Young farmer puts Big Data in reach

Young farmer puts Big Data in reach


Agribusiness
 Hectare.Ag owner and east Binnu farmer Michael Ford busy at work developing easy-to-use tools for application in precision agriculture.

Hectare.Ag owner and east Binnu farmer Michael Ford busy at work developing easy-to-use tools for application in precision agriculture.

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HOW many times have you heard or tried to discuss Big Data?

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HOW many times have you heard or tried to discuss Big Data?

What is Big Data, anyway?

You should have Googled that already – extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.

Put that in ag parlance and it’s basically all the data you collect from yield monitors, soil maps, spraying programs, plant analyses, gross margins and so on.

The big question, for the past nearly 20 years, is: What do you do with it?

Well, nothing, if you’re in a (majority) group that has loved GPS or RTK precision agriculture for guidance and section control capabilities.

As for analysing data?

Let the agronomists and map-making companies do it.

For farmers around this writer’s age (let’s make that plus or minus 20 years), analysing yield monitors, for example, is just too hard (to understand software programs), too time-consuming (bloody signal drop-outs and slow download speeds) and too objective (I’ve done it this way for years).

Happily, with exponential growth in reliable precision ag tools and software, the tide is turning to the future.

We are witnessing a transitional stage in Australian agriculture as younger generation farmers step up to the plate to “have a crack”.

Heralding calls of variable rate application and autonomous machinery operation are quickly spotlighting the need to accelerate farm management towards more productive and profitable systems.

But don’t get too flustered – “hang on, help is on the way”, as the Little River Band would say (and sing).

One of the helpers is young and enthusiastic east Binnu farmer Michael Ford.

He has established a precision ag company called Hectare.Ag and as a lover of algorithms, has created an iPhone/iPad app, which is basically a collection of precision ag tools to analyse data and make maps.

He is self-taught – there were no precision ag courses in education curricula in WA when he was attending Hale School – out of an interest in website development.

It has led to consulting for several WA start-up (agriculture) companies and writing software programs for data analysis across multiple platforms.

But his main focus has been developing Hectare.Ag and it has reached a stage where he has developed a collection of precision ag tools to analyse historical and current data.

Employing the latest Sentinel satellite imagery, with Hectare’s tools, you can pull in the latest NDVI (normalised difference vegetation index) imagery of your farm paddocks, which you can use to do things such as zone paddocks or select ground-truthing sites.

“My overall goal was to make precision ag easy by removing the mental and cost barriers,” Michael said.

“So satellite imagery is a starting place to build your own farm management plan and then use some of the tools I’ve developed to make your own decisions without too much cost and too much hassle.

“Every farm is different but if you’ve got the right tools you can customise almost everything to the way your farm operates.”

But it’s not all about map-making.

One of the latest tools Michael has integrated into Hectare.Ag are services that talk to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development weather station and rain radar services.

“It’s an easy way to view nearby rain events and other weather data, such as Delta T,” Michael said.

“The aim is to utilise already available services to save time and money.”

In the same vein, Michael is trialling third party devices which can talk to your iPad or iPhone to relay GPS or RTK location data.

He already has written software to stream the information into Hectare.Ag.

He has built a system which will enable machines to talk to each other.

It’s similar to shared-coverage between machinery, except it’s machine, brand and device independent.

“Basically I’ve created an entry-level pathway into precision agriculture where you can experiment and decide what you want to do before making big commitments,” Michael said.

“There’s lots of technology available but it’s a matter of deciding what you’d like to work with on your farm, and ultimately, what’s going to best improve gross margins.

“I’ve set up Hectare as a system that provides tools to help you make more informed decisions, without blowing your budget.

“It uses basic information that can be gathered quickly and cheaply and I can present that in a simple way that is easy to understand and use.”

That last comment should produce a collective sigh of relief that there is a farmer-led light at the end of the precision ag tunnel.

Search for the Hectare.Ag app on the app store.

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