Purdue University is launching a free open-source app to help farmers streamline note-taking in the field and evaluate yields.
The TrialsTracker app enables farmers to quantifiably compare results of their own trials and see if they are statistically meaningful. Using a simple note-taking interface, farmers can describe a trial in a sentence and draw polygons.
After harvest, the farmer is presented with the average yield value associated with each trial, which can be compared to the rest of a field, said Aaron Ault. He’s a full-time farmer and part-time senior research engineer for Purdue’s Open Ag Technology and Systems Group.
"TrialsTracker can show the yield difference between all the areas on which a farmer took notes during the growing season and during harvest,” Ault said.
“The most important target feature is that the farmer can view and run stats on all his yield data on all fields at the same time on his mobile device, whether it's 100 acres or 100,000 acres, just like you can use Google Maps to zoom out and look at the entire world or zoom in on your street.”
TrialsTracker is being developed by Samuel Noel, a graduate student in agricultural and biological engineering. WinField is sponsoring development of the nonproprietary tool.
The app aims to foster more open-source contributions to agriculture, which benefits the entire industry, Noel said.
“Aaron and the team at Purdue have really been thought leaders in shaping open ag data principles as well as finding a way to experiment with proof of concepts,” said Joel Wipperfurth, ag technology applications lead at WinField.
Last year, he and Teddy Bekele, WinField’s vice president of Information Technologies, visited Ault in Indiana and walked his farm, talking about how -- as the world’s going mobile -- farmers want instantaneous answers from mobile devices.
The trio discussed how TrialsTracker is a bit like Google searches for your farm.
“You’re walking your farm and you say, “I really wonder what’s here.’ You draw a little polygon around the area you’re interested in, and right there you’ve got the answer of what may have happened last year. Or you could at least save that polygon and build a query on that later, towards harvest,” Wipperfurth said.
The app conforms with Open Ag Data Alliance (OADA), a framework that fosters compatibility and seamless integration across systems. “It consumes data from OADA-compliant data providers to perform the statistical calculations,” Noel said.
The source code is available for anyone to use, modify or contribute to at https://github.com/OpenATK/TrialsTracker. Note, this is not for amateurs, it's a techy page where a developer can take a look at TrialsTracker and perhaps put it to use. In essence, it's still under development but should be ready for prime time soon. If you're computer savvy, check out the site all the instructions are there.
New software ahead
TrialsTracker is the flagship addition to a suite of open-source apps the group is developing under a larger project, Open Ag Toolkit, which began four years ago with USDA funding, said Prof. James Krogmeier, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
The apps each target and solve a single problem, such as marking rocks or where a nozzle plugged on a nitrogen applicator for yield analysis later.
“The idea here was really simple apps that do very simple things, and they work together with some sort of back-end syncing through the cloud or some other mechanism,” Krogmeier said.
“Our experience with farmers was that a lot of things don’t get recorded because farmers are too busy. They’re out in the field. They don’t have time to write down copious notes and then when the end of the day comes, they don’t have time to log these notes back into some sort of a farm management system.”
Open source in ag is revolutionary and relevant, Ault said.
With TrialsTracker, a farmer who sees a weedy spot in his field, for example, can pull out a phone and within 30 seconds notate that spot. Later, while harvesting, an alarm alerts the farmer that something happened here and suggests comparing the yield from that spot to another spot.
TrialsTracker can tell yield correlations among all places you sprayed, chiseled, applied a cover crop and more. When you get to your analysis, you don’t need to re-enter data, Ault said.
It helps with more formal trials, too. Say your agronomist gives you a new microbial product to try. You mark where you put it down and share that with the agronomist.
“When harvest data comes in, you don’t have to do any work,” Ault said. “It’s just magically there. It says, ‘Hey, that spot where you put the microbials, it was this many bushels better or worse than the rest of the field.’”