Standardizing Precision Agriculture

The introduction of trains in the U.S. in the early 1800s brought to light the perils of not having standards when building an infrastructure. One immediate problem was the lack of standard gauge on the rails. Each railroad owner chose a rail gauge for the stretch of track in their local geography. In many cases, the selected gauge was deliberately different so that a local railroad owner could control the flow of commerce. Shippers would have to remove cargo from one train onto another when encountering a different gauge of track. This lack of standard gauge in the mid-19th century resulted in growers, in some areas, paying more to transport produce to market than to grow it in the field.

Another problem that arose as the railroad system became national was the tracking of time. In the mid-19th century, every community across the country could choose a local standard for time. Travelers passing from one community to another would see clocks jumping forward and backwards in hours as their train passed through the different local time zones. The lack of standard time zones resulted in confusion in the movement of goods along with costly inefficiencies in delivery. By the start of the 20th century, trains were safe and easy to use due to standard rail gauge and time zones, and a commerce commission that regulated practices.

Precision agriculture has reached a point in its evolution where it could benefit from standards. As increasing numbers of growers implement precision ag hardware and software solutions into their management practices, the lack of standards hinders their ability to take advantage of innovations. Furthermore, the lack of standards stifles competition and prevents the creation of a viable infrastructure of interoperable technologies. Upon making a first purchase of hardware or software, a grower may feel locked in to that precision agriculture technology either due to the inability to incorporate other offerings or simply because of economics. Consequently, if something better comes along, the grower may be forced to start over again with a new investment in time and money. Without the ability to make easy and cost-effective changes, the grower ultimately misses out on new solutions that could reduce operational costs or add value to production.

Reasons For Standards

The implementation of standards in precision agriculture would facilitate growers in making upgrades in technologies, ensure interoperability of components in a recognized architecture and foster a healthy competition within the industry. A number of issues must be addressed for the successful implementation of standards. The first is “terminology.” The precision agriculture industry needs to use a common set of terms when describing and supporting new technologies. While some terms, such as global positioning system (GPS) or geographic information system (GIS), are commonly used throughout the industry, many are unique to an individual vendor or geographic region. For example, in the visualization of field boundaries, one finds a wide range of terms such as background imagery, map or display, reference imagery or map, landscape map and navigation map.

A second issue is formats and protocols. Information technologies are a significant part of precision agriculture. Accordingly, large amounts of data and information are passed to and from field equipment, computers, and users. In order for data and information to seamlessly move among hardware, there must be content formats and communication protocols. For example, data stored as binary files may be incompatible in format with CSV or XML files. In the case of communication, hardware ports may support USB devices but not Ethernet for the transfer of information.

A third issue is incompatible equipment or software. Incompatibility of equipment and software is particularly frustrating among users in the precision agriculture community. Be it yield monitors or guidance systems in the case of hardware, or variable rate application maps or as-applied data in the case of software, every vendor seems to have a unique solution. While design differences are expected among venders, these differences should be interconvertible with each other, especially in terms of the transfer of data and information.

Even More Issues

A fourth issue is performance measures. Objective measures need to be identified for judging the performance of equipment and software. These measures can be as simple as a list of commonly-defined features to describe functionality or sophisticated as a series of industry-approved tests for quantifying performance. It is important that all performance measures be unbiased, logical, relevant, reasonable, and easy to implement.

The fifth and last issue is training and education. Any grower or other stakeholder in the precision agriculture industry should have access to training and educational materials on the implementation and use of a new technology. Formal knowledge of a new technology will ensure its proper integration into an existing operation and provide an understanding of its strengths and limitations with current practices.

The call for standards in precision agriculture has been echoed in publications and professional journals. It has been championed by institutes, associations and other trade organizations. Recently, a number of hardware and software companies have voluntarily met to consider standards.

Precision agriculture has reached a point in its maturity where it must get on track and implement standards for the good of the grower and the industry at large.

Leave a Reply

7 comments on “Standardizing Precision Agriculture

  1. Its a really eye opener fact. Especially developing countries are just peeping in to Prec.Ag , vendors of different components of PA should be careful enough to transform/simplify in to local farmers’ need or level of understanding, otherwise this remains as white elephant. I am worried about usage of gps/gis/vrt they keep away the users a little bit. go for standardised simplication just like which exist in automobile/mobile technology or any routine consumer products. Thanks Mr.Russo
    patilmb Ag. Scientist , India

  2. Well said Joe, we all need to work together to set standards for the benefit of the farmers and the technology providers. Those of us who help farmers adopt and use the technology and train them to use it effectively would greatly appreciate the chance to use a “systems approach” that takes advantage of a variety of potential vendors of technology. I think the industry would make much better progress in getting this technology adopted.

  3. I didn’t intend to be “anonymous” on that comment, but would also like to add that I am interested in working with Joe and others to help get this standard-setting moving forward. Technology vendors should “win” the sale because they have a good tool, not because they force farmers to stick with their non-complient specifications. The latter will eventually lose in the market place.

  4. I agree completely with your breakdown here. I believe standardization has become a bottleneck issue in the growth of the precision agriculture industry, and as you’ve pointed out, it’s the grower who ultimately pays the price.

    I was wondering if there has been any movement toward involving an unbiased 3rd party. I’ve often thought it might be useful to work with an existing organization such as the Open GIS Consortium to form a precision ag branch, leveraging their experience and success in developing, managing, and promoting GIS standards. What are your thoughts on this?

  5. One of the biggest issues with standards efforts in precision ag field hardware is that the technology quickly outpaces the slow standards process. By the time the ISO 11783 spec got complete enough to implement for basic features, people were already having to implement work arounds so they could implement features there were not even thought of when the spec started. Guidance is a prime example.

    And, then, you have the issue of standards stifling technology. For instance, Deere uses AB guidance that has consecutive lines parallel. Trimble has lines that converge at the pole (or vice versa). Do you want a standards organization impose a definition of AB lines? Or just describe a conversion from one philosophy to the other?

    I do think there are more opportunities for standardization in the transfer of management data than has been implemented today. It is something that many groups have taken up… and then let wither. I think it is because they go for the holy grail of standardizing data dictionaries. Maybe we would be better served to succesfully define a standard shapefile supplement that provides the metadata for each column in the shapefile? A group that could get the industry to a common definition in that simple area might have the opportunity to lead into the more difficult tasks.

  6. I think the AgGateway Consortium would be a good place to start and collaborate with: http://new.aggateway.org/AboutUs.aspx

    I’ve heard the members have already had discussions about forming a precision ag committee. They are being funded by the Ag Retailer industry with the mission of standardizing data communication.

    Standardizing on a shape file may be a start but I really don’t think were too far from removing the need for files all together and using web services for data exchange. This is if we could get a standard data dictionary established. Getting involved with Ag Gateway may be the best route since they already have been working on Vendors, Ag Chemicals, Seed, and Fertilizer product standardization.

  7. Mr. Russo’s point is well-taken. In order for an industry to thrive, there must be certain basic parameters that market participants can recognize and benchmark against. Mr. Macy also makes an excellent point about how standards can become a cudgel, stifling innovation. That is precisely why W3C is knocked constantly by critics, the argument being that larger companies have circumvented the standards process to control the flow of potentially disruptive innovations.

    Would it be best, then, to embrace only a few select protocols, and let the market sort out the rest? Why not pick a “box” of supported protocols, and let the user decide what fits best (or offers the most flexibility)?

    For example, my laptop supports Ethernet, USB, SD, DVD, Blu-Ray, and 802.11b/g/n for data transmission. Why not build GIS software built for rapid indexing and data layering of millions of data points, and allow companies to compete by building a better user experience?

    That is to say, should we embrace a philosophy of standardizing the “bridges” that connect the products (data, connectivity) and services, and allow the consumers’ response to sort out the rest? Isn’t that, in essence, what Mr. Russo was driving towards?

Business Management Stories
Terry Griffin
Business ManagementUsing High Tech To Make Farm Decisions
January 17, 2017
Raj Khosla, professor of precision agriculture at Colorado State University, challenged farmers to think about how far the technology of Read More
Business ManagementCNH Names Danford Head of North American Precision Farming Efforts
January 17, 2017
Dan Danford has been named Industry Relations Manager, Precision Solutions and Telematics (PS&T), for CNH Industrial, parent company of agricultural Read More
Business ManagementBREAKING: FAA Considering Less Restrictive Commercial Drone Regulations
January 11, 2017
FAA is working toward allowing more freedom for drone operators, and at the same time is working with NASA on Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Business ManagementA New Precision Vision
December 29, 2016
It’s been an incredible year for the team here at Preci­sionAg Media. We have more than two decades in as Read More
Trending Articles
PrecisionAg.com featured image
ProfessionalsWelcome to the Newly Enhanced PrecisionAg.com
December 29, 2016
Talk a quick look around our website and we hope you’ll notice it’s significantly different as we head into 2017 Read More
Ryan Raguse and Matthew Grassi
ProfessionalsIndustry Executives Talk New PrecisionAg Professional Brand
December 19, 2016
EFC Systems President and CEO Ernie Chappell Myriad Mobile Cofounder and Chairman Ryan Raguse Read More
PrecisionAg Professional logo
Industry NewsMeister Media Debuts PrecisionAg Professional
December 13, 2016
Agricultural technology is accelerating, and precision agriculture is gaining renewed interest across cropping systems. At the same time, growers are Read More
NDSU IoT
Sensors/IoTNew Farming Focused IoT Partnership Announced
December 13, 2016
Infiswift, an enterprise Internet of Things (IoT) platform developer, announces a partnership to develop IoT solutions with Acuitus Ag, an Read More
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
Data ManagementFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Latest News
Terry Griffin
Business ManagementUsing High Tech To Make Farm Decisions
January 17, 2017
Raj Khosla, professor of precision agriculture at Colorado State University, challenged farmers to think about how far the technology of Read More
Decisive Farming My Farm Manager mobile app
Ag Tech GlobalLeading Canadian Farming Co-op Brings In New Tech To Bo…
January 17, 2017
Co-op, one of the largest agricultural retailers in Western Canada, is partnering with farm management company Decisive Farming to provide Read More
Business ManagementCNH Names Danford Head of North American Precision Farm…
January 17, 2017
Dan Danford has been named Industry Relations Manager, Precision Solutions and Telematics (PS&T), for CNH Industrial, parent company of agricultural Read More
Australian Harvest
Ag Tech GlobalAustralian Precision Agriculture Market, Forecast To 20…
January 13, 2017
Research and Markets has announced the addition of the “Australian Precision Agriculture Market, Forecast to 2020” report to their offering. Read More
Norris planter
Innovation SeriesCompelling Consultant Panel Kicks Off Next Month’s Prec…
January 12, 2017
Jeremy Wilson, Technology Specialist at CropIMS and renowned precision expert, leads a panel of top precision consultants to kick off Read More
Data ManagementProspera Selected for Top 100 Artificial Intelligence R…
January 11, 2017
CB Insights today selected Prospera to the prestigious Artificial Intelligence 100 list (“AI 100”), a select group of emerging private Read More
Business ManagementBREAKING: FAA Considering Less Restrictive Commercial D…
January 11, 2017
FAA is working toward allowing more freedom for drone operators, and at the same time is working with NASA on Read More
DronessenseFly, Agribotix Combine eBee SQ and FarmLens Offeri…
January 11, 2017
Agribotix has partnered with senseFly to offer a new combined solution for professional users. This technology solution combines the top Read More
Sentera software
DronesSentera Announces NDVI Livestream Capabilities for Doub…
January 10, 2017
Sentera today announced the upcoming release of LiveNDVI Video: livestreamed NDVI video via Sentera’s Double 4K sensor. This breakthrough technology Read More
Young Corn Field
Ag Tech GlobalEurocontrol To Commercialize Precision Agricultural Ini…
January 9, 2017
Eurocontrol Technics Group Inc., a Canadian public company specializing in the acquisition, development and commercialization of innovative test and measurement Read More
Corn Field
Data ManagementWaypoint Analytical, Highland Precision Ag Announce Str…
January 9, 2017
Waypoint Analytical (WP), based in Memphis, TN, and Highland Precision Ag (HPA), based in Mulberry, FL, are pleased to announce Read More
Western Canada Wheat field
EventsSixth Annual Precision Ag Summit Set for January 16-17 …
January 4, 2017
The 6th annual Precision Ag Summit will be held Jan. 16-17, at the North Dakota Farmers Union Conference Center in Read More
University of California Merced Professor Stefano Carpin
Hort TechRobots, People Working Together To Save Water, Enhance …
January 3, 2017
A nearly $1 million grant from the USDA is helping University of California researchers refine collaborative robotic technology that could Read More
Wade Barnes Farmers Edge using FarmCommand
Data ManagementFarmers Edge Makes Precision Ag Simple
January 3, 2017
Jon Labine of Argyle, MN, is a regional sales representative for Farmers Edge Inc., one of the latest entries in Read More
DV Wing Drone Volt
DronesDV WING: A Drone Dedicated To Precision Agriculture
January 3, 2017
DRONE VOLT is launching its new fixed-wing unit, a light and compact UAV dedicated to precision agriculture and construction work, Read More
PrecisionAg.com featured image
ProfessionalsWelcome to the Newly Enhanced PrecisionAg.com
December 29, 2016
Talk a quick look around our website and we hope you’ll notice it’s significantly different as we head into 2017 Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Business ManagementA New Precision Vision
December 29, 2016
It’s been an incredible year for the team here at Preci­sionAg Media. We have more than two decades in as Read More
EventsAgenda Is Taking Shape For February Innovation Series C…
December 29, 2016
Precision ag technology integrators — those businesses providing agronomy services and technology consulting to farmers — can take advantage of a full Read More