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  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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Precision Farming

New concepts to reality

Farmers Guide was one of a small number of publications from around the world to attend a tour of John Deere’s new Intelligent Solutions Group (ISG) headquarters, Iowa, USA which provided a rare insight into where the future of agriculture is being shaped and decided. David Williams reports. 

The new building at Urbandale, Iowa represents nearly $33M investment by the machinery giant, and replaces the previous precision farming headquarters a few miles away consisting of three separate rented buildings which, although neighbours, meant a walk of up to half a mile for meetings – a challenge in the middle of winter in Iowa. 

Farmers Guide was one of a very small number of agricultural media titles from around the world invited to the first press visit to the new ISG centre in late August. The 134,000ft2 purpose-designed building opened in April this year and is home to a team of approximately 830 precision farming specialists whose job it is to dream up and develop agricultural hardware and software, then prepare it for market and finally to provide back-up to dealers and their customers world-wide. 

Make every seed count

John Deere senior vice-president ISG John Stone described the team’s task. “We have to make machines smarter, more precise and easier to use. We have to make every seed count, we have to make every drop of crop protection chemical count, and we have to get every kernel and grain off the field at harvest.”

Challenges facing the industry, he added, include urbanisation and a lack of experienced farm machinery operators so technology has to be developed which can help even unskilled operators do a skilled job. 

Shorter planting windows mean tasks have to be carried out faster, but with even more precision than in the past to optimise establishment and yields, he added. 

“First AutoTrac revolutionised field work, allowing operators to concentrate on the operation while GPS guidance looked after the steering,” explained John. “We started off looking at operations at field level, then realised sub-field level was needed, we later looked at individual rows and now we are looking at every plant. Our aim is to allow our farmers to be the most profitable and sustainable on the planet.”

A significant boost to John Deere’s precision farming aspirations was the purchase of the Blue River Technology business in 2017, which was already developing a smart spraying system which could distinguish individual crop plants from weeds in the field. “By targeting only the weed we can reduce herbicide use by up to 80 per cent, and that’s something that benefits everyone.”

Idea sharing

The ISG building is designed to maximise interaction between employees, and all offices are open plan. One entrance, with electronic internal gates and a diligent security guard helps protect sensitive development work from unauthorised visitors, but means all staff enter and exit through one main access point into a large hall designed to host presentations and where the walls are decorated with farming-related art. A restaurant and refreshment area is at one end and upstairs a large games room provides casual space for relaxation and project discussions. 

The building is designed to encourage interaction between employees to stimulate

“The layout is very successful,” commented John Deere manager marketing services ISG Jolene Keim. “It’s designed to generate interaction between individuals and sections and just going to fetch a cup of coffee often results in spontaneous meetings. It’s a great atmosphere and people enjoy working here.”

Back-up for users of John Deere precision farming products is provided by a dedicated team at the site; between them fluent in 12 languages and available for advice 24 hours per day, 362 days per year. A large display board lists the number of calls received that day as well as current expected waiting times for service users. 

Bearing in mind that many staff might not be from farming backgrounds, John Deere has a small area in front of the new building drilled with a selection of crops as a reminder to the team of its customers’ objectives. 

By the main entrance is a John Deere leaping deer statue, one of only 14 remaining worldwide out of a number commissioned by Charles Deere, the son of company founder John Deere. 

Also reminding employees and visitors of the brand’s history is an original 1874 plough displayed in the new building’s entrance lobby. 

Housing 830 out of John Deere’s total 2,000-head ISG team, the new Urbandale ISG headquarters emphasises the importance placed by the company on its precision farming products and services, and its vision that these are essential for profitable and sustainable farms of the future. The attractive working environment is part of the company’s strategy to attract and retain top-calibre staff, enabling it to remain at the forefront of precision farming solutions for agriculture.

Precision farming milestones

1994 – First John Deere yield mapping

1999 – First StarFire receiver

2002 – First GreenStar display

2002 – AutoTrac operated for
first time

In 2018 John Deere celebrated 25 years of its ISG team which has been creating advanced technology, incorporating machine learning, connectivity, computer vision, robotics and sensors for use in farm equipment.

Precision design for drainage schemes

Growers are paying more attention to detail and using it to target drainage investment in the worst affected parts of their fields. 

Norfolk-based drainage specialist William Morfoot is experiencing increased demand for its services providing drainage schemes for farm businesses including design work and installation. Contracts manager Will Mitchell said: “Many growers are approaching us to undertake drainage work armed with multiple maps all providing different information. These can be simple maps detailing the positions of existing drainage systems or perhaps more specialist maps sourced from satellite or combine data – showing yield and crop performance information. 

Farmers are increasingly using data to target their investment in drainage, says William Moorfoot

“This information is then all integrated with detailed topographical maps of the fields that we survey to produce a bespoke and targeted scheme design.” The scheme designs provide a transparent and considered drainage solution for the affected areas being worked on. 

The detailed and comprehensive design service is a different way of working to the way drainage schemes were designed years ago, Mr Mitchell added. 

“The combination of an experienced design team and the latest in GPS and computer technology means that we are readily able to quickly pull together a wide array of data to help our clients make informed and transparent decisions concerning their land drainage investment. When the data is married together with the advanced level of sophistication on the trenching technology that we operate, the schemes we are delivering are being installed with a level of precision which is both matching and surpassing the expectations of many of the leading farm businesses we work for.”

Potato growers benefit from field-level weather data

Potato growers can improve decision support and cut around £100/ha from their input costs by making use of field-level weather metrics, according to a study carried out by digital farming start-up Sencrop.

The company’s smart weather stations, which are designed to be installed on a user’s farm, collect measurements for rainfall, wind speed and humidity and send them to the cloud, where users access the data – and can set alerts to warn them of temperature/humidity combinations – through their smartphone.

The study, carried out in France, involved 1,400 growers across 80,000ha. Data from the weather stations was fed into Mileos, an agronomic model focused on preventing late blight.

“Users reported a typical three-spray reduction where they’d been using the Sencrop/Mileos combination to support their decision making,” said Fred South, Sencrop’s business manager. “For them, that translated into a €160/ha [£140/ha] saving.

“We’re now evaluating Mileos in the UK, working with customers of Agri-Tech Services in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, to validate those results under British conditions.” However, British farmers have responded enthusiastically to the weather stations following their launch at the end of last year, he said.

More than 300 Sencrop units have been installed on farms across the UK, adding to the 8,000 in operation across Europe. Phil Kingsmill, of Cambridgeshire-based Spearhead International, bought one for his operations after seeing the unit in action at Lamma.

Field-level weather metrics made available through Sencrop can bring big savings for growers

“It’s essential that we can record rainfall accurately, as well as temperature and humidity,” he said. With operations focused exclusively on potatoes, he needs to grow across disparate parcels of rented land in order to achieve the necessary rotation.

“I really like the Sencrop unit, because the app is so good. I can find out with just a few swipes and pushes what happened an hour ago, how the weather’s been over the past 24 hours and the trend for the past seven days. 

“Having easy access to this history and data has really helped with backing up our agronomic decisions,” he added. “There’s been a number of instances where we’ve looked at the app before spraying, to check on temperatures or to ensure wind speeds are suitable.

“We’ve a number of weather stations dotted around, both automatic and manual, but of all of them it’s the Sencrop app I rate the best. What’s more, the pricing structure is fair – the affordability is very justifiable.”

Multiple installations are encouraged by Sencrop – not just on the same farm, but with neighbouring units as well. “Users can choose to open up their data streams – our 8,000 stations connect more than 9,000 farmers. This ability to share, collate and analyse metrics from multiple stations, across thousands of different locations presents huge value to the industry,” said Fred.

“Not only does it allow individual farmers to become aware of short-term trends – localised rainfall, frost anomalies, and so on – in real-time, but the collective pool of weather data will also allow us to work with researchers, agronomists, contractors and insurers to data-crunch and spot longer-term trends.

“Ultimately, this should help to provide products and services better tailored to growers’ needs and habits,” he added.

Three Sencrop models are available to UK growers, with prices starting at £380 plus £150 for a year’s subscription to the app and customer services.

Reliable and robust signal supplier

Precision Farming is at the heart of all modern farming techniques and machinery. From controlled traffic farming to zero till, and 100hp to 600hp tractors, precision is the key to driving down costs, increasing efficiency and ever better yields.

Central to these modern Farming systems and equipment, is accurate GPS allowing farms to operate at the highest efficiencies and to the tightest margins. For the past 10 years RTKF Net, formerly RTK Farming, has been developing the largest independently owned network of GPS Base Stations across England. Consequently, it offers the most reliable and robust RTK GPS signal for farmers and the new technology they are embracing.

Originally providing the service by radio signals, the team at RTKF Net have now developed their technology to provide both radio and SIM card delivered RTK Services. As the new SIM card delivered service can work with any tractor manufacturer or after-market GPS manufacturer, users can now have one signal provider across all of their equipment. In addition to this, the team at RTKF Net can provide remote customer support; diagnosing GPS signal issues remotely and talking operators through solutions over the phone, getting them up and running as quickly as possible. If an on-site visit is required, the remote diagnostics ensure the engineers will always have the appropriate equipment with them.

Precision is most definitely the future of farming and regardless which system or equipment is chosen, RTKF Net have a solution.

High-speed and higher accuracy fertiliser spreading

Fertiliser spreader technology by Kverneland continues to evolve with the addition of the TLX Geospread model to the Exacta series.

With high output, high speeds and high flow rates as the goal, TLX Geospread benefits from a larger CentreFlow distribution system, which sees the maximum flow rates boosted from 320kg/min up to 540kg/min.

Typically a flow rate of 540kg/min can be achieved at a forward speed of 16kph while spreading at a 40m working width. A narrower spread width affords access to even higher forward speeds, boosting output and productivity.

CentreFlow manages the way fertiliser is distributed to the eight spreading vanes, accelerating material up to disc speeds through the dosing cup, preserving material quality.

Kverneland’s Multirate software uses tighter grid sampling and higher resolution maps, to provide up to eight sections of variable rate capability across the full working width

This technique improves upon the Exacta’s already successful spreading patterns, and affords a higher degree of accuracy with the TLX model, even when spreading at high application rates and at high forward speeds says Kverneland. 

Equipped with Geospread, the TLX also provides automatic section control in one metre sections. But advances in software have now enabled Geospread to achieve variable rate fertiliser applications on both sides of the machine.

Known as Multirate, this process uses tighter grid sampling and higher resolution maps, to provide up to eight sections of variable rate capability across the full working width. 

This brings precision application to levels previously thought unachievable with a spinning disc spreader, adds Kverneland.

Increase efficiency and productivity using precision technology

As farming becomes more site specific, with remote sensing, GPS guidance, data analytics and data management all being added to farming equipment, farming practices and their operators will be able to become more precise.

The Rea Valley Tractors (RVT) precision department is a team dedicated to sales, service and support of precision farming products across the UK. The team of four has a wealth of knowledge and experience for understanding customer requirements as well as ongoing support for customers to fully maximise the use of their systems. RVT Precision supports the areas of crop care, farming and amenity and, with access to innovative John Deere and Ag Leader precision farming products, it can cater for every type of situation or business requirement.

The future will be innovative precise farming practises for increased efficiency and productivity, the team believes. With further developments in automation and artificial intelligence, data management and a greater degree of automation for the operator, the RVT Precision team will continue to offer new innovative technologies to support customers’ practices and embrace the changing future of digital technologies, it says.

The RVT Precision team is dedicated to sales and support of its products across the UK

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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