By John Fulton
Spring has arrived and attention has turned to planting and spraying. It was great be back in-person for many of the winter meetings. It was refreshing to see people and get to visit in-person about crop production topics and what is front of mind for farmers and consultants. What stuck out was that increasingly, farmers across the United States are finding more ways to deploy technology in their fields and within their farm operation. While there were many discussions on various precision agriculture topics, here are three topics within crop production that stuck out.
Ag technology have been providing precision ag hardware and sensors for a few decades now. Much of this technology has been used to automate functionality of farm machines taking responsibilities off the machine operator allowing them to focus on important aspects of field operations. The question for several years has been: when will we see full-automation or robots in our fields? The time has arrived. Drones for scouting and spraying are examples of commercially available automation at the farm along with autonomous tractor technology offered by a couple companies today. Further, companies like Raven (purchased recently by CNH) offer autonomous solutions such as the OmniDrive and OmniPower platforms. These are mentioned not as endorsement but for awareness that spray drones along with Raven’s OmniPower and OmniPower solutions have been purchased and in use today here in Ohio. We are seeing more automation being available within agriculture and some farms or companies are looking towards these autonomous solutions to help address labor shortages. However, a challenge today includes wireless connectivity within our Ohio rural communities. Autonomous or robotic solutions required Internet connectivity to function properly so a challenge being address by federal, state and local governments. But do not be surprised to see an autonomous farm machine or technology like spray drones being operated next door.
Precision ag helping to protect Ohio’s natural resources
Precision ag and the data collected is being used to help reduce the carbon footprint here in the U.S. Sustainability and carbon markets were and continue to be hot topics for farmers, consultants, retailers and large ag companies. Much of the discussion revolves around more efficiently using and applying fertilizers to increasing no-till and cover crop acres. Precision ag provides the opportunity to help improve water quality in waterbodies while ensuring farmers stay productive and profitable. Technology and farm data are part of the solution and improve records needed for reporting within sustainability and carbon sequestration programs. We also look toward variable-rate technology (VRT) and new fertilizer tools in helping support fertilizer decisions and applications. Find additional resources and information on fertilizer application, visit the Ohio State University Digital Ag website: https://digitalag.osu.edu/home.
Machines collecting large volumes of data
Farmers already use precision agriculture technologies coupled with new farm machinery being connected to the Internet, there is a good amount of data being collected on individual fields. For farm machines that are connected, much if not all this data is being transferred to cloud platforms that companies have developed, making the data more accessible to farmers and consultants. This data can include information about the field operation (planting, spraying, nutrient application, yield, and machinery parameters). These data can provide valuable verification about the quality of the field operation and be used within field or sub-field analysis to help farmers maximize yield and profit. The volume of data being collected per field and across the farm operation is growing. It can be a daunting task to keep up with all the data being collected on the farm before even thinking about how it can be analyzed and used effectively to inform the farm operation. Therefore, it is important to consider developing a digital strategy for the farm that outlines all the technology being used within the farm operation, data being collected by this technology, and identifying how one can use this data, including sharing with trusted partners outside the farm operation.
Dr. John Fulton, Professor, can be reached at email@example.com. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.