Collecting in-field data and putting it to work is the new challenge for the farm. What you see and how you collect information can be important for your operation going forward and every company is looking at ways to turn data into knowledge.
Latest on that score is Farmobile LLC. This is the firm that markets a Passive Uplink Connection - or PUC - that attaches to your tractor sensor network. That can be done in a variety of ways, explains company founder Jason Tatge - through the ISOBUS connector, the Controller Area Network interface, and even into your in-cab monitor. "We have developed a number of ways to connect to machines," he explains.
In the past the PUC's big claim to fame was capturing data and allowing you to watch machines in real time as they moved through the field. The data was stored in the cloud, and could be shared with trusted advisers, but it wasn't very visual. "We didn't think we needed a visual interface," he says.
Turns out, visualizing the data into yield maps per field was important. But this system goes beyond just showing a simple field map. Farmobile has created an electronic field record Tatge has nicknamed "trading cards" that provide at-a-glance information for each of your fields.
Use the PUC in a tractor at planting and you can capture population rates, planting date, crop type and variety number. Move the PUC to your combine for harvest and capture - for the same field - harvest date, total production, average yield and average moisture. All of that - planting and harvest - can be displayed in a field's trading card.
"It's a starting point of conversation with suppliers," Tatge says. "When talking with your seed salesman you can show by variety or hybrid how each crop did. It's an easy way to evaluate production."
Tatge notes that since he started this business, he's learned that many farmers don't have field boundaries defined; and that many still have that data stuck in their monitors. With the PUC, the data is automatically transmitted to a secure cloud where you can view it live - in real time. With his system field boundaries are automatically defined, and managed too.
For example you might plant a 100-acre field, which would be in the planting field boundary, but due to weather or some other factor if you harvested 85 acres, the harvest map would have that field boundary. And that would provide you a more accurate representation of yield for the farm. it's that kind of data management these systems offer.
Managing the wireless connection
Remote areas do pose problems for data systems. Moving field information to the cloud can be a hefty "lift" for some systems. Tatge has an interesting way of doing that:
"We send the data every second," says Tatge. "That helps make sure the data remains intact, and moves even when the wireless network is limited." He explains that one of the challenges of working in the cloud is that some systems send final files when complete - which can be big files that don't always make it to the cloud. That can corrupt data, and cause other problems. His "steady-stream" approach maximizes the wireless network and helps assure clean data makes it into the cloud.
Early on this system has allowed farmers to watch machines in the field in real time, seeing the path they take in the field on about a 4 second delay (the time it takes the data to go from PUC to cloud, be interpreted and then sent back down to the screen). With that display you can see operational information from the machine including RPM, operating speed, fuel use, maintenance codes and other data.
But the visualization of the information into "heat maps" showing field yields, and providing those 'trading cards' for quick checks on your fields will be most valuable to a lot of farmers. "We're getting them the yield and variety performance they need to make decisions," Tatge says.
He adds that the system also can provide reliable, high-res information to your agronomist or adviser to use in their specialized programs. "We can provide information to the agronomist to be used in their SMS or SST system, which are programs that farmers don't usually use, but require high-resolution data. We have that," he notes.
The Electronic Field Record is the latest refinement of the Farmobile program. Tatge describes his firm as a data standardization company that can provide information from any brand into a centralized system and then output information for advisors and others to use. And that's part of the sales proposition too.
Those maps can collect every layer separately for each operation. Spray a whole field in spring - that's one layer. Return a few weeks later for spot spraying? That's a different layer with a visualization of where you sprayed. Each data layer offers insight into your operation and what you're doing on the farm. And the information is stored year after year, which over time enhances information you have for decision-making.
Data and value
Farmobile will market data from farmer customers - if they sign on - and share the proceeds with farmers. To date, no sale has been made, but Tatge adds that the company has more than 3,000 farm fields of EFR data signed up for the program, and the data available does have value to third parties. "Customers ask about that side of the business, wondering when we'll make a sale," he says. "We think research organizations will find this information useful because they've never had access to high-end, field-level production data that we can provide."
With seed companies adding analytics to their work to maximize their breeding programs, wide-ranging, field-size yield information in a standardized format could have value. That remains to be seen.
As for the PUC from Farmobile, Tatge calls it a FitBit for farm equipment. Monitoring machine activity and recording it in a secure location that farmers can access. The company has always been clear that farmers own their data, and was one of the first to certify under the American Farm Bureau Federation Ag Data Transparency Evaluator outlining the company's data ownership program.
If you're interested in learning more about the Farmobile system and the new Electronic Field Record offering, visit farmobile.com.