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6 Takeaways from the PrecisionAg Innovation Series in St Louis: A Grower’s Perspective

On February 15, 2016, Louisa Burwood-Taylor Editor’s Note: Steve Pitstick manages Pitstick Farms in Maple Park, Illinois and focuses on growing row crops.

Pitstick uses a variety of technology on his land and recently Pitstick attended and spoke at the recent PrecisionAg Innovation Series organized by PrecisionAg magazine, and co-chaired by Lisa Prassack, president of Prassack Advisors, the agriculture technology research and consultancy firm.


On Tuesday, January 26, 2016, I joined over 235 delegates at the 2nd PrecisionAg Innovation Series event “Finding What Works: Data Integration from the Ground Up” in St. Louis, Missouri. Co-chairs of the event Paul Schrimpf, executive editor of PrecisionAg/CropLife Magazines, and Lisa Prassack, President of Prassack Advisors, guided us growers, together with industry leaders and emerging agriculture technology players, through a high-quality, jam-packed day to hear speakers and panels on how to create solutions that work on the farm.

In attendance were some of the most innovative growers and agronomists in corn, soybean and wheat farming and I was proud to be included among this group. These pragmatists have fueled momentum in agriculture by advising on technology that works and they have provided advice on the following agtech offerings: 640 Labs, Farmer Business Network, FieldView, HydroBio, Precision Planting, Sage Insights and companies bar coding seeds and chemicals in the grower workflow.

Here are my six main takeaways from the day:

1. Growers Have Mixed Experiences Using Data on the Farm

  • Farmers are looking for a higher level of detail in all areas of data collection, particularly as they often find data coming off sensors is not detailed enough.

  • Farmers want consumer devices, mostly tablets, to visualize machine data because growers become familiar with them in the off-season.

  • Adoption of precision technology is slow because there is a lack of peer pressure to implement it.

  • There has been a lack of clear evidence that collecting data will provide a decent return on investment; farmers want to be shown why they should.

  • The array of solutions is overwhelming to producers.

  • They need better definition and use purpose.

2. Need for Better Agronomic and Technological Advice

The agronomists and precision agriculture consultants were representative of the best of the grower’s “trusted advisors”. There are very few resources that understand both agronomy and the application of improving technology. As a result, growers are not getting introduced to, nor getting access to the best possible solutions for their farms. We need more in-field expertise and independence to truly solve growers’ demands for return on investment from precision agriculture solutions.

3. A Set of Standards for Farm Data is on the Horizon

Jim Wilson, co-chair of the precision agriculture council of AgGateway, a non-profit consortium of over 230 industry players working to define common data standards and descriptors for farms, fields, and processes, told delegates that a set of standards was on the horizon.

If there are standards, the industry can work together and hopefully speed up the process of getting tools and viable solutions onto the farm.

Wilson leads the Standardized Precision Ag Data Exchange (SPADE) Project, which is described online as “a collaboration among agricultural suppliers of hardware, software, inputs, services, implements and vehicles for improved data exchange and interoperability.” The project is trying to “maximize the value of precision agriculture through seamless and transparent data exchange.”

4. Internet of Things – Data Alignment Needed

Chris Rezendes of Inex Advisors shared examples of doing work with the “Internet of Things” in the field. We appreciated his IoT domain knowledge and message that it is not just better sensors that are needed, but an alignment of sensor data collection with the problems we are trying to solve. His graphic of the Four Corners region (Southwest Colorado, Southeast Utah, Northeast Arizona, and Northwest New Mexico) showed a lack of water — and not surprisingly — a lack of sensors. The graphic related to crop production in many ways. Without enough of the right and timely information, the “wrong dogs” are chased.

5. Traceability Demands Detailed Data Collection

Growers are the original stewards of the land. The Environmental Defense Fund, with consumer-facing brands like WalMart and General Mills, are asking us for more traceability and reporting than we are able to deliver with today’s data and software systems. As mentioned before, we are looking for greater detail in data collection and hope to see this combined with integration as well as easier data presentation. Hopefully this will become more the norm than today’s early stage efforts.

6. Can Farmers Collect Data in a Co-op?

Developing ways to store, catalogue, and easily analyze the ever-growing mountain of ag data harvested every day are a major, yet essential, project to tackle for all growers with the support of their trusted advisors and – what is now emerging – farmer data co-operatives.

Jeff Kirwan, a grower in Illinois, discussed the value of a small users group data repository — involving about 20 farmers. In this case the information has to be almost perfect going in due to the small amount of them and it will require the collaboration of the growers to drive better data collection, benchmarking and use. Jason Ward, from GISC – Grower Information Services Cooperative, a farmer co-operative with over 6,000 grower members, discussed the benefits of a neutral, “white puffy” cloud to hold farmers data.

Is the fear of data misuse by the “evil dark clouds” easily overcome if the benefits to the farmer providing it are clear almost immediately? And is there an opportunity to create sub data sets within these larger groups to add more focused value?

“The days of being the lone farmer are done. We need to do things as a team now,” said Dennis Wentworth on the Grower Wrapup Panel.

What Next?

We look forward to continued progress and the opportunity to learn what other industries outside of agriculture are doing to solve these complex problems. Our particular interest is with the use of leading technology in sensors, connectivity and analysis of the right data to enable informed decisions on the farm. See you at the 3rd PrecisionAg Innovation Series!

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