Smart Farm Tech: Putting Field Data to Work

Posted: March 20, 2019

Step inside a tractor cab and you will see several different monitors. These GPS enabled monitors generate field data which help farmers with their management decisions.

Rick Boesche remembers when he first got a yield monitor in the 1990s – an Ag Leader monitor – which generated field maps and yields. It provided images of his farm fields and identified varying yields as his crop was being harvested.

The DeKalb corn and soybean farmer is now on his fourth yield monitor – a John Deere 2630 – which came with his latest combine. And he’s got a few more monitors with software for capturing field information – a Precision Planting 20/20 monitor, Climate FieldView using his iPad as a monitor, and operational monitors for auto-guidance and machinery functions.

The John Deere StarFire receiver uses GPS technology to pair with auto-guidance and equipment operations and generate field images on Rick Boesche’s iPad and other monitors in his tractor.

From the seat of their autosteer tractor and combine, farmers instantly receive valuable farm data enabled by Global Positioning Satellites (GPS).

“I’m constantly observing everything going on and checking data from the monitors,” said Rick.

Today’s field data generated by the yield and precision monitors provides so much more information compared to those first yield monitors. The new wave of monitors manages data better and provides compatibility and synchronization with other displays.

Rick analyzes data by field, by hybrid, by fertility and by soils. He looks at the performance of crops based on fertilizer and crop protectant applications. He also analyzes crop history having more than a decade of yield monitor data.

Many tractors are equipped with GPS enabled monitors to collect and generate field data and display equipment operations. These monitors on Rick Boesche’s tractor include auto-guidance, Climate FieldView, Precision Planting 20/20 and a John Deere equipment monitor.

“Through the various platforms we take information and make decisions,” said Rick. Farmers like Rick have analyzed their agronomic information and made seed and fertilizer decisions as they prepare for spring planting.

“Technology has always appealed to me and I’ve found that it pays for itself,” said Rick. “It puts numbers behind what I think is correct or shows me what went wrong.”

Smart Farm Technology
& Precision Agriculture

Farmers are using smart farm technology today incorporating information and communications technologies into machinery, equipment and sensors for use in agriculture.

Precision agriculture is a farm management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops. The practice of precision agriculture has been enabled by GPS and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems).

Auto-steer technology allows farmers like Rick Boesche to monitor machinery and field data while planting corn and soybeans hands-free with his tractor this spring. A close-up view shows field images and planting data on two of his monitors.

Smart farming and precision agriculture involve the integration of advanced technologies into existing farming practices. These technologies increase production efficiency, the quality of agricultural products and preserve the environment.

Just about every aspect of farming can benefit from technological advancements – from planting to crop health and harvesting. Yet technology comes with a price tag so farmers may choose varying levels of technology based on today’s tight farm margins.

Here’s a look at some of the smart farm technology being used today.

Auto-steer tractors – Driverless tractors have become more capable and self-sufficient over time. Tractors were some of the earliest machines to be converted to autonomous driving technologies.

Yield monitors & maps – Monitors provide a crop yield by time or distance and also track bushels per load and fields. GPS receivers coupled with yield monitors provide spatial coordinates for yield monitor data and yield maps for each field.

Seeding and planting technology – Effective seeding requires control over two variables: planting seeds at the correct depth and spacing plants at the appropriate distance apart to allow for optimal growth. Precision seeding equipment is designed to maximize these variables.

Variable-rate technology (VRT) – This describes any technology which enables producers to vary the rate of crop inputs. VRT combines a variable-rate (VR) control system with application equipment to apply inputs at a precise time and/or location to achieve site-specific application rates of inputs.

Internet of Things (IoT) – One of the newest buzzwords is the Internet of Things. Simply defined, it’s the concept of connecting any device to the Internet. This includes field sensors and aerial/satellite imagery for field monitoring.

Sensors – Wireless sensors have been used in precision ag to gather data on soil compaction, fertility, climate, insect-disease-weed infestation, nitrogen, and more. On-the-go sensor information has become more valuable as they combine real-time crop health conditions to help immediately tailor product applications.

Drones – Drones allow farmers to monitor crop health, assess soil quality and plan planting locations to optimize resources and land use. The different imaging types enable farmers to collect more detailed data. Drones are also being used to plant and spray crops.