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
AwardsNominations Now Open! 2015 PrecisionAg Awards Of Excellence
January 20, 2015
The PrecisionAg Award of Excellence program sheds light on some of the most important people and programs that have helped agriculture realize the full benefits of technology to improve agronomy, efficiency, and stewardship in crop production. Read More
DataCropMetrics, DTN Announce Collaboration On Weather, Irrigation Data
March 11, 2015
The new collaboration will enable growers with real-time, site specific weather and crop modeling information dedicated to helping improve grower’s irrigation management decisions. Read More
iSOYL mobile app
Variable RateVariable Rate Applications Made Easy With New iPad App
February 20, 2015
The new iSOYL app streamlines the variable rate application process for iPad users, saving growers time, money and effort. Read More
Typical Drainage Water Management Installation
EquipmentTaming Water With Technology
January 29, 2015
Farm drainage systems are getting vital updates thanks to precision tools. Read More
1255 Early Riser Planter with Precision Planting
Variable RateVRA Seeding Primed For Growth
January 27, 2015
As technology options increase, experts foresee a big year for variable-rate seeding adoption. Read More
ComputingClimate Corp. Acquires 640 Labs
December 9, 2014
The 640 Labs team will join The Climate Corporation, strengthening the company’s efforts to build the industry’s leading data science platform for farmers.   Read More
Latest News
Ohio Farmer Mark Ruff
PrecisionAg InstituteThink Data First: Embracing The Mindset
March 27, 2015
At Ruff Farms, working with key partners and focusing on ROI leads to successful and beneficial technology adoption, and collecting and utilizing valid data is absolutely essential. Read More
EquipmentFAA Details Streamlined UAS Approval Process
March 25, 2015
The parameters require flights to remain at or below 200 feet above ground level during daylight visual flight rule conditions, at least two nautical miles from airports and five miles from airports with an operational control tower, and the pilot in command must have at least a private pilot license. Read More
SoftwareMapShots Announces AgStudio Integration With DriftWatch…
March 23, 2015
Growers and agricultural providers using AgStudio FARM and AgStudio PRO can now view vital information about specialty crops and apiaries through a recent integration with the DriftWatch Specialty Crop Site Registry from FieldWatch, Inc. Read More
Drones, UAVs, UAS, precision agriculture
ImageryREPORTS: FAA To Streamline Drone Approval Process
March 23, 2015
Reports indicate that FAA intends to streamline the commercial approval process by no longer requiring companies with exemptions to obtain a new certificate of authority for each new use of a drone. Read More
SensorsTopcon Makes Play For Digi-Star
March 23, 2015
Topcon Positioning Group announces the acquisition of Digi-Star, a global leader in agricultural solutions involving weight sensors and control systems for feeding, planting, fertilizer, and harvest equipment manufacturers. Read More
DataGetting Started With Data
March 18, 2015
In this first entry to our new grower-focused, multi-feature PrecisionAg.com series “Thinking Data First”, we look at the first steps a novice in farm data management needs to take to ensure meaningful participation in the Big Data revolution in agriculture. Read More
Auto Draft
DataDr. Terry Griffin: Big Data In Agriculture Is Here To S…
March 18, 2015
When the entire data package is available, compatible and flexible, farmers and their advisers will realize previously unimaginable power over Read More
TeeJet, guidance
UncategorizedTeeJet Aeros 9040 Adds Tip Flow Monitoring, Wi-Fi Data …
March 17, 2015
The TeeJet Aeros 9040 Field Computer now offers additional capabilities including tip flow monitoring, ISOBUS Universal Terminal (UT) functionality, and Wi-Fi data transfer.  Read More
Variable RateTeeJet’s DynaJet Flex 7120 Control System Hits Th…
March 17, 2015
The DynaJet system controls the pressure and droplet size across a wide range of speeds, allowing the operator to choose the optimum speed that conditions allow while maintaining consistent droplet size. Read More
AgJunction, InfoAg 2014, Autosteer, GPS
GuidanceAgJunction, Novariant Announce Merger
March 17, 2015
AgJunction has agreed to acquire Novariant through a merger transaction pursuant to which AgJunction will issue common shares to Novariant shareholders. Read More
GuidanceTrimble Updates CenterPoint RTX
March 13, 2015
Enabled by the new version of RTX technology, RTX version 5.0, the fast convergence time is the result of a new region-specific atmospheric model and a dense ground reference station network. Read More
DataOnset Launches Next-Gen Weather Data Logger
March 13, 2015
Onset today announced the HOBO RX3000 Station, the company’s next-generation data logging weather station that provides research scientists, meteorologists and others with instant access to site-specific environmental data anywhere, anytime via the Internet. Read More
GPSNovAtel To Offer TerraStar-C Correction Service, Improv…
March 12, 2015
NovAtel CORRECT with PPP will now offer the new TerraStar-C correction service as its exclusive source for satellite delivered PPP correction data. Read More
DataFarmers Edge Adds Two Partner Cooperatives
March 12, 2015
Twin Valley Co-op Ltd. and Valleyview Consumers Co-op Ltd. have joined other Canadian Co-operatives and individual representatives for Farmers Edge Inc. Read More
Auto Draft
DataThe Ohio State University’s John Fulton Discusses Digit…
March 11, 2015
In todays’ ‘Digital Agriculture’ era there are countless programs and methods for collecting and storing ag data, and many partners Read More
DataCropMetrics, DTN Announce Collaboration On Weather, Irr…
March 11, 2015
The new collaboration will enable growers with real-time, site specific weather and crop modeling information dedicated to helping improve grower’s irrigation management decisions. Read More
SoftwareOhio Farmer Gets Big Value From Precision Program
March 11, 2015
Michael Scherger, a fifth-generation northwest OH grower, initially adopted precision ag to make seeding decisions for the farm's 5,000 acres, but has embraced it for much, much more during the past 13 years. Read More
ComputingAgriculture Finds Gold In Government’s Technology Innov…
March 10, 2015
An event and reception on Capitol Hill revealed how federally funded technology research has led to myriad advancements in agriculture crop production. Read More