Author Archives: Earthling Interactive

  1. What Is Precision Ag?

    Precision agriculture (PA) can be an intimidating topic.

    High-tech terms like drones, robots, sensors, geo-mapping and big data come up when discussing precision ag. Not only are those concepts misunderstood and complex, but they all come with price tags— often large ones.

    All of this complexity and expense have led to the relatively slow adoption of many precision ag practices on farms across the UK. However, in recent years, growers big and small have started tapping into its emerging potential.

    In a poll of 559 people attending an online CerealsLIVE seminar in 2020, 47% believed there was a good return on investment with precision farming technology, compared to 11% who didn’t and 42% who weren’t sure – so it’s looking increasingly viable.

    What is Precision Ag?

    The primary goal of precision agriculture is to strive for profitability, efficiency, and sustainability on farm. This is achieved through a combination of precision technology and equipment. First, the technology technology gathers and analyses data from every action performed and helps guide both  immediate and future decisions: what seed to plant in what field, or where to apply precise amount of fertiliser or pesticides.

    You can then use precision equipment to put these plans into action. This might be using automatic section or variable-rate application control, or using a hands-free steering system, like the Autopilot Automated Steering System to precisely manoeuvre your tractor and implements. With the right farm management software, it is possible to manage complex prescriptions across a variety of fields in one platform.

    The precision farming movement started in the 1990s with the introduction of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). A wide range of sensors, monitors, and controllers were also developed during that time. With the rapid introduction and adoption of mobile computing, high-speed Internet and reliable satellites, the reach and usage of precision ag has grown immensely over the past decade, so much so that it now touches almost every area of a farm operation.

    Why Invest in Precision Ag?

    When the hardware and software can communicate with one another, it eliminates the need to spend hours of planning—the technology manages it for you. By improving your overall efficiencies, this frees up time for family and leisure. The ripple effect of precision ag moves beyond your farm operation, giving you more than just monetary value.

    But that doesn’t mean precision ag won’t help your bottom line. There are both cost and time savings to be made. Studies show that return on investment (ROI) varies depending on factors like the type and size of your farm, specific technology introduced and how the data is analysed and implemented.

    However, when precision ag is introduced correctly and as part of an overall plan, it can quickly reduce labour and crop input costs, cut water usage and save you both time and headaches when planning and executing each growing season.

    The most important thing to know is that precision ag is not a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for your neighbor might not make sense for you. Looking at each operation individually and implementing solutions that work for your farm is the only way to use it successfully and receive a positive ROI.

    The technology  ties your whole farm together, giving you the control and visibility you need to make better decisions. When you’re able to make better decisions, you know you’re getting the most out of your operation, giving peace of mind and renewed confidence.

    5 Tips to Help You Succeed with Precision Agriculture

    Trying to decide which technologies are right for your farm can seem like an intimidating task. However, the solutions can be simple and should make sense for your operation. If you go into precision farming with the right attitude, you can be successful and see a significant ROI.

    1. Start with a goal

    Whenever you invest in your operation, it should be a part of an overall business plan and solve a problem which currently has no solution. Creative problem-solving is something that has been done on the farm for centuries. But now, the solution is often found with a piece of technology rather than in a shop.

    1. Understand the management and maintenance required

    Good technology should work for you. If you’re going to spend the money on new sowing, spraying and harvest monitors, you need to calibrate the machines regularly, organise the data, ensure it’s accurate and then act on what the data tells you.

    Just like any piece of farm equipment on your farm, precision technologies need to be maintained in order to maximise their full potential.

    In addition, it’s important to understand how different technologies can work together to give the best results. For example, a seed monitoring system like the Field-IQCrop Input Control System can be used in conjunction with a guidance display system like the GFX-750 Display or the TMX-2050 Display. When used together, you can accurately monitor and map fields in real-time and correct problems as they arise. You can also simplify precision ag data management by using features like Autosync  which connect to other data sources.

    1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

    As long you’re making precision decisions based on data and not on emotion, any mistakes should be small and learned from quickly. In fact, much precision success is accomplished through trial and error. Recognising the error and making immediate adjustments will ensure the technology accomplishes the goal of increased efficiency and productivity.

    1. Have a support network

    Making the correct precision decisions for your farm is not easy—especially the first ones. Having solid support from a Trimble Vantage Representative can be a great help when you make the initial investment, as you evaluate your data each season and when you expand the technologies used.

    1. Get connected

    The web is an incredibly powerful tool to find other farmers who are making similar decisions on their farm. Web platforms like YouTube and Twitter can greatly expand your support network. It’s a great idea to search for reviews and testimonials before you invest in a certain piece of technology. Farmers around the world post online reviews that offer the pros and cons of various equipment and products—which are invaluable and free.

    So what are the most popular technologies available?

    Guidance & Steering Systems

    Some of the first and most widely used precision technologies on farms were GPS-guided combines, tractors, sprayers, and drills.

    High-precision guidance and steering provide outstanding accuracy when working in the field, allowing growers to work anywhere, at any time and in all conditions, even at night.

    One of the largest benefits of guidance systems is the reduction in the amount of overlap and/or skips within the field, saving both fuel and time while dramatically lowering your stress levels behind the steering wheel.

    The improved accuracy in the field also ensures you’re sowing and spraying efficiently. Guidance & Steering Systems

    Looking at specific guidance systems, there are a few to choose from:

    • Assisted steering systems provide a path to follow in the field, improving driving accuracy. However, you still need to control the steering wheel.
    • Automated steering systems are in full control of the steering wheel, allowing the driver to take their hands off the wheel and keep an eye on the drill, sprayer or other equipment. For example, the AutopilotAutomated Steering System can help you complete your field applications quickly and accurately. By using terrain-compensation technology, it remains highly accurate, even on difficult terrain. It can also be used with the TMX-2050 Display, sharing data between the hardware and software and keeping them connected.
    • Intelligent guidance systems provide different steering patterns depending on the shape of the field and can be used in combination with the above systems. These are extremely helpful when working on an irregularly-shaped field.
    • Implement guidance systems ensure that the tractor and implement are working together, even when your hands aren’t on the wheel. Systems like these actively control the implement so you don’t have to. The implement is able to correct its position without input from the tractor and this keeps them both on the same guidance line. 

    Land Preparation

    Preparing land each growing season is a delicate balance between what you can and can’t control. All your best efforts can be wiped out if the weather doesn’t play ball. While precision farming doesn’t erase that volatility, it does give you more tools to successfully handle the variables.

    Most precision agriculture starts with mapping and soil sampling.

    Land Preparation
    Random soil sampling is the traditional approach that works best for uniform fields with little variation, while managed random sampling looks at soil from average production areas. This is recommended if you can’t identify a dominant production area on your field.

    Benchmark sampling is suggested for fields with more variability (hills, dips, etc.). It reduces the variability of a field by reducing the area sampled to one which represents the majority of the field.

    Solutions like the Soil Information System (SIS) can give you the most complete picture of your soil health. It helps you understand soil texture, compaction, root zone depth, moisture retention and availability and soil fertility.

    Another new source of data to help with land preparation is imagery from aerial field views. With infrared images of your field, you can quickly identify problems that you can’t see from the ground.

    Because of the intricacies involved, teaming up with your local Trimble Vantage Representative is recommended when it comes to soil sampling, mapping and interpreting the results. While soil sampling is not an exact science, understanding the condition of your soil will help determine how to prepare your fields for a growing season.

    Precision equipment is particularly valuable in strip till and fertiliser application. Guidance display systems enable you to accurately monitor and map field information in real-time, with a wide array of functionalities to suit different farming needs. Tractor, implement and row guidance steering systems minimise skips and overlaps, incorporating terrain compensation technology to maintain precision in difficult conditions. 

    Yield Monitoring

    A strong addition to any precision farming strategy is yield monitoring. Introduced in the early 1990s and working in conjunction with GPS technology, yield monitoring equipment has become a conventional practice in modern agriculture.

    Yield Monitoring
    Information like seed varieties, moisture, grain loads and auto-cut width are gathered by the yield monitor and shown on a display in the cab. This can help the driver to make in-the-moment decisions information that might not be apparent with the naked eye.

    When you take all this information and format it into a yield map, it becomes a powerful tool that can inform all your operational decisions. Combined with your cost of production and application maps, a yield map will show what areas of your farm are more profitable than others and help to bring other areas up to par. You can go one step further with farm management software that provides ‘Profit Maps’ so you can delve into each field and see what strategies are working.

    Variable Rate Technology

    Armed with yield monitoring data, you can unleash the power of variable rate technology (VRT). VRT is the ability to adapt parameters on a machine to apply seed, pesticides or fertiliser according to the exact variations in plant growth or soil nutrients and type.

    Instead of applying a uniform amount of seed, for example, VRT allows you to apply the optimum amount in a specific area of any field — either automatically or manually from the cab. You can also avoid double coverage and eliminate wasted inputs.

    VRT can be adapted to crop sprayers in either an individual nozzle or section (a set of nozzles). Drills with VRT usually have automatic controllers on individual rows. Solutions like the Field IQISOBUS Liquid control system enable you to control the amount of liquid that’s being applied, reducing  input costs, and creating a high-yielding environment for your crop.

     Variable Rate Technology

    Another huge bonus is that you’ll have a complete record of all inputs used in your operation, helping future decisions.

    Is VRT Worth the Investment?

    Like all precision technologies, that depends on how it’s used. When used alongside soil sample data, aerial maps and yield monitoring, VRT is extremely effective at ensuring inputs are applied to your fields as effectively as possible.

    While it often takes some trial and error, if you’re committed to the process, you should experience a fast ROI.

    Flow & Application Control

    Seed monitoring systems are especially helpful during planting; you need to know when you’re experiencing issues like skips, overlaps and failed rows. But, you can’t fix what you can’t see- and that’s where a seed monitoring system, like the Field-IQ Crop Input Control System, can help.

    Flow & Application Control
    This monitors seeding information or fertiliser delivery lines in real-time. It allows you to control variable-rate application and helps you keep an eye on automatic section control. It also prevents costly sowing problems by catching them early before they impact yields. When used in conjunction with a guidance display systemlike the GFX-750 Display or the TMX-2050 Display—you can accurately monitor and map fields in real-time and correct problems as they arise.

    Reducing applications in less productive field areas curbs input costs. Typically, around 10-20 percent of a field under-performs, so why spend precious time and money on an area that isn’t giving you the results you want?

    At a single glance, you can see where fields are making money and where inputs are not paying off. Precision ag is a farm management strategy, that is best evaluated using profit maps over the long-term.

    Water Management

    Water is a precious resource, especially in drought conditions. A precise irrigation system is one way to mitigate issues with dry weather. But when it does rain, you can’t always monitor fields in-person. That’s where precision software solutions can do the job for you.

    Irrigation & Water Management
    When managing water, factors like precipitation, irrigation and soil moisture contribute to crop-available water, which in turn impacts yields. But yields are also affected by factors like topography and soil type. Visual surveys of your field can easily identify any red flags like erosion and dips where pooling occurs. Using GPS tools like WM-Survey with RTK accuracy are crucial for identifying steep slopes, humps and low spots that can affect yields.

    For ground levelling, consider the VerticalPoint RTK™ Grade Control system. Other land-forming systems are only operational 75% of the time, which means fewer working hours and higher costs. But Trimble’s grade control system integrates with the Trimble® FieldLevel™ II System and gives faster, more accurate results. By using ground-breaking technology, it operates at 95% uptime in even the most challenging environments.

    With it, contractors get increased uptime and a reduced number of passes needed to complete a job. And farmers can benefit from fields that have better water management and productivity.

    Planning in-field drainage is also important, and hardware solutions like the FieldLevel™ II System streamline surveying, designing and levelling required for projects. It also helps ensure optimal water management and productivity.

    Data Integration

    If there’s any real magic in precision farming, it’s found in data integration.

    There’s no shortage of data that growers can collect, from yield maps to soil test results and input costs. However, the real power of precision g is unleashed when all that data is combined to provide a complete story of your operation- and that can be the hardest things to get right. 

    Farm Data Integration

    5 Ways to Get Better Data Integration

    The basic goal of data integration is to organise all your farm information in a way that aids analysis and decision-making.

            1. When you purchase any new software or hardware for your farm, make sure it’s compatible with what you’re already using. If the systems don’t work together, then you won’t get the results you’re looking for. But, if you’re using ISOBUS technology, you won’t need to worry. ISOBUS technology is the industry-standard to achieving compatibility between tractors and implements by following a ‘plug and play’ mandate. You no longer need a separate or brand-new display system for each tractor, as it allows for both display and machine to speak to each other, regardless of brand or age. ISOBUS equipment like the GFX-750 Display or the Field-IQ ISOBUS Control Solutions keep you connected to every piece of software and hardware.


            1. Make sure you regularly calibrate and service your technology solutions just like you would with your equipment. Take the time to get to know the technology, and you’ll save time and money down the road.
            1. Investigate high-speed Internet options for your farm—both in your office and in the field. The benefits of having a high-speed Internet connection in the cab might be worth the investment to help with in-the-moment decisions in the field.
            1. Explore online data storage. USB sticks are nice backups for data, but they aren’t as effective or practical as storing it all in one place online. Online or ‘cloud’ storage space is getting cheaper and safer all the time and allows you to easily share with your accountant, farm adviser, insurer or lender. And remember—it’s your data and you have the right to know how it’s being used by your stakeholders.
            1. Partner up with an expert. While hardware and software solutions are becoming more compatible and easier to use, it’s still an intimidating task to get them working together. A Trimble Vantage Representative is an invaluable resource to have, especially when getting started, to make sure all your data is integrated and giving you the information needed to make the best decisions for your farm. 

    Correction Services

    When it comes to accuracy, correction services are an important tool. These advanced-positioning services can be tailored to fit the accuracy level that’s right for your operation. From sub-inch to sub-metre accuracy needs, our intelligent solutions drive precision ag success.

    As an example, CenterPoint RTX satellite-delivered correction services, provides high accuracy positioning of < 2.5 cm, enabling less cab time, tighter rows and straighter lines. CenterPoint RTX also provides corrections for all Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) constellations. Using these additional satellite signals, the CenterPoint RTX provides up to 40% faster RTX convergence times and more robust performance under natural obstacles like trees.

    Trimble RTX correction services are repeatable pass-to-pass, season-to-season and year-to-year for achieving highly accurate positioning.


    The Future

    Traceability, instant weather reporting and current commodity market information are all data sets that are rapidly being addressed by the latest software solutions—with the aim of transferring this data automatically and instantaneously from the tractor or office.

    A scenario in the not-too-distant future might look something like this: You’re out drilling and the weather forecast changes to much-needed rain. With this new information, you increase the fertiliser rate to take advantage of the added soil moisture. Because your cab is web-enabled, this adjustment is automatically reflected in your fertiliser order sheet, cash flow, yield projections and marketing plan. There’s no need for any extra data entry or office work — your entire operation is integrated and automated.

    Increased data integration will not only help you focus on growing a crop, but growing the best possible crop. Technology, agriculture, food—these industries are always changing, and Trimble is keeping pace.

    The Precision Ag Farm of the Future

    The Precision Ag Farm of the Future

    Our vision is simple. It’s one where you have the right technology to solve your day-to-day problems, enhancing your farming operation and work-life balance. The ongoing integration of technology on farm allows you to turn  precision ag equipment into true decision-making tools for your business. That’s the ultimate goal of precision agriculture.

  2. Technology Tune-up Tips for an Efficient, Accurate Harvest

    With harvest fast approaching, you are probably monitoring your crops and the weather for the ideal time to get into the field.

    And while many farmers will have thoroughly inspected their equipment before the combine starts rolling, it’s also important to check that precision technology is up-to-date and functioning correctly.

    It’s key to do this now otherwise you may find yourself making repairs and corrections later, when you would rather be spending that time harvesting.

    Not only will a pre-harvest tune-up save on time and reduce stress, it will also ensure the data you are collecting is accurate, which is crucial if you plan on using it to create variable rate maps for the next season.

    Here are some tips on inspecting and preparing precision technology for a smooth and successful harvest.

    Pre-Harvest Tune-Up: Steering Systems

    1 – Start with the Steering Hardware

    The first step is checking the hardware of the guidance steering system. This includes:

    • Greasing all spindles and kingpins, and making sure there’s no wear on them, as that will result in a poor response in the system.

    • Checking that linkages are tight and aligned properly.

    • Verifying that the camber, caster and toe of your steering system are within spec, as misalignment will cause the system to pull to one side, resulting in uneven and excessive wear on your tyres and potential steering errors.

    • Ensuring the tyres are in good shape — tread depth is correct and there is no excessive wear or deformities. Also, be sure that they are inflated to the correct pressure as listed in the operator’s manual.

    If you have a hydraulic steering system — which most factory-installed systems are — ensure the hydraulic oil levels are right. Also, check that hoses aren’t leaking and are secured in the proper locations; not falling down and getting in the way of the tyres or the threshing mechanisms.

    It’s also important to update the filtering system, with any filters changed according to the proper service periods. Clogged filters reduce flow and steering performance.

    If you have an assisted steering system, such as the EZ-Pilot and EZ-Steer, make sure the anti-rotation bracketry is in good condition and secure. Again, verify that the linkages and brackets are tight and there are no sloping or worn parts.

    If your system has a steering sensor, check its linkages, ensuring they are free and clear, with no sticking or play. Cables should be routed properly and not hanging. If you find any wearing or broken wires, repair and replace them as required.

    2 – Do a Test Run

    After you have checked all the physical aspects of the steering system, you should do a test run.

    Firstly, if you transferred the GPS guidance system from another piece of equipment, make sure the right vehicle is entered into the system, so you have the right dimensions and configurations set up.

    Then set an AB line in the field and see if the system steers to it and is performing well. Do this with the header on and threshing mechanism engaged as this can change the dynamics of the system.

    Verify that the steering angle in your display matches the angle of your tyres. For example, if you turn your wheels to the left and the display says the angle is 27 degrees, draw a line in the ground from the tyre and calculate whether the actual angle is within a couple degrees of that.

    If you’re not seeing a good performance from the test run, start with the basics: Verify measurements and orientations of precision equipment – often centimetres become metres or vice-versa. You can also calibrate the system  again, as per the installation manual.

    But if you are not comfortable doing this, you may want to contact your precision ag dealer to redo the calibrations for you or verify the setup is correct.

    3 – Reactivate GPS Subscriptions

    Reactivate subscription GPS services for harvest. There is usually a little lead time to do this, so it’s better to do it now. 

     4 – Do a Data Cleanup

    After inspecting and testing the steering hardware, do a data cleanup of your guidance lines so that only the ones you need are available. This is especially important if a third party will be using the system, as it ensures they will choose the right line.

    If you have many guidance lines in the system and you’re not sure what they do, it’s best to get rid of them.

    Consider whether you have acquired new land or renamed any land, as this is the time to re-export your ag management software so that field structures are up to date for proper data collection.

    Pre-Harvest Tune-Up: Yield Monitors

    5 – Calibrate for Accurate Yield

    Our yield monitoring systems are volume-based, which means they sense the amount of grain that sits on the paddle in the grain elevator. The first step in collecting accurate data is to teach the system what the zero point is — what does the paddle look like with nothing on it?

    Because the paddles can wear and change shape over time, this affects the sensor readout.>

    Decide whether to keep or delete the load data from the previous harvest for calibrating this season’s yield.

    If you are harvesting a different crop, it’s likely going to need its own calibration.

    You will also need to factor in whether the yield potential is similar. If the last wheat crop you harvested had gone flat, its grain flow would have been much lower. If your wheat crop this is normal this year, the calibration won’t be tailored for a much higher grain flow.

    6 – Harvest for Accurate Data

    To calibrate for this year’s crop you will need new data in the system before you can apply offsets to it, which means you will need to do some combining to correct the system.

    We recommend harvesting at least four loads to get an accurate calibration curve. The loads also need to be taken at various speeds so the system can get a sense for different crop flows to create an accurate calibration curve. If you take all your loads at the same grain flow, you will only get one point on the curve.

    While you can do more than four loads, we don’t recommend going above six or seven, as it likely won’t improve the accuracy further.

    7 – Troubleshooting Calibrations

    If you decided to keep your old load data for calibrations and you start to see inaccuracies, inputting new loads is not likely to help — instead it will skew your numbers.

    You can try to patch it, but more importantly, you should stop, look at the machine and figure out what’s wrong. If you need to change something, you might have to get some new calibration loads to reset the data.

    Many problems that come up on the yield monitor indicate a problem with the combine itself. Clean the elevator and make sure the chain and paddles are in good shape.

    Another consideration is that without a weigh ticket you can’t offset your yield data, so the information may not be 100% accurate. You will still know the high and low points in your
    fields, but the numbers won’t be relative until you have that information.

    Once you do have your weigh tickets, you can always go back into the system and correct the data later.

    Learn more about how a Trimble yield monitor can help you capture valuable data that will enhance your decision-making for next season and beyond.  

    Start Early

    The sooner you can prepare, the better. Get ready at least two weeks to a month before harvest, so if you need to order parts or make major repairs, you have enough time.

    The other benefit to preparing early is that you can teach staff how to work the systems and troubleshoot problems. It’s much easier to teach these things when you are not under stress yourself.

    If you are not comfortable inspecting and maintaining your precision technology, ask your dealer to do this for you. Contact your local dealer to find out pricing as this can vary. 

    Remember, your data is only as good as the machine itself. If something isn’t working properly, you are probably not collecting accurate data, which can have big consequences for future growing seasons.

    Photo Credit: Chip Bryars, Vantage South

    Authors: Dwight Easterly and Zach Gettman

    Zach Gettman is a Product Manager for Trimble and manages the development of solutions worldwide. With 10 years of experience, specializing in flow and application control systems, he aims to help farmers increase their efficiency in the field.

    Dwight Easterly is a Field Applications Engineer for Trimble, helping farmers improve efficiency and productivity on their farms with the proper installation of precision ag technology.