Precision Agriculture: Deere Gets Farm Data from the Tractor to the Web

by   |   September 17, 2013 4:04 pm   |   0 Comments

For the farmer, the tractor has become a data center. Motorized farm equipment now has the technology to acquire and analyze data to minimize the amount of seed or fertilizer needed, reduce fuel costs, and identify best practices for fields in a given region.

John Deere & Company has been a leader in bringing high-tech to the farm field—often referred to as precision agriculture–and it just announced its Wireless Data Transfer, which builds on the company’s existing suite that includes:

AutoTrac: A GPS-based assisted-steering technology that can include land-based differential correction to avoid overlapping when seeding, spraying, tilling, or fertilizing.

JDLink: A telematic machine-monitoring system that provides remote access to fleet location and utilization. It also provides access to diagnostic data to help optimize maintenance schedules.

Wireless Data Transfer builds upon the foundation of JDLink with the ability to send production data from the equipment to the farmer’s account on the web portal via a cellular network. The farmer can then access the data using any web-connected device to, for example, check the location or status of any given piece of equipment, see what progress has been made, or transfer a yield map to a trusted advisor. Wireless Data Transfer is a proprietary technology optimized for other John Deere systems.

“We are to the point that we can’t get much bigger [with the equipment]; now we need to focus on optimizing through technology,” says Chris Batdorf, product marketing manager in John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions group. “The mainstream is getting the message: There are more efficiencies to be gained in technology.”

Data technology in farm equipment is not new, says John Fulton, associate professor and extension specialist of biosystems engineering at Auburn University. “One of the biggest hurdles has been getting data off the machines,” he says. “Telematic or wireless data transfer between machines or from a machine to an online database or cloud is a critical piece of the puzzle.”

Without wireless connectivity, farmers use what you might call “boot net,” a version of the old office sneaker net where data is loaded onto a portable storage device (USB memory in this case) and carried to where it is needed. The data cannot be analyzed or acted upon in real time, and the process is prone to error.

JDLink Ultimate with Remote Display Access and Wireless Data Transfer allow two-way transmission of the following types of information:

  • Diagnostic information on each machine that a farmer may share with a dealer. John Deere also evaluates diagnostic data in aggregate to improve equipment design.
  • Yield data that can be compared with previous results or an average for the region. Farmers may compare yield data against different equipment configurations to determine the optimal settings.
  • Usage rates for seed and fertilizer. Farmers may determine optimal rates through soil sampling.
  • Location of equipment, including data on how quickly, for example, a field is being planted.

Farmers may opt in to share data that is transferred to with their insurers, landlords, or anyone else with a stake in the farmer’s success.

The benefits of precision agriculture are real. Fulton cites research that shows an average of 10% reduction of overlap in planting or fertilizing when using GPS-based guidance on equipment. Automated section control provides an additional 5% reduction in overlap. Fields with irregular shapes can see 20% or more in overlap reduction when using these precision agriculture technologies.

According to the 2012/2013 Alabama Precision Ag Survey of Midwestern and Southern Farmers, Wireless Data Transfer addresses the most common barrier to using more data management technology on the farm—automated data transfer off the machines to where it can be used. The other top factors cited were help getting started in data management with local support and training, and simplified ag software with a preference for web-based.

Fulton adds a couple of issues to the list. “There continues to be concern over privacy. [We need to] better educate farmers about who owns the data, what it means when your data is transferred to the cloud,” he says.

Another point, says Fulton, is that each farmer will want different data or information back. “What one farmer does is not what his neighbor might do. They all manage their farm operations differently.”

One key barrier is beyond the control of the farmers or the equipment makers. “[People need to] understand the need for more rural cellular coverage,” says Batdorf. Lack of cellular service for farmers in rural farm areas could put them at a disadvantage.

“Lack of cellular service has been an issue, but equipping machines with automated wireless data transfer technology help overcome limitations today in the ag industry,” says Fulton. “A high percentage of the data is still on the machines.”

Wireless Data Transfer is in a limited build this fall, and John Deere plans to do a full roll-out this coming winter or spring.

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