Taking a byte out of the record books

Even for those not good at holding their breath for longer than 24 minutes and unable to complete more than 36 consecutive backflips on a jet ski in one afternoon, there are yet undiscovered ways to earn a spot in the pages of the Guinness Book of World Records.

One of those ways is being pursued by Trey Colley, a graduate student in precision agriculture at The Ohio State University. This past winter, he decided to attempt to set a record for gathering the most data ever collected for a single corn plant.

“As part of the Ohio State Precision Ag program, we want to stretch the limit of our current precision ag technology and data collection methods for this year by attempting to collect the most data ever for a single corn plant. We are going to do that throughout the 2017 growing season,” Colley said. “This is a goal we set to challenge the availability of technology for collecting precision ag data. We’re going to be watching this one corn plant throughout the year. We have a measurement scale located behind it and time lapse video so we can track the growth over the season and share the different types of data and the methods we use for collecting that data.”

Colley is serious enough about setting a world record that he put $5 from his own pocket on the line as a part of the Guinness World Record Book application process. Along with hopefully setting a record, the project also seeks to illustrate the current possibilities for on-farm data collection, use and analysis in the future. Much of the data being collected in the project is fairly standard fare for many farms in Ohio, while some is not. With machinery now capable of driving itself, maintaining connection with cloud storage and even letting farmers know the possibility of an overnight shower, it’s important that data collected from the field is managed appropriately and evaluated as quickly as possible.

The corn plant, named Terra, is monitored with a camera and a measuring stick. This was in early June.

The corn plant, named Terra, is monitored with a camera and a measuring stick. This was in early June.

“We are using a variety of different precision technology platforms whether that’s for Climate FieldView or AirScout Aerial imagery. We’re collecting machine data, plant data — all types of different data from our corn plant for this year,” Colley said. “Really this is a good way to demonstrate the available data that producers can access and eventually use for decisions.”

Visible from I-70, the potentially record-breaking corn plant (lovingly named Terra, in hopes of collecting terabytes of data across the field) is marked in a 100-acre field with an Ohio State flag. The field was planted on May 16, but data collection began accumulating for the corn plant well before the planting season.

Several layers of data are being collected through the project. The agronomic layer involved will include a partnership with Integrated Ag Services that conducted automated soil sampling, and developed fertility prescriptions and management zones. Machinery data supplied directly from the tractors is also collected. The climate and growing environment will be considered as well in the “as-applied” data layer that includes rainfall, temperature of the soil, sprayer coverage, and fertilizer application. Aerial imagery will provide an advanced scouting opportunity through the assistance of AirScout with an additional layer of data including stand counts and potentially identifying crop disease, deficiencies and other problematic areas that require further investigation. As the story and corn plant progress, even more layers will be compiled including daily weather, the ongoing time-lapse video footage, tissue test results and finally the harvest data.

Nate Douridas, the farm manager and CCA at the Farm Science Review, is excited about the

The potential world record holding corn plant is marked with an Ohio State flag just off of I-70 at the Farm Science Review.

The potential world record holding corn plant is marked with an Ohio State flag just off of I-70 at the Farm Science Review.

possibilities.

“You can follow along as the growing season progresses. There will be a lot of good information to share and there are lots of data types and ways we are collecting data. Some of this is probably stuff you are already collecting on your farms but hopefully as you follow along you see something you may be interested in adding to your own operation,” Douridas said. “This is a way to showcase the amount of data that can be collected on farms and how it can be used.”

To pull off world record numbers, it is crucial to not only collect the data, but also to organize it and manage it.

“There are so many platforms involved and our goal is to show what we are using these technologies for. We challenge ourselves to find new ways to use the data to make informed decisions. It can be as simple as fuel consumption on the tractor. How much did the wheels spin across the field? What was the average load? Do I have the right size tractor on that planter? Can I get by with a smaller tractor? And then we look at just the general ‘as-applied’ information. How was my seeding singulation across the field? Did I have good spacing? How is my current downforce package whether it’s an air system or hydraulic downforce, is that giving me a good ride across the field? Do I have excessive compaction? And then we can gather all of that information in different ways,” Douridas said. “We’ve got everything from our as-applied machine data that started with the pre-plant ammonia pass. We’ve got planter as-applied data. We’ll have our post-emerge data and we’ve got a layer of weather data in there for the corn plant that is going to expand through the whole growing season. We’ve got aerial imagery from AirScout that’s going to be, we hope, 10 flights across the entire growing season. It’s going to provide a valuable piece of information to us that we normally wouldn’t have until the end of the season’s yield map. A lot of pieces are going to come together. We’ll have our list at the end of season and we’ll be able to share that and compare those to find some pieces that were actionable items for us that helped make some key growing decision as we went through the year. It’s just a great list of things we are currently collecting and maybe it will give growers the chance to say, ‘Hey there is something on that list that I don’t do right now that I am interested in and maybe I need to learn more about it.’”

By studying the details, the data generated from precision agriculture can really pay off.

“It can be a little bit overwhelming at times but a lot of this is data that the growers in our area, much like ourselves, are already collecting. You can use this data and research to make changes and improvements throughout the season leading to an overall more successful season rather than evaluating the field maps after harvest to calculate what they could have or should have done differently,” Douridas said. “A lot of grain farmers may already be collecting data and valuable information through the machinery they’re using without even realizing it and they may not be using the information to its fullest potential and taking advantage of a higher return on investment. Ultimately our farming operation is just like all of the growers in our area. We’ve got to critique every aspect of the operation from labor to the inputs that we purchase to make sure there is a return on investment one year or over multiple years. Farm profitability has to be a focus in this time period.”

The data collected for Terra is already into record-breaking territory (there is no standing record yet for data collection on a single corn plant), but record or not, Colley is excited that the project is already putting up impressive numbers.

“For this single corn plant, we are already over 1 gigabyte as of June 29,” Colley said. “I set a goal of 3 gigabytes for the growing season for Terra. If we multiply that out across the whole field of 3.2 million plants, we are talking about 3.3 petabytes of data. These are extraordinarily high numbers and amounts of data. We’ll see how far we can go, we’re trying to blow our goal out of the water.”

To follow Terra’s progress through 2017, follow @OhioStatePA on Twitter and Facebook for weekly updates. This is the first story of a four-part series following the project through 2017.

 

Trey Colley and Terra

Trey Colley and Terra

 

 

 

 

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