THE predictions have been a long time coming.
But historians will probably record the next five years of Australian broadacre agriculture as the ‘period of wider adoption of precision ag technology’.
Industry pundits first mooted a dynamic change in the industry when GPS correctional guidance was introduced in the late 1990s.
And that became the basis for a plethora of predictions about how farming would be done in the future.
This writer remembers speaking with a Case IH precision ag specialist in Burr Ridge, Illinois, United States in 2005 about robotic farming and being shown a video of a cab-less red header in action.
In 2008 AGCO talked about real-time data transfer, known as telematics.
It was all exciting stuff but it quickly receded because a key element was missing – a reliable communications network.
And another important ingredient was that machinery dealers lacked specialist staff to support and service clients.
Today it feels like the industry has performed a reboot on itself and emerged in good working order.
And, as always, time has changed along with the predictable generational shift in farm management.
Ag Implements group data manager Andries DeKlerk, Merredin, (call me AJ) agrees.
“Younger farmers are more aware of changing technology and they can appreciate the economic and productive benefits,” Mr DeKlerk said.
“Our job right now is to tailor the technology to suit each customer’s needs.”
Mostly that starts with providing them with pathways to record useable data.
“Throughout the areas our dealerships serve, we have installed 32 RTK towers linked to three John Deere satellites with the ability to capture radio signals from a wider array of satellites,” he said.
“These signals are relayed to GPS receivers mounted on the roof of a tractor, header or boomsprayer.”
According to Ag Implements precision ag group manager Matt Harrod, the company is serving a broad client base that is engaged with entry-level guidance through to variable rate product applications.
“There are an increasing number of guys now setting up or using local weather stations as added information in setting up prescription maps,” Mr Harrod said.
“And there’s more interest in products such as rate controllers for sprayers and airseeders and using our data management services.”
Mr DeKlerk said he had seen a big growth in customers wanting to engage in so-called useable data.
“More prescription maps are being done these days but there remains a lot of fence sitters,” he said.
“I think with the younger farmers, it’s a peer influence that is seeing more adoption of precision technology and our role is to help them understand what is beneficial to their farm business.
“The most common question I get relates to USBs which have data stored on them but the next step hasn’t been taken in analysing that data.
“Not everybody is jumping into data transfer yet and maybe that’s a cost factor or they’re not ready to make the move.
“But John Deere provides a 12-month free trial of its JDLink access + RDA which can be used by most owners of GreenStar 2630 and Generation 4 displays who have compatible equipment.
“It’s just a matter of talking with us about the steps to take to use the data that has been stored on a computer or USB.
“Usually if you’ve got about five years worth of recorded data, you’re in a good position to start making prescription maps for variable rate applications, etc.”
But that is only one aspect.
Ag Implements is now associated with farm management platform Granular which provides software for more detailed data analysis relating to cost benefits, third party collaborations, advising staff and contractors of farm tasks (along with GPS coordinates) and the mandatory record keeping.
It brings a whole new paradigm to farm management.
And if you think all of the above is pretty cool, the future is mind blowing.
Through John Deere’s AMS (Agricultural Management Solutions), the dealer-customer interface will be changed through what Deere calls it Operations Centre.
Based at the company’s Brisbane headquarters, the Operations Centre is a web-based portal to enable farmers to easily access information.
But it doesn’t stop there.
There’s the ability to customise your own ‘cloud’ to upload and store data.
John Deere said an example of this customising was the work being done with a satellite imagery company which will use field boundaries located within the farmer’s Operations Centre ‘cloud’ to locate and organise imagery files.
In the not too distant future, your local AMS specialist, with permission, can access this data and interpret the data to structure prescription maps.
John Deere said to get the most out of the Operations Centre and associated mobile apps and software, it offered JDLink Connect, which seamlessly connects a farmer’s machine to the Operations Centre and takes the burden of data collection and transmission off the grower.
In addition to agronomic data, it collects machine data to give the full picture of what is happening on the farm.
JDLink also connects those machines directly to the dealer who can monitor the machine’s performance and alert the owner to potential problems.
In the case of a ‘misfire’ in loading data to the ‘cloud’, a farmer can send the data card or USB to the dealer, who will usually have a more reliable internet speed to accomplish the task.
This is an often overlooked part of data transfer.
Whether you have a signal or not is irrelevant to data capturing because data is continuously being recorded by your controller or iPad.
Realistically, you don’t need the real-time data transfer capability of telematics but everybody will have it if it’s reliable.
The thing to remember is that once you transfer data to your ‘cloud’ it’s retrievable.
But perhaps the biggest ‘safety net’ for farmers is the fact they are not alone.
There will always be teething problems with any kind of new technology but it seems companies like John Deere and dealers like Ag Implements are committed to ensuring they don’t drop the ball assimilating this technology to farmers.