You can’t fight Mother Nature. But with the right weather and precipitation data flowing directly into your farm management software, maybe you don’t have to.
Whether you have too little or too much, water plays a key role in determining the success of each crop year. Farmers today need a tool that helps them walk the line between wasting inputs in a year with too much or too little water, and missing additional yield potential when precipitation levels are at or just above 30-year averages.
Soil moisture and historic precipitation levels are two great datasets that help determine water-driven yield potential. By combining this information with actual rainfall, farmers can make quick in-season decisions that will help make the most of very drop.
Let’s take a deeper look into how farmers can use weather data — including soil moisture data, historic precipitation levels, and actual in-season precipitation — to make data-driven in-season decisions to match yield goals to available moisture. The end result? Optimizing water and nutrient-use efficiency, as well as farm profits.
Why does weather data matter?
As farmers move further and further into precision management, they need to be able to identify and target areas of their fields that may be underperforming. This is where understanding water becomes very helpful.
There are two sources of water, soil water and precipitation, which are equally important in determining crop yields. Yet, farmers typically put too high an emphasis on precipitation and don’t pay enough attention to the moisture already present in the soil.
Consider that it takes four inches of water to just grow the plant, or closer to six inches for corn. Every inch above that goes toward adding bushels, and how many depends on a number of other factors, such as crop type and soil texture. However, a crucial determining factor is also how carefully the farmer is monitoring the crop and soil moisture.
The goal, here, is for farmers to identify yield opportunities and predict yield potential weeks before harvest, which allows them to ‘pull triggers’ — or take action such as adding inputs or reducing fungicide applications — during the season that can result in tremendous benefits to ROI.
Where water-driven yield potential really gets exciting is when it intersects with variable-rate precision management. Many farmers are beginning to manage different parts of fields differently based on yield potentials supported by soil samples, tissue analysis and VR nutrition, fungicide, etc. As precision management becomes the new norm, water-driven yield potential will continue to play a vital role in the widespread adoption of precision management strategies.
How do I get started?
Determine historic rainfall amounts for the growing season.
Determine crop-available water in the soil.
Calculate water-driven yield potential: Moisture Driven Yield Potential = Soil Moisture + Historic In-season Precipitation = Total Potential Moisture minus 4” for the plant (6” for corn) = X leftover to make bushels depending on crop, soil texture and grower’s interest and ability to closely monitor crop.
Measure rainfall with a rain gauge or start playing with weather stations – they’re cheap, reliable and telematics is not the problem it used to be. Larger farms may need several stations. Trimble Ag Software’s Ag Premium Weather provides accumulated rainfall plus the historical average.
Adjust inputs based on how well water-driven yield potential is tracking to actual precipitation.
By Minos Athanassiadis, Business Area Director – Harvestmark
When an E. coli outbreak was linked to romaine lettuce last fall, it illustrated the importance of traceability in agriculture.
Without sufficient information to pinpoint the particular farm and fields where the tainted lettuce was coming from, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) advised the public to avoid consuming romaine lettuce and destroy any that was in their homes, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested all romaine lettuce on the market be withdrawn and destroyed.
“The FDA made this request because initial information available at that time had not identified a likely source for the outbreak that would allow a targeted request,” a statement issued by the FDA on Nov. 26, 2018 explained. “… [A] market withdrawal was the fastest way to remove the potentially contaminated product.”
By the time the outbreak was over, 62 people from 17 states had contracted E. Coli from the contaminated lettuce, with 25 ending up in the hospital. It also resulted in tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in losses for romaine lettuce growers.
While food safety crises are a prime example of the benefit traceability can play in the food industry, it’s not the only driver of this movement.
More consumers are seeking knowledge about where their food comes from and how it’s made. By embracing higher levels of traceability, fresh fruit and vegetable growers have an opportunity to better serve their customers and create a brand that could lead to premium pricing and higher profits.
Traceability Today: Case-Level Traceability
The current level of traceability on the market stems from the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). As a result of previous food safety crises, the industry got together and developed the initiative, which almost every grower, packer and shipper abides by — otherwise, it’s much harder for them to sell their products. The few who don’t follow the initiative have to sell their product at a deeper discount than is warranted.
The PTI requires case-level traceability, which HarvestMark, a division of Trimble, was one of the pioneers in establishing.
Case-level traceability is when everyone who touches a case of product, such as mixed lettuce or strawberries, is able to trace it one step back and one step forward.
It starts with a code being placed on the case before it leaves a field or processing plant to go to a retailer or food service distribution center. Those at the distribution centers then scan the product before it moves onto the retailer.
The issue and concern with case-level traceability is that retailers don’t often scan the PTI barcodes as part of their receiving protocol. When a produce clerk puts the product on the shelf at the store, the case is often thrown away, effectively cutting off its traceability. So when a consumer takes a bag of romaine hearts home, they’re unable to tell where that lettuce came from.
With the romaine lettuce crisis, if retailers had scanned the product at the store level and not just the distribution centers, the FDA would have been better able to pinpoint the source of the bad romaine much faster, which likely would have reduced the amount of lettuce lost, as well as the number of people who became ill.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that grocery retailers will implement this in their store-receiving protocol in the future. Because they work in a very low-margin business, updating their software and having personnel in place to add this step is probably too steep of a cost.
Item-Level Traceability Tracks Food from Field to Fork
However, growers could bypass relying on the retailer altogether by adopting item-level traceability, another solution developed by HarvestMark.
Item-level traceability is where every single product has its own unique QR code that the consumer can scan with his or her smartphone to learn more about the product. This information can include the field and lot where the product was harvested, the date it was harvested and sometimes even the crew that harvested it.
Because it can trace food from field to fork, item-level traceability can better assist the FDA in tracking sources of tainted food over case-level traceability. In fact, HarvestMark is currently working with a large grower trade organization to try to establish an item-level traceability system for this purpose.
It can also keep consumers informed about food safety concerns and help them avoid tainted products. David Barton, Trimble Product Market Manager for the North America Region, recently experienced this as a consumer.
After shopping at Costco, he says he received a call from the company that, according to their records, he had purchased a product that had been recalled due to a food safety issue. The company specified that the recall only applied to those that had a certain best-if-used-by date. From there, Barton was able to determine whether that recall applied to him and if he needed to toss the product.
“This is a very immediate process when Costco’s able to whip out their data collection in a very short time,” he says. “Well, farms are getting to where they’re going to have to be able to do that.”
Consumers’ Desire for Info Drives Traceability Movement
But the benefits of item-level traceability go beyond food safety. Growers can also utilize this technology to build stronger relationships with consumers, who are increasingly searching for information about their food and where it comes from.
With the internet available at our fingertips, consumers are able to access more information about their food unlike anytime before, and their desire for even more knowledge is predicted to continue growing.
But consumers don’t just want to know where their food comes from — they also want information on how their food is produced.
In 2018, just under 50% said that understanding how their food is produced was at least somewhat important, up from just over 40% in 2017. About 45% indicated that being able to access information about how their food was produced was at least somewhat important.
As a result of consumers asking for more transparency and clarity about their food and where it comes from, we can expect traceability to increase, not only in the fresh produce industry but also in the meat industry. Meat processors are now asking for help in providing information to the retailer and consumer about the particular animal the meat came from and how that animal was treated.
Grain growers, however, will probably not have to worry about traceability because the structure of the grain industry — the amount of mixing and consolidation involved after the grain leaves the farm — makes it very difficult to trace, and the market is currently not demanding that level of traceability for grain products.
Tracing from Farm-to-Fork with Trimble Technology
The good news for growers is that the technology needed to provide consumers with more information already exists.
Using Trimble Ag Software (TAGS) functionality, growers can record information about a plant from the moment it’s seeded all the way through harvest, such as its planting date, amount it was irrigated, chemicals and fertilizers applied to it, when it was harvested, etc.
All of that information can then be tied in post-harvest with HarvestMark item-level functionality and tracked until it reaches the consumer, who can then scan that product’s QR code with their phone and have access to as much information about that product as they could want.
Growers implementing sustainable farming practices will also be able to use this technology to quantify those practices, which could be used for marketing purposes to the consumer. According to global measurement and data analytics company Nielsen, sustainability is becoming more important to consumers in regards to food transparency, noting that sustainable product sales have increased by 20% since 2014.
Ensuring Brand Authenticity
Part of providing consumers with information about where their food comes from is also ensuring that the product is really what the packaging says it is, and not a counterfeit.
That’s the case for Zespri, a New Zealand-grown brand of kiwi that is highly prized in China. With kiwis also being native to China, some Chinese growers have copied the Zespri box and are packing them with their own kiwis in an attempt to sell them for a higher price.
By using the HarvestMark code, receivers can tell if the kiwis are truly a Zespri product or if they’re fake. For growers and companies who have developed a brand like Zespri, the anti-counterfeiting capabilities of item-level traceability can be a major benefit in protecting their brands and reputations.
Using Traceability to Create a Brand and Charge Premium Prices
However, many growers have not developed a brand name like Zespri or Cutie’s mandarin oranges. Instead, they see themselves as being in a commodity business. Without being able to differentiate their product on the basis of unique attributes, such as flavor, appearance or size, they end up differentiating their product based on price.
But with traceability, growers can start a conversation with consumers and try to differentiate themselves from others.
Driscoll’s Berries is an example of a company that has succeeded in this. For the last decade or so, Driscoll’s has been placing unique QR codes on the bottom of their clamshell packaging that allows customers to join the company’s online consumer panel and provide feedback. In return, Driscoll’s sends them coupons and holds contests for them. The online consumer panel has done so well, the brand has more than half a million consumers participating in it.
As a result, Driscoll’s has been able to differentiate their product enough that they can charge a premium price for their berries compared to their competitors, while also gaining consumer trust.
There are also a number of retailers who support that level of traceability and transparency, so they’re willing to pay a little more to have those products in their stores and communicate to their customers that they only buy the safest, most traceable and highest quality product out there.
By adopting a higher level of traceability, growers can not only help protect their customers and products from food safety concerns but differentiate themselves enough to create a brand that will increase their prices and improve their bottom lines.
Since the tractor replaced the horse and buggy over a century ago, farming has continued moving towards full autonomy. The introduction of auto-steer was perhaps the most significant step in the process because it was the first to automate a task humans were doing.
Now we’re starting to see manufacturers and companies introduce autonomous concept tractors and fully autonomous implements, removing humans almost completely from the field.
With more and more machines replacing typical farming roles, it leads to the question: How will autonomy change farming?
Next Solutions Similar to Autosteer
While you may be picturing the future of farming as autonomous robots handling every field task while the farmer monitors them from the comfort of his home or office, that reality is still a long ways away. Instead, moving towards such a future will happen in small incremental steps over time, just as we’ve seen farming evolve to where we are today.
The next solutions we’ll see brought to market will be similar to auto-steer and end-of-row turning like NextSwath and TrueSwath, such as speed control and pass plantings, which will optimize a pass as a farmer drives through the field.
We’ll also start to see driverless tractors controlled by someone in another tractor to complete simple operational domain activities like tillage. In autonomy, the operational domain is defined by what the activity is and how close other objects are to the vehicle during the activity.
How Autonomy in the Automotive and Arms Industries Impact Ag
Agriculture, in general, tends to have a simpler operational domain than other industries using autonomous vehicles, because our operations are often taking place in empty fields. The automotive industry has a more complex operational domain because their autonomous vehicles are operating on busy streets and highways, where they’re encountering more vehicles and objects than you would see on a farm.
While the agriculture and automotive industries are very different, ag should be able to benefit from the progress made in the automotive space. Because billions of dollars have been poured into research and development for autonomous vehicles, car manufacturers have seen significant cost improvements on their sensors and processing hardware. By leveraging this cost-effectiveness in a simpler operational domain, agriculture should be able to bring autonomous solutions to the market even faster.
Trimble also has a connection to autonomous vehicles that will help bring autonomous solutions to agriculture, with several divisions working on autonomy, while our RTX division has RTX-certified solution for automotive that Cadillac has integrated into its cars. Our XYZ division has a simulation engine that allows us to test our autonomy algorithms prior to putting it on a vehicle, which allows us to run through test cycles much quicker.
The defense industry actually faces very similar challenges to those the ag industry faces with autonomy. Like agriculture, their vehicles aren’t typically operating on clearly defined roadways and sometimes there are challenges like dust that can make it difficult for vehicles to navigate their environment. The sensors and technology the military uses are far more robust and industrialized than those used in the automotive industry, which also makes them more suitable for agriculture.
But one challenge unique to agriculture is that unlike the automotive and military industries, it’s not just about automating the vehicle. In farming, there’s a specific task being performed when a tractor or vehicle goes across the field. The vehicle is just horsepower. Which means in ag, the main focus needs to be on the implement, the actual job being performed.
Trimble Acquisitions Support Future Autonomous Solutions
That’s where we’re going to see the biggest improvements in ag in the next few years: making sure the task is being done correctly. While Trimble has been accurately navigating vehicles across the field for over 15 years, we’ve also made some recent acquisitions to help us get a better picture of the surroundings where a vehicle is operating, which will help us ensure an autonomous task is executed as accurately as possible.
One of those is C3’s Soil Information Systems (SIS), which takes soil cores throughout a field to assess detailed soil properties and create a map of the different soil types at different levels. This can then be used to build a bigger picture of why a field behaves a particular way, which will then allow an implement to automatically adjust based on soil types conditions.
With the acquisition of Müller-Elektronik, world-renowned for its implement control mechanisms, Trimble can not only control implements better but get more information from the implement as to how it’s behaving — all of which will ensure the job quality remains at a high standard, whether there’s a human in the cab or it’s an autonomous solution in the future.
How Autonomy Will Impact Farmers and the Industry as Whole
While autonomy means we’ll start seeing fewer people physically on machines in the field, it doesn’t mean there were will be fewer people working the operation, or that farmers will be any less involved in their farms.
Instead, we’ll see a shift in the role of farming.
For example, many farmers today spend a lot of time interacting with just the equipment they’re driving through a field. We’ll start seeing one farmer “shepherding” two to three vehicles, while someone else will be in charge of refilling the vehicles with fuel and any inputs.
It’ll allow farmers to focus on the aspects of their operation outside of just getting the job done.
The dairy industry is a direct parallel of what we’ll see in row-crop farms. When autonomous milking was adopted by small family farms, dairy farmers went from having to go out at 4 a.m. to milk the cows to being able to spend more time on the welfare of their animals and the business side of their operations, as well as giving them a greater work-life balance.
The benefits of autonomous solutions will also start out similarly to what we currently see with those already on the market, such as auto-steer, which not only helped reduce operator stress and fatigue but has allowed farmers to perform the job better for longer periods of time, which has resulted in higher productivity. New solutions will mostly impact labor costs, which includes not only the cost of an employee but the secondary cost of having to find the right people to do the job. While it may not be measured on a balance sheet, it takes time and resources to look for and hire the right people. With autonomous vehicles, farmers will save the money they would’ve paid for labor while also avoiding the headaches involved in hiring, as well as regulations related to labor.
The cost and availability of labor is a major driving force for autonomous solutions in Europe, especially in organic operations, where tasks like removing weeds require more intensive, manual labor. European farmers are not only challenged with finding people willing to do the jobs, but also the high wages they have to pay them, which ultimately results in higher food prices. With autonomous solutions, this will not only help the farmers’ bottom lines but the consumers’ pocketbooks as well.
It can also help reduce waste on produce farms. Today, when a field of lettuce or brassicas is harvested, the combine will harvest the entire crop, regardless of whether the plant is ripe and healthy. Then the crop is sorted and those not fit for market are tossed. With autonomous solutions, there’s the potential to have a harvester run multiple times, only selecting the plants that are ripe and ready, because of the lower cost associated with that process. This not only reduces food waste but could help reduce inputs as well.
Labor is also a challenge in Australia, where the sheer size of the farms makes it impractical for hosting seasonal workers. Whereas in Japan, the average farm size is just a few acres, but with an aging farmer population, autonomous solutions will likely be necessary to accommodate a shortage of labor.
Autonomy and Small Farms
While immediate autonomous solutions will be best fitted for larger, enterprise operations, eventually we may see it evolving to better fit smaller farms.
For decades machinery has only gotten bigger and bigger so that a farmer could cover more acres in less time. But with autonomy, instead of having said, one 40-foot sprayer, you could have two 20-foot sprayers or four 10-foot sprayers, and by being able to control them all you’re still getting the same amount of work done in less time.
The benefit of moving toward smaller autonomous equipment is three-fold. One is that if you only have one piece of equipment like a sprayer go down, you can’t get any work done until it’s up and running again. With multiple smaller sprayers, you’ll be able to continue working and get at least half of the job done in the same time.
The other benefit is that smaller machines are lighter, which is better for the soil in terms of compaction and should hopefully increase yields.
Finally, smaller machines are more affordable than bigger ones. So small farms that can’t afford and have no need for a 40-foot sprayer, may be able to benefit from an autonomous 10-foot sprayer.
But the move toward smaller autonomous equipment is not something that’s going to happen in the immediate future. Part of this is because by making current sized equipment autonomous, weight reduction is already reduced. A lot of the weight on tractors today is for the comfort of the operator. By removing the need for suspension and other features that benefit the driver, you already reduce weight and therefore the amount of soil compaction created.
Going to smaller vehicles will also require a complete change in the way farming happens today. You can’t go from a 200 horsepower tractor down to 100 horsepower and expect to half your productivity, because it doesn’t scale that way. So while autonomy makes it possible for having multiple, smaller pieces of equipment, there’s going to be a lag between when those machines are actually going to be manufactured, because the market for them is much smaller. As discussed in a previous blog post, there’s a global trend that farms are getting bigger in size.
How Farmers Can Prepare for Future Autonomy
With these autonomous solutions on the horizon, what can farmers do to prepare for the future?
The good news is that in terms of infrastructure, there’s nothing specific that needs to be created. In the short-term, autonomous machines will be integrated into existing workflows so the hardware and processes farmers have will remain the same. And since Trimble has always been brand agnostic and will continue to be going forward, any farmer will be able to use our autonomous solutions, regardless of their choice in equipment manufacturer.
Instead, the primary focus will be on “smart” implements. For example, it’ll be important for a seeder to have blockage and seed population sensors. Tractors, on the other hand, are relatively easy to change.
Also, growers should survey their fields and physical surroundings, so that any obstacles an autonomous vehicle might encounter are either removed prior to it entering a field, or at least mapped out so the machine is aware it’s there.
It’ll be important to keep in mind that, in the beginning, these solutions won’t be perfect. They’ll improve and get better as time goes on.
It may be best to think of these technologies like teaching a son or daughter how to farm, by starting with the simplest tasks available. Just as you would have a young upcoming farmer handle tilling inside the field on straight guidance lines while you tackle the headlands and the circuits, that would also be a natural task to set an autonomous tractor onto.
There will be a level of technical skills required that farmers haven’t needed previously, but it’s not something they should be worried about. Farmers won’t have to become fully technical savvy engineers. Instead, the innate technical knowledge growers will need in the future will already be present in younger generations as they grow up.
That’s because of how children today interact with technology. There are 10-year-olds that are being taught programming in schools, something that would’ve been a university-level subject 15 years ago. Those children will have the same technological experience and knowledge that a high-level engineer 15 years ago would have had. There is already inherent technical knowledge within the next generation.
Blockchain is the latest buzzword in many business sectors today, and agriculture is no exception. A transparent and secure digital ledger system that allows two parties to conduct a transaction without the need for a trusted intermediary, blockchain captured headlines as the digital backbone of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
In recent months it has gained further attention as businesses explore ways to leverage blockchain technology to save money, improve transparency and reduce human error.
As technology pundits speculate on how blockchain will be a game-changer, business leaders are looking for ways to tap into the technology.
“I’m very excited about this,” says Prakash Iyer, Senior Vice President of Software Architecture and Strategy with Trimble Inc. “It’s going to define a whole new paradigm of building applications — not just blockchain applications, but how you apply blockchain to transactional applications, settlement applications or food traceability applications.”
Iyer is leading the charge at Trimble to identify key ways that blockchain can be incorporated into various aspects of the global technology company, which develops transformational technology for sectors such as construction, geospatial, transportation and agriculture.
He says the real opportunity lies in early development of global industry standards that will guide the long-term adoption of blockchain.
“The way blockchain evolved, there’s really no agreed-upon standard,” Iyer explains. “We could play a leading role by helping to define that standard. It’s about showing thought leadership — because this is not just a technology play, it’s more of a business play, and a collaborative business play.”
The goal would be to create an ecosystem with key industry leaders, including customers and business partners both inside and outside the Trimble fold, to identify challenges and set industry standards. “Our success will be defined by how well we can collaborate and create that ecosystem of players and bring those people together.”
In addition to leading industry collaboration and standardization around blockchain, Iyer identified two other key areas of focus:
1. Agriculture Transactions
The first and most obvious application of blockchain technology is in any transaction that requires a trusted third party, such as an organization that provides the security and verification for digital transactions. (In other words, instead of needing a bank or some other institution to verify a money transfer, you could use blockchain to cut out the middleman.)
“It offers open-ledger trust and transparency,” says Iyer. “So you would no longer need a third party for that.”
Companies have already implemented this in the grain trade, most notably Louis Dreyfus Co. selling soybeans to China in what was billed as the first agricultural commodity trade using blockchain.
Specifically for Trimble, which sells food traceability software under the banner HarvestMark and Trimble Ag Software, Iyer is investigating areas where blockchain could be used to track fresh produce.
“I see this as a much broader application than food traceability,” he notes. “It could be applied anywhere provenance is involved, where you’re tracking origin to destination. There are some real problems in supply-chain management right now that could hugely benefit from being able to track exactly what happened from Point A to Point B.”
Bob Wold agrees. The World Wide Director of Engineering for Trimble’s Agriculture Division says blockchain technology could significantly raise the bar when it comes to transparency and integrity across the food supply chain.
“Imagine a world where every meter of land is put into this public ledger,” Wold says. “If you’re a custom applicator, you report what you did. If you’re an agronomist who did some scouting, your reports are associated with that land’s ID. This data follows the product all the way to the end consumer, and it can’t be tampered with.”
2. Land Ownership and Surveying
The second key opportunity is in the area of land ownership and land surveying.
“Today, you could do all the measurements and then five years later go to the county office and see that the records have changed,” says Iyer. “Blockchain makes that immutable so it can not be altered, and that’s a value-add.”
Reducing human error in paperwork and accounting is one of the greatest advantages of blockchain, especially where it relates to the production, handling, treatment and transportation of perishable food.
The benefits in transparency further increase as sensors begin reporting data into the blockchain. “You’re not taking anyone’s word for it, so it brings transparency and integrity,” says Iyer.
In the end, Iyer and Wold agree that the potential is significant, but the first step is establishing consistency and standardization.
“Consider all the different systems and data models we have in agriculture today,” notes Wold. “While blockchain can be the ledger, we still have a strong need to start standardizing our data models.”
According to Iyer, Trimble is well positioned to lead that charge.
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Ben Clappison farms over 4000 acres of potatoes on a contract basis in the United Kingdom. With the cost of planting, growing and harvesting speed potatoes averaging about £2000/acre, it is crucial for his beds to be planted as accurately as possible. If they’re too wide, he’s wasting soil and if they’re too narrow he won’t maximize his yield potential.
Achieve Precision-Level Accuracy by Upgrading an Older Machine
In 2018, Ben decided to invest in a tractor for his cultivating and potato bed forming operations. After evaluating both new and older tractor options and finding the cost of a new, guidance-equipped tractor to be prohibitively expensive, he decided to purchase a 2010 Case 485 STX Quadtrac that he could then outfit with new guidance technology.
Much of the bed forming work that Ben does requires the ability to cultivate down to 2ft/60cm deep. At this depth, the implement width is relatively narrow and as a result, many turns are made in the field. With these challenges in mind, he tried NextSwath to give him the control and ability to make very tight turns that could never be made effectively if done manually. After a successful trial, he was happy with the results and ultimately chose the GFX-750 display system to achieve the level of accuracy he needed in his operation.
How Trimble® NextSwath™ Works
When approaching the end of a crop row, the NextSwath technology will automatically calculate and execute the best possible path to turn around the vehicle and approach the next crop row or swath. Users working with a towed implement can also enable the option to optimize the turn for the implement position. By automating the turning process, the NextSwath solution can:
Dramatically improve the operator’s performance
Eliminate towed implement undershooting or overshooting
Minimize skips and overlaps when lining up for the next row.
This improved turning efficiency and repeatability can increase yield while also saving time and fuel costs, and preventing crop damage.
Reliable Accuracy at All-Hours
In early Spring, Ben can expect to work 110-120 hours per week with the end of his days regularly going until midnight and the early hours. NextSwath offers the ability for him to just keep going when he needs to with confidence to know that he can work tight to the hedge and field boundaries.
“It’s so consistent at the ends with the turns. It’s beyond belief, the best GPS system I’ve used and it’s just so consistent on your headland…it’s just so easy to use as well, and far easier to set up than the Deere system” – Ben
Prior to using the GFX-750 display system with CenterPoint RTX, Ben relied on RTK working on a mix of fixed and mobile bases.
“I’m so impressed with RTX, it’s just as good as RTK I find. Not having to set up mobile-bases and changing between fixed base stations saves time. The GFX converges on the way to the field in less than two minutes. If I leave the field overnight the line is exactly where I left it the day after.” – Clappison
Learn More About the GFX-750 display system
Whether you’re thinking about upgrading an older tractor or taking your operation to the next level, learn more about GFX-750 display system.
Water is one of the biggest factors of determining crop yield on farms today. And while farmers often feel at the mercy of Mother Nature, there are many effective strategies we can leverage to help turn the tables on soil moisture problems and manage available water to hit top yields.
One of the industry’s top water experts says that by dialing in a ‘whole-farm water management strategy’, farmers can:
Improve crop yields by as much as 30 percent in Year One
Improve nutrient availability and absorption by having a more developed root zone
Significantly reduce field compaction and soil erosion
Greatly improve the farm’s chances of having a more consistent crop year after year.
“Water is the most critical input on the farm today — and it’s one that many farmers struggle to properly manage,” says Josh Shuler, a product manager with Trimble Agriculture who specializes in water management. “But at the end of the day, all other input decisions should hinge on how it is being managed.”
Shuler describes water as the scarcest nutrient in dry-land agriculture today. Yet, it’s also the most under-managed across all of agriculture today, regardless of its availability. “Even if you aren’t growing in a semi-arid, or sub-humid region, water is the most critical input, and many farmers struggle to understand the true impact the lack of water management can have on their operation,” Shuler says. “All other input decisions should hinge on how water is managed.”
For most crops, it takes anywhere from 4-20 acre-inches of water just to grow the crop to full, mature size. For corn, it takes about 0.14 acre-inches (approx. 4000 gal) of water per bushel over the entire growing season. To put that in perspective, a 250-bushel corn crop requires nearly 35 acre-inches of water (or about 992,000 gallons per acre) to reach full its full nutrient-limited potential. Every inch of water beyond this goes toward increasing your yield to it’s ultimate hybrid and/or nutrient-supplied limit
However, as with any crop input, water must be in the proper proportion and available at the right stage of development for maximum potential yields. Too much, or too little, water during these critical developmental phases can result in significantly reduced yields, even if the total water supply across the growing season, and all your other input decisions were right on the money.
Precipitation, irrigation and the water-holding capacity of your soil all contribute to the available water tally for your crops, and thus your ultimate yields. In this blog, Shuler is going to focus on some of the less understood factors: field topography, soil type, soil fertility, and water availability (soil water holding capacity).
First let’s talk about a field’s varied topography. Having an accurate survey and representation of your farmland topography is an invaluable tool. Steep slopes where erosion can deprive you of valuable topsoil, or depressions where ponding occurs, are obvious red flags, but there are other subtle shifts in topography that can be just as detrimental to your crops’ potential — and severely limit your yields as well. Dense and thorough land surveys using GPS tools, like WM-Survey, with precision RTK accuracy, are absolutely essential to identifying all steep slopes, subtle and substantial rises and low spots, and other subtle features where action needs to be taken to improve crop yields.
Keep in mind that not all action needs to be extreme to remedy these features. Some are much easier than you think and the cost of the doing the work can be made back in as little as a single season. Most farmers over-estimate the cost of rectification and under-estimate the overall impact to their bottom-line those features, left undisturbed, really are. Often, the most effective approach to maximizing your ROI in this investment is to correct the sub-surface water table and the surface run-off effectively. It is very likely going to require at least a significant percentage of both activities to set up the most consistent yields possible.
Whether your soil is heavy sand, silt, clay, or some combination thereof, its composition greatly affects its ability to retain moisture and make it available to the planted crop. Clay soils are excellent at holding water, but they are also heavy and sticky not good at allowing excess water to move through quickly. Sandy soils are the opposite. They drain and percolate well due to their high hydraulic conductivity, but lack the ability to store any real quantity of moisture.
The appropriate spacing of tile throughout the entire field is mandatory to achieve adequate drainage and produce more consistent yields. If they are too far apart for that soil type, you cannot control the water table effectively and will have wet spots in between the runs; too close together and you waste money on excess tile and installation costs that weren’t necessary.
Water can have a significant impact on soil fertility throughout the year. Heavy rain events, or over-irrigation, can cause significant erosion and wash away not only the thin layer of topsoil, but the precious organic matter and nutrients within it. Most of the organic matter present in any soil is found in that thin layer of topsoil and its loss directly reduces nutrient availability and a soil’s overall fertility… thus your yields.
Proper water management system designs, layout, spacing, and tile sizing needs to factor in large rain events during the two most crucial times of year, planting and harvest. Both of these critical time windows are already very short in some regions and the potential in lost yields can easily justify the investment in a complete water management system with little more than calculating what value buying back those crucial few days that you lose nearly every year really is in dollars and cents.
Nitrogen and phosphorus are two of the three most important nutrients your crop needs to meet its potential. They are also the two nutrients most susceptible to leaching due to water movement through the soil. Nitrates readily dissolve and drain to depths well below where plant roots can reach them if the water level remains high during the first 4-8 weeks of growth when the roots stop going deeper once they hit good water and nutrients. Phosphorus also leeches and moves downward in sandy soil. To combat this, a good understanding of soil composition and a good solid water management strategy are required to ensure that all of your other input decisions can help your crop consistently achieve its full potential year after year
Drainage systems are invaluable during spring when water is so abundant it can threaten new plantings and even your ability to plant during that small prime window. They’re also extremely important during the fall when you need dry crop conditions for a timely harvest.
During the hotter, drier months of the summer, however, nature doesn’t always cooperate by providing enough water during that crucial period of crop fill to achieve viable yields, and that tile system in your field become even more valuable and extremely important for maximum profits. With the addition of controlled drainage structures, you can have positive control of the water table throughout the field.
Utilizing water control gates can turn your traditional tile drainage system into a water retention system that keeps your water table at the appropriate level for the current crop stage. This type of system allows you to grow a crop that is more drought tolerant and less susceptible to common issues in wetter climates like stalk rot and other diseases that affect stalk and ear health and pest pressure.
With all these factors potentially affecting your yields, it’s easy to see why proper water management is the solid foundation of every successful farm. Whether it’s too much, not enough, or its in the wrong place, water management impacts every grower in the world.
Want to learn more? Find more resources on water management here or check out our free on-demand webinars, video tutorials, and eBooks here.
The agriculture industry frequently ends up in the spotlight when it comes to climate change. And it makes sense, when you consider that globally, our food system is responsible for approximately a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Economic Forum.
But people need food, and producing that food comes with a significant carbon footprint. Experts say this footprint will continue to grow to meet the food demands of a world population that could tip 9 billion people by 2050.
Addressing this problem requires ingenuity, and the ability to balance environmental impact with the reality that farmers today and in the future must remain competitive. After all, true sustainability means economic, as well as environmental.
Some jurisdictions are looking at ways to reward farmers, financially, for incorporating more sustainable farming practices (even though farmers often argue that as stewards of the land, they’re already taking such measures — their livelihood, after all, depends on healthy soil and productive cropland).
But in order to take this initiative from theory to reality, governments need policies that allow farmers to generate and get paid for carbon credits, which can then be sold to large emitters to reduce their carbon footprint.
Alberta, Canada has just such a policy in place, and is quickly becoming a beacon for progressive governments around the world looking to set up a program that encourages sustainability on farms, and rewards farmers who already have such practices in place.
Understanding Your Farm’s Carbon Footprint
Agriculture emits three greenhouse gases:
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
Nitrous oxide (N2O)
For the purposes of this blog focused on farming, we’ll set aside methane, which is primarily the result of livestock operations.
Just by its nature, farming produces high emissions through the basic act of growing food on land. Tillage of fields releases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide that has been stored in the soil. Farming also uses fossil fuels and fertilizers. This isn’t news to anyone.
Farmers have been adopting management practices such as conservation tillage and a greater focus on crop rotation selection for many years now. In no-till farming, unharvested crop stalks and other plant matter is left behind in the field. This stored carbon sinks into the soil instead of being stirred up and released into the atmosphere, which reduces GHG emissions, improves soil health, and cuts down on fuel needed to harvest the stalks.
Nitrous oxide, a byproduct of nitrogen fertilizer, is another key greenhouse gas. It causes specific environmental concerns. If fertilizer over-applied or applied incorrectly, nitrous oxide can either volatilize into the atmosphere or leach off the land, polluting nearby water sources, or public or private lands.
Efficient and responsible use of nitrogen fertilizer has been a key topic in conversations where ag and the environment intersect. As a result, government and regulatory agencies are implementing rules to improve nitrogen management. For example, Alberta’s program leverages the internationally recognized Nitrous Oxide Emission Reduction Protocol (NERP). It outlines best input management practice known as the 4Rs:
Expanding the Alberta Advantage to All Farmers
Alberta farmers have been tapping into a carbon credit program since 2007, when the Canadian province brought in North America’s first multi-sectoral greenhouse gas (GHG) regulatory framework. Since that time, Trimble’s Carbon Credit program, which was folded into the company as part of its acquisition of Agri-Trend in 2016, has sold over 3.5 million tonnes of agricultural carbon offsets, returning a hefty $40 million plus into the pockets of Alberta farmers.
Program manager Charlie O’Donnell says it’s a great example of how governments can work with farmers to help achieve international climate change mitigation initiatives. It’s a win for farmers, who get paid for the carbon credits they earn by using sustainable practices; it’s a win for large emitters who can buy those credits to reduce their emissions, and it’s a win for the planet.
“We’re excited to be one of the first jurisdictions to get this kind of a program going,” says O’Donnell. “I take every chance I get to share our experience with government officials in other provinces and countries who want to use our program as a blueprint.”
O’Donnell says farmers have never been more excited about joining the program, and it’s clear why. The value of a carbon credit is $30 per metric tonne (or CO2e), effective January 1, 2019. This represents a 50% increase over previous years and is expected to increase 66% by 2022.
Consumers are hungry for information about where their food came from, and experts predict the trend will continue to grow.
A recent survey by the International Food Information Council, and a similar study by Nielsen, show that consumers want more information on how the food they eat was produced. They’re also more likely to choose brands that make this information readily available. This tendency is particularly strong in younger demographics.
For farmers, the trend has widespread implications. It’s not enough to grow healthy food — they need a verifiable paper trail proving it.
“Today, there are more government regulations and reporting requirements that farmers need to comply with,” says Gwen Byard, product manager with Trimble Ag Business Solutions. “Therefore, farmers need to have confidence that their farm records showing where the work was done, how it was done, are accurate.”
According to one ag industry expert, accurate and consistent data is a significant challenge facing farmers today.
“If a farmer is working with inaccurate data it causes a lot of frustration,” says Michael Casey, general manager at the Australian ag dealership Vantage NSW. “Even if it’s a small inefficiency, it’s frustrating. And the cumulative effect year to year can be huge.”
Casey has seen farmers increase their spending on new technologies in recent years, specifically on hardware and software related to accuracy and correction services. But given the complexity of these systems, especially on large farms, and the inevitability of some level of human error, Casey says a small inconsistency or inaccuracy can have huge implications.
Consider this: Two operators are working the same field. They’re both running vehicles equipped with guidance and steering systems to help accurately monitor and map the field information in real time. However, there’s a discrepancy in the guidance lines they’re using. The result? Wasted time (and, ultimately, money) and inaccurate field records.
But there’s a solution in sight, one Byard has spent many days working towards.
“The more automated a process is, the more you can avoid errors,” she says. Accurate data is crucial when it’s being used for certification or compliance, in the case of food traceability, but it’s also becoming more important for the financial stability of farms today. As precision ag practices become the norm, farm managers are making quick, data-driven decisions in real time in order to be as efficient, precise, and cost-effective as possible across the entire operation. If the data being used to make these decisions is flawed, productivity and profitability wane.
“When you’re making these quick decisions in real time, you want to make sure you have the right data in the right place at the right time,” says Byard. The solution, she says, lies in automatic data syncing. A new Trimble Ag Software feature known as AutoSync™, for example, helps solve this problem by working in the background to automatically sync data across Trimble Ag displays and Trimble Ag Software.
“AutoSync lets you enter data once and then it’s automatically shared,” explains Byard. “You can also correct data in one place and the correction goes everywhere. Data is only entered once and it’s shared quickly and easily, so other operators won’t create their own copies and have all of these duplicates.”
Back in Australia, Casey says the new software feature has been getting rave reviews from farmers.
“Their first reaction is excitement,” he says. “People have struggled with this issue for a long time so they immediately see the benefit.”
SUNNYVALE, Calif., April 3, 2019—Trimble (NASDAQ: TRMB) announced today the launch of Farmer Core, a new entry-level Trimble Ag Software subscription that enables farmers to connect all aspects of their farm operation. Available online and on any mobile device, Farmer Core is a powerful yet affordable software-as-a-service (SaaS) that integrates machine-generated data from precision ag displays to simplify farm setup and streamline farm operations.
Farmer Core leverages the new AutoSync™feature, which automatically syncs guidance lines, field names, boundaries, landmarks and operator information across Trimble Ag Software and Trimble displays using the Precision-IQ™ field application. Precision-IQ is used to collect and manage data from in-field activities. By reducing human error and eliminating the need to manually share data via USB, this new AutoSync functionality improves overall farm record integrity.
AutoSync is included with Trimble Ag Software subscriptions to Farmer Core, Farmer Fit or Farmer Pro. With AutoSync, Farmer Core significantly reduces duplication, data re-entry and human error because the creation and ongoing management of field and operator information—whether online, via the Trimble Ag mobile app or on the display—is automatically synced within minutes across the entire farm operation.
Farmer Core is a powerful addition to the Trimble Connected Farm® solution, a unified suite of precision ag applications covering all aspects of modern agricultural management. From the office to the field, all year round, Trimble Connected Farm enables growers to perform critical farm work smarter, faster and more cost-effectively. Through universal vehicle and implement integration, seamless data transfer and analysis as well as the ability to leverage Trimble’s leading satellite-delivered positioning correction services, farmers can connect as much or as little of their operation as they choose, with easy options for expanding and upgrading as desired.
In addition, Farmer Core, Farmer Fit and Farmer Pro subscriptions enable users to work with precision ag data in real time, including data imported via APIs from third-party displays.
With Farmer Core growers can:
Simplify Farm Setup: Create client/farm/field names, import or draw field boundaries and map landmarks with Trimble Ag Mobile, which will then sync across connected devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablets and Trimble displays using the Precision-IQ field application.
Streamline Farm Operations: Manage guidance lines boundaries, field names, landmarks and operator data across connected devices in a farm operation, integrating all machine-generated data from Trimble displays and other sources via APIs.
Improve Reliability of Farm Records: Track purchases and costs by field, improve consistency of precision ag data and generate reliable ‘proof-of-placement’ reports for a farmer’s own farm records and for third parties.
“Today, farmers often struggle with how they manage guidance lines. When they’re set up on one display or in the office, operators have to share these with other displays via USB. It’s a clunky process,” said Craig Hiemstra, general manager of Trimble’s Agriculture Business Solutions. “Farmer Core, which leverages AutoSync, takes this solution to the next level and helps our customers move faster and reduce mistakes, saving both time and money.”
A Farmer Core subscription is $199 per year. Connecting to Trimble displays with AutoSync requires a Display Connection, which is $99 per display per year. For more information or to purchase Farmer Core, visit: https://agriculture.trimble.com/product/farmer-core.
About Trimble’s Agriculture Division
Trimble’s Agriculture Division provides solutions that solve complex technology challenges across the entire agricultural landscape. The solutions enable farmers and advisors to allocate scarce resources to produce a safe, reliable food supply in a profitable and environmentally sustainable manner. Covering all seasons, crops, terrains and farm sizes, Trimble solutions can be used on most equipment on the farm, regardless of manufacturer and production year. To enable better decision making, Trimble offers technology integration that allows farmers to collect, share, and manage information across their farm, while providing improved operating efficiencies in the agricultural value chain. Trimble solutions include guidance and steering; grade control, leveling and drainage; flow and application control; irrigation; harvest solutions; desktop and cloud-based data management; and correction services. For more information on Trimble Agriculture, visit: agriculture.trimble.com.
Trimble is transforming the way the world works by delivering products and services that connect the physical and digital worlds. Core technologies in positioning, modeling, connectivity and data analytics enable customers to improve productivity, quality, safety and sustainability. From purpose built products to enterprise lifecycle solutions, Trimble software, hardware and services are transforming industries such as agriculture, construction, geospatial and transportation and logistics. For more information about Trimble (NASDAQ:TRMB), visit: www.trimble.com.