Reifsteck: What Precision Ag Needs

Illinois farmer John Reifsteck has been working with precision technology for about as long as it started becoming commercially viable in the mid-1990s. In fact, he was a speaker at the InfoAg Conference in 1995 when everyone who attended wanted to know how the convergence of inexpensive computer processing, global positioning and the World Wide Web was going to revolutionize American agriculture.

Ten years later, he presented at the 2005 InfoAg Confer­ence to share his successes, disillusionments and desires for ag technology and his farm, and many of his key points were still valid. And in 2013, while Reifsteck gives a nod to advancements in technology, there are still many difficulties and challenges for growers when it comes to precision agriculture.

We caught up with Reifsteck recently after giving a talk to a group of agriculture professionals on the topic of precision ag adoption: What works, and what continues to elude the industry.

Data-To-Knowledge Disconnect

“We have the technology that allows us to control stuff — fertilizer, seed — and we can do that very well,” says Reifsteck. “But we are gathering a lot of information that we are not able to move over to knowledge yet. That is going very slow and in my opinion, it is a little frustrating.”

Most farmers he comes in contact with are not getting the information out of their technology equipment, and Reifsteck admits that he struggles to get what he needs. “I am chastising the industry a little bit about this, about why is it so difficult to get questions answered,” says Reifsteck. “I am convinced the technology is there to do it.”

“The industry spends a lot of time and effort looking at doing more stuff and collecting more information, but the industry “cannot easily answer some basic questions that farmers have,” asserts Reifsteck. “How did this variety compare to other varieties, how did the nitrogen tillage we did work?  We can get a lot of these answers, but it is still really complicated to do it.

“If I want a trial on nitrogen my fields, why are our systems not capable of setting up a trial?” he continues, “pushing the information to the correct monitors or controllers for each field operation and, after harvest, be able to show me the entire season’s trial data and the result? I don’t see us getting any closer to this.”

Beyond this, Reifsteck says that there are questions that growers don’t know enough to even ask yet based on the data. “We have all sorts of information being collected, from direction of travel to speed, weather data and planter settings,” he says. “What are we doing about mining this big data to extract knowledge out of it? That’s why precision is so frustrating — because we’ve not made a lot of progress on that front.”

The Complexity-Integration Disconnect

Electronics are getting more complex, and making what used to be pretty straightforward operations much more involved. As capabilities are added, ease of use has not followed.

“Back in the day, the planter monitor only told you that seeds were dropping. The next monitor told you the population, and the next allowed you to do variable-rate (VR). That was followed by VR of multiple varieties, then VR on-the-go. We’re piling on capabilities but we’re not making it easier to use.”

The lack of integration and increasing complexity are a problem not only for farmers experienced with the technology, but for the “tech-savvy” next generation that is beginning to take the helm of large farming operations.

“The farmers coming online now are experienced technology users, but not how farmers are forced to use technology today,” says Reifsteck. “They grew up using technology that worked, that was integrated, and performed tasks with desired results. I hear it talking to people who are servicing equipment — that they are getting calls from growers who ‘don’t like the technology’ but they want to be able to use it.”

Looking outside of agriculture, he sees examples where companies have successfully wrestled the complexity of technology to the ground to give its customers a useful and productive experience. “I’m a big fan of Apple,” says Reifsteck. “What they can do is package the system and allow people to get out what they need. We don’t have that structure in agriculture, and we need it. Farmers want to know what time it is, not how to build a clock.”

“I know companies are working on those things, but as of now this is a barrier to implementation. And the more barriers we have, the fewer number of farmers we have to engage in precision adoption, which means the data set is not as rich as it should be. We will not get the rich data set until precision gets to be so easy that anybody can do it and feel like they gain clear benefits.”

Data Movement Difficulties

Another issue is data-sharing and movement, which is still very complicated, says Reifsteck.

“In the end, we must have seamless connection between all the devices — the desktop, the cab, the mobile device that’s on my belt — all have to be able to work together,” he says. “When you add complexity to that process, you start losing grower interest in the process. Time is no longer productive. We need an integrated systems approach, that somebody who looks over this system we have in ag and says, ‘This is how we are going to solve this problem.’ The devices are a way to get the work done, they do not stand alone.”

Charging Ahead Despite The Challenges

Reifsteck says that he is as optimistic as he has ever been about technology in agriculture, and is continuing to adjust and adopt. When it comes to new technology purchases, he’s looking for the most open structure he can find so that he is able to innovate as he comes across technologies he wants to add on.

His most recent monitor purchase, two Trimble units, was based on its ability to more effectively move data with his machine configuations, and to hook into the CenterPoint RTX network for an RTK signal. A couple of years ago, he got caught in the middle of a dispute between two operators who could not agree on a tower sharing arrangement, which resulted in no RTK service in some of his fields — an unforgivable transgression in our GPS-driven ag industry.

He’s concerned about the continuing competitive state of precision, and whether the industry can find common ground without going through a costly competitive war for business before we get to the other side.

Manufacturers want to make decisions that provide them a competitive advantage, and industry standards would put that at risk. “Who would risk it all and step out of the pack if you could lose customers in the process?” says Reifsteck. “If you’re a major manufacture you want to lock things in.”

Reifsteck wonders if the drive toward more compatibility might come from an outside source looking to make a significant investment in agriculture. Or could the data issue be a place were academia finds a role?

“Academia has huge expertise in computation,” says Reifsteck. “They run systems computers and they are efficient at mining data.”

Leave a Reply

5 comments on “Reifsteck: What Precision Ag Needs

  1. John is not alone in his frustration. Indeed, precision ag technology has come a long way since that first InfoAg in 1995, where he was our token "Cyberfarmer". But we have still avoided solving one of the most important parts of the whole system….the integration and interpretation of all the data we continue to collect. I still get excited about how all of the technology helps us do a better job of managing crop production and collecting data to guide better-informed decisions. And we have made a lot of progress on those fronts. But for John and other early Cyberfarmers, we have failed to develop the power that is within those data for really understanding our production systems and making the most use out of the information—to turn it into "knowledge", as John says.

  2. John is not alone in his frustration. Indeed, precision ag technology has come a long way since that first InfoAg in 1995, where he was our token "Cyberfarmer". But we have still avoided solving one of the most important parts of the whole system….the integration and interpretation of all the data we continue to collect. I still get excited about how all of the technology helps us do a better job of managing crop production and collecting data to guide better-informed decisions. And we have made a lot of progress on those fronts. But for John and other early Cyberfarmers, we have failed to develop the power that is within those data for really understanding our production systems and making the most use out of the information—to turn it into "knowledge", as John says.

Data Stories

MappingMapShots Announces 2015 Customer Conference
October 15, 2014
MapShots, Inc. will hold its 2015 Customer Conference on February 11-14, 2015 at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Global Learning Center in Atlanta, GA. Read More
DataPlantBeat To Debut At InfoAg 2014
July 21, 2014
Phytech will reveal PlantBeat — a new service that assists farmers in the optimization of crop yields by translating plant needs into real-time alerts and expert recommendations — at the 2014 InfoAg conference in St. Louis, MO. Read More
ImageryFAA: We Plan To Meet September 2015 UAV Integration Deadline
July 15, 2014
Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s Office of Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration, recently spoke at the Delta AgTech Symposium on the current state of commercial UAV regulation in the U.S. Read More
SensorsNORAC Celebrates 40 Years In Business
June 25, 2014
NORAC, a leading precision ag manufacturer who pioneered the use of ultrasonic sensing in the development of control equipment, is celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Read More

Trending Articles

PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
October 8, 2014
Allan Fetters of Simplot talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about the precision ag challenges and opportunities for specialty crop growers, how variable rate planting is gaining momentum among Simplot’s customers, how the company’s SmartFarm solutions are helping farmers make better decisions, and much more. Read More
MappingDuPont Pioneer Teams With Government Organizations For Soil Initiative
October 6, 2014
University of Missouri, USDA-ARS and DuPont Pioneer announce an innovative collaboration to pool soil mapping resources, predictive technologies and expertise. Read More
PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: John Deere’s Chris Batdorf
September 15, 2014
Chris Batdorf of John Deere talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about the latest with the company’s FarmSight strategy, how John Deere is responding to growers’ concerns about data privacy, new mobile technologies the company is currently working on and John Deere’s philosophy on collaborating with industry partners. Read More
PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Wilbur-Ellis’ Matt Wilson
September 9, 2014
Matt Wilson of Wilbur-Ellis talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about the latest with the company’s AgVerdict software, how Wilbur-Ellis addresses data privacy concerns with growers and why fulfilling regulatory requirements is becoming increasingly important. Read More
PrecisionAg InstituteIndustry Stakeholders Form New Precision Coalition
September 8, 2014
The Coalition for the Advancement of Precision Agriculture (CAPA) today announces its official launch and upcoming Precision Ag Forum, taking place Sept. 18 in Washington, DC. Read More
PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: The Climate Corp.’s John Jansen
August 29, 2014
John Jansen of The Climate Corp. talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about how the company’s technology platform has transformed into a full host of software, hardware and analytic solutions. Read More

Latest News

PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: American Soybean Association…
October 22, 2014
Joe Steinkamp of the American Soybean Association (ASA) talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about how he’s using precision agriculture on his own farm, what benefits he finds in variable rate technology, and what it means for ASA to be a member of the PrecisionAg Institute. Read More
ImageryAgEagle Launches All-Autonomous UAV System
October 20, 2014
AgEagle announces details on its RAPID UAV management system, which promises to be "the most advanced and comprehensive UAV operations management system specifically developed for professional agronomists and crop consultants." Read More
MappingMapShots Announces 2015 Customer Conference
October 15, 2014
MapShots, Inc. will hold its 2015 Customer Conference on February 11-14, 2015 at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Global Learning Center in Atlanta, GA. Read More
GPSPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
October 15, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: AgWorks’ Greg Duhachek
October 15, 2014
Greg Duhachek of AgWorks talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about the company’s history, why ag retailers are so important in the decision-making process of precision ag, why AgWorks is so excited about its newly acquired HighQ Analytics product, and explains the full scope of the AgOS software system. Read More
DataData Mapper Advances Its Aerial Processing, Management …
October 15, 2014
The cloud-based platform will provide advanced analysis tools to convert aerial data into actionable information that will support better business practices. Read More
ComputingPurdue-Backed Spensa Secures Funding For Insect Traps, …
October 10, 2014
Spensa Technologies received $1.3 million in funding to further develop an online pest management program, an electronic insect trapping device and to expand its business capabilities. Read More
HardwareUSDA Awards TekWear Grant For Wearable Tech In Ag
October 9, 2014
USDA has awarded a grant to evaluate the effectiveness of innovative wireless, web-connected technologies for monitoring and growing specialty crops. Read More
PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
October 8, 2014
Allan Fetters of Simplot talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about the precision ag challenges and opportunities for specialty crop growers, how variable rate planting is gaining momentum among Simplot’s customers, how the company’s SmartFarm solutions are helping farmers make better decisions, and much more. Read More
EquipmentFAA Approves NC State Drone COA
October 8, 2014
North Carolina State University has obtained FAA authorization to fly drones for research and development purposes. Read More
EquipmentPrecisionHawk Creating UAV Buzz In RTP
October 8, 2014
Drones could soon mean big savings for the North Carolina agriculture industry, reports Mike Gonzalez for WNCN News in Raleigh, Read More
EquipmentSenseFLY Launches New Rotary Drone eXom
October 7, 2014
eXom’s five vision sensors also enable you to see in the direction the drone is moving for enhanced awareness and safe operation. Read More
DataIteris Expands Mobile High-Res Weather App
October 7, 2014
ClearPath Ag Select adds growing degree days and real-time access to high-resolution weather map tiles of current weather conditions, including composite radar, infrared radar and visible satellite, one and 24-hour precipitation, temperature, and wind speeds. Read More
MappingDuPont Pioneer Teams With Government Organizations For …
October 6, 2014
University of Missouri, USDA-ARS and DuPont Pioneer announce an innovative collaboration to pool soil mapping resources, predictive technologies and expertise. Read More
EquipmentDroneLife: 7 Best UAVs For Precision Ag
October 1, 2014
A UAV website has published a ranking of the top 6 drones currently available for precision agriculture. Read More
DataBig Data 2014: Protection Requires Proaction
October 1, 2014
Oklahoma State University professor Dr. Shannon Ferrell gave a wide-ranging discussion on many of the challenges facing growers in today’s automated data collection world. Read More
EquipmentAUVSI: FAA Clarifies UAV Regulation Unknown
October 1, 2014
FAA has announced that UAS operating under a COA must be registered and marked with an aircraft registration number prior to COA application. Read More
SoftwareJunge Introduces Zone Automation
September 30, 2014
Zone Automation is a new approach to ensure every zone in the plant is designed to work efficiently together in order to increase speed, accuracy and ease of operation. Read More