real time using images throughout the growing season.

Tracking developing images (called data layers) can help farmers detect something that is going on – such as an insect outbreak or disease problem – and act quickly, Makowsky says.

But the real benefit of the technology is that it allows farmers to spend less time sorting through data and more time making decisions to help them in the future, says Makowsky.

“Why I really like digital tools is that they help farmers visualize and compare at the end of the season to see for themselves through their harvest and yield information which is the best product. so that they can make better decisions for the season and the following seasons. beyond.”

Better comprehension

Another advantage is that the technology generates more information than can be obtained by exploring fields and collecting data based solely on vision, says Easton Sellers, a farm management instructor in the Agriculture Diploma Program at the University of Manitoba.

The tools provide a visual representation of variabilities within a field, as well as real-time field maps to show where entry rates can be fine-tuned for maximum benefit, Sellers explains.

“You can see on a screen where to put the inputs where they are needed and not waste them in the poorest areas,” he says.

Growers can also look at maps collected in previous years to see how certain fields are performing over time, Sellers adds.

But perhaps the biggest plus is that the technology isn’t as intimidating to use as you might think, Sellers says.

“So far, the experience has been very positive for the students,” says Sellers. “They don’t have a hard time learning how to use these elements and they have access to support teams that help them stay comfortable with hardware and software and resolve issues throughout the season. . “

U of M offered a course titled “Agricultural Technologies for Farm Management Decision Making” for the first time as a pilot project in 2021. Sellers, who owns a fruit picking farm and orchard near Teulon , was part of the teaching team.

The course focused on data-based agronomic tools used in grain, oilseed and specialty field crop operations. He hopes to eventually expand into the ranching business, Sellers said.

In delivering the course, the U of M partnered with four agricultural technology companies – Bayer, Farmers Edge, Enns Brothers, and Metos Canada / Pessl Instruments – who provided the technology for the course and hosted a seminar for them. field students at U. from M’s Carman Research Farm.

Guy Ash, Global Training Manager for Metos (right), is leading a seminar this summer for students at the University of Manitoba.

Photo:
Metos

Sensory tools deployed for the project included a complete weather station, deep-probe soil moisture stations (root zone soil moisture), surface soil monitoring stations for crop-specific models, the iScout insect monitoring tool, the CropView monitoring platform for crop development imaging and the LoRain platform that tracks precipitation, actual temperature and relative humidity allowing for plant-specific disease risk modeling. field.

Guy Ash, Global Head of Training at Metos, said the course and instrumentation project was a good example of how technology and its data collection capabilities have been greatly simplified in recent years.

He describes Internet instruments as “transforming” the way farmers manage their farms in all aspects, including fertility, seeding, spraying, disease management, harvesting and storage.

Digital tools have become easier to use and integrate, and are a powerful form of risk management.

They give farmers better information, faster, which enables them to make better decisions, he said.

“These tools eliminate traditional risks,” Ash said. “They provide accurate information for production decisions. “

Farmer experience

Michael Reutter, who cultivates with his family near Grunthal, was one of eight students who took the course. He partnered with Bayer to use Climate FieldView for his project. Reutter says that before taking the agricultural technology course, he had virtually no experience with the program.

“Before taking the course, we collected all the data we collect today, but we never collected it consistently. So we had all the data, but we never put it together to use it, ”says Reutter.

He says the family already had some of the hardware and software required for the course. They purchased additional FieldView readers and adaptive equipment, and downloaded two program applications.

Reutter then installed FieldView in an air planter, corn planter, sprayer, and combines, and watched the data come in.

“It was really useful for our farm to have a visual of our data in the field. To say that the field was around 76 bushels per acre of wheat is very nice, but in variable soils some areas will produce about 100 bushels while others will give about 50. I think that will give us the opportunity eventually to have some. variable rates, ”Reutter said.

“It was also convenient for carrying out variety and fertilizer trials. FieldView would keep track of all the different variables as well as their locations in a field. It was just a lot less for us to worry about.

The LoRain platform tracks precipitation, actual temperature and relative humidity, enabling field-specific disease risk modeling.

Photo:
Metos

The fact that the terrain maps progress with the growing season is also very helpful, Reutter continues. A new data layer is added for each activity. There is a seed layer at the start of the season, followed later by a spray layer, then a crop layer at harvest.

Reutter said it was also useful to see on a map which fields were producing in real time. It made it more comfortable to market some of the crops directly from the combine “because we felt we had a better idea of ​​what the fields would actually look like based on what we saw and what we knew. on the fields “. It also helped the family plan for the amount of bin storage needed.

Plus, each year produces a new set of data, so a grower can compare maps to see how a field has performed over time.

Reutter says the elevation maps proved surprisingly useful for a quarter-section where the family wanted to redirect drainage. While the elevations weren’t thin enough to show where the ditches should go, they revealed two feet of slope across the field, indicating where the water would like to flow.

Best of all, FieldView dramatically reduces the need for paperwork. Reutter says the family recorded everything manually in a book: dates of sowing, varieties used, dates and rates of spraying, etc. FieldView does all of this automatically, bringing it all together.

Lose the paper

The Reutter experience is a perfect example of why farmers should use digital technology, Makowsky says.

“They want a better record keeping system. They want to get away from pens, notebooks and information binders. Having it in a digital solution means it’s there. The information is all stored in a cloud. It’s still there and it’s accessible.

Polls show that the average Canadian farmer is approaching 50 and getting older all the time. Some might wonder if this advanced level of digital technology is not too difficult for older farmers to manage. Reutter has a simple answer: don’t worry. It’s user-friendly. It is easy to learn and use.

As an example, Reutter cites his Opa (grandfather) who is 70 years old and first used FieldView this year and passed it.

“He said, ‘It’s almost too easy. “

The technology is also not prohibitively expensive. In the case of FieldView, Reutter says a farm only needs an annual subscription at a cost of $ 149. For each machine running FieldView, a reader costs $ 329 and an iPad mounting kit costs $ 70. Add the three together and the total for one machine is $ 548 plus tax.

At this rate, it doesn’t take long for the system to pay for itself, Sellers says.

“If you paid a few hundred dollars for hardware and an annual subscription, that’s pennies compared to what you could do on a quarter section by reducing your entry waste. “


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