When I first started in precision agriculture, it seemed so complex: Strapping on a bunch of electronic equipment to a piece of machinery that included a roof array of brackets for GPS, a computer that sat inside the cab, a display (sometimes monochrome, sometimes color), and some serious hoses to tap into the steering hydraulics (Oh, the scar tissue!).
I’m describing one of the largest segments of “precision ag,” and where I had my first encounter with the term: semi-autonomous tractors. Those aftermarket precision guidance systems were installed to provide three benefits to the grower:
1. Minimize operator fatigue
2. Increase accuracy with repeatability year over year
3. Quantifiable ROI
Fast forward to here and now, and that type of precision agriculture is as common as Bluetooth in your vehicle, a back-up camera or parking assist.
Alphabet Soup in Center Pivot Irrigation
With today’s shift toward acronyms like IOT (Internet of Things), ag IOT, AI (Artificial Intelligence), and a plethora of other letters, it can be hard to see the value in adopting new data-centric products and services.
This hesitation is partly because these applications don’t feel as tangible as what once was bulky, hard to install and even harder to support. Cloud-based things don’t have physical weight. Despite the old difficulties, those heavy old things had value because we could feel them.
So do these ag trends, specifically intangible IOT applications in the form of software and apps, possess the same kind of tangible value?
I say yes!
What does “Meaningful Data” Mean?
As agriculture transforms under the IOT umbrella, we see that data has become more meaningful than ever. Just as the automotive industry has evolved to include infotainment screens with intelligent insights for your transmission based on how you drive, agriculture has been become the “Agri-tainment” segment with the same results for many growers.
This difference is key: for ag, we look to adopt those quantifiable applications that offer higher ROI, not just add creature comforts.
We look to solve problems like environmental impacts, rising production costs and availability of natural resources. This has always been the focus of precision ag applications, but now they have evolved into even higher-tech applications like anomaly detection and predictive services.
Not Just For Large Growers
There is no cookie cutter application for farming. Meaningful data can come in all shapes and sizes, and can represent something different for everyone. Every grower is unique, and growers each know their own operation best. The great thing about the IOT is that ag data allows you to “future-proof” your investment in technology, which you may have otherwise questioned.
The data you need really comes down to what you are trying to accomplish, whether increasing your bottom line or finding peace of mind. You can also prevent downtime in machines, implement irrigation scheduling, and get help with seed selection and fertilizer recommendations.
Ultimately, data helps you make decisions more concisely and accurately while still maintaining control of the decisions being automated. And you really don’t need to be a large grower to justify the return on investment. My initial attempts with those brackets and hoses years ago were an example of the “first we try, then we trust” methodology. And the sector has advanced a long way since then.
If you still have some doubts about this move toward cloud-based automation, consider this: you have already adopted a lot of these useful applications through smart phones and apps that you’re finding harder and harder to live without. Can you imagine going back to rotary-dial landlines?
In closing, the point of IOT and AI apps or services in agriculture is not to overwhelm you with data and change the way you farm. It is to help you gain insights from relevant information that fits your farm’s needs.
Contact your local Valley dealer to learn more about our complete toolbox of technological solutions.