We are making big data into vital tool

Article taken from The Press and Journal

Precision farming is here to stay, whether it’s something as simple as tractor guidance box in the vehicle’s cab, the more progressive variable application of inputs or full-scale analysis of everything – from soil through to final crop yield.

The buzz-word to describe this new world of information is ‘big data’ – the information generated by our machines and gadgets.  Our challenge now that we’ve started collecting it all, is how we manage it and sift through it all to determine what is useful and what isn’t.

In our business we’ve been working on how to synchronise these disparate date sources into one system – whether it’s a map from a drone or results from a drone or results from a combine’s yield monitor – so that meaningful information can be used to support agronomy decisions and variable application of inputs.

Many of the data sets that we look at in the growing season allow us to react to a situation and try to fix it using the experience we have of the farm and as agronomists.

For example, once you factor in the cost per kg of nitrogen, diesel price and estimated grain price, the resulting yield gain from applying nitrogen to a specific soil type or zone may be uneconomical.

There is some really exciting progress in agriculture adopting technology from other sectors; technology that’s becoming smarter and faster.  For example, the latest internet browsers have come a long way in improving how we access and use data, with functionality like ‘drag and drop’ coming into web environments.

The big drawback to web-based systems is that broadband speed needs to be at least 1MB for downloads, otherwise you lose the will to live.  Really you need speeds of between 3MB-5MB for comfortable use of a web-based tool; whilst those with 10MB+ connections will have totally seamless access to all web services.

I know that these speeds are far from the reality for some farmers in the short-term, but it is inevitable that the future of computing and precision farming services will be via the internet.

We’re preparing our services for this future, because five to 10 years down the line I see farmers needing us agronomists to play a much bigger part in analysing data and manipulating crop input prescriptions accordingly.  But, as a company, we aren’t purely technology focused, our development work extends to innovative work with cover crops, companion plants and no-till, as well as soil health testing – all of which demonstrates that we really are looking at farming in its broadest sense and we’re doing things a whole lot differently compared with five years ago; precision farming is just another part of this progress.

- Lewis McKerrow is Agrovista’s head of precision technology


18 April 2015

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