Precision Agriculture Trends: A Consultant’s Perspective

HTS Precision Solutions, a precision technology consulting company based in Iowa, experienced strong growth in 2011. And growers are more interested than ever in exploring the potential of new and emerging ag technology, according to HTS’ Adam Gittins. He shared some thoughts with us on precision trends and what growers are looking to do in technology during a recent interview.

Q. Tell me about the grower-clients you’re servicing these days.
A. We had a pretty strong year, and I think a lot of guys that have not been investing in technology before are looking into it. We are seeing the whole gamut of farmers; from beginning farmers to nearly ready to retire farmers that are investing in tech because they can see the payback.

Overall, as far as the adoption curve I think we are well past the early adopters at this point. This plays to our strengths at HTS, because we have a crew that can really break this stuff down to a level that the average user can understand. We can install equipment and make it work, and we can spend time in the cab to train them on how to run it and get the most out of it.

Q. What do new adopters come to you looking to do?
It is usually one of two things: either someone is looking for automatic shutoff on a planter or sprayer, or someone who is looking for automatic steering. They rarely come in looking for both at the same time, but if we can start with one we can introduce the other when they are ready for it.

Q. What about more established precision clients?
A. The big thing for this year with the customer base was, for lack of a better term, getting back to the data. We have always offered data services and work with a lot of clients on that. And we tried to streamline it this year by revamping and rolling out a set of data offerings bundled together in packages. For $0.75 an acre we will do the services, and for $1.50 an acre we do a more expanded list of services in addition to some analysis, and that has helped drive business for us. The grower sees the benefit from the beginning, because he already knows that he is not going to sit in front of a computer and do it himself. He wants to get that information and use it to manage the operation.

The analysis package we offer includes mapping all the work we do for the year, as well as multi-year analysis on harvest data, yield by hybrid, and yield by soil type. We are actually turning data into information for growers that will allow them to make some decisions.

Another approach to increasing precision sales is through the core group of growers who have service plans. We go out once or twice a year and check over all the equipment to ensure it is ready to go into the field. At the service call we will offer to take the planter data from the monitor and make planting maps for free. We’ve had a pretty good uptick in business doing that it’s amazing that so many growers will say, ‘you mean, I’ve been collecting data?’ They had no idea they were logging data.

Q. What technologies are on the rise in the near future?
A. We will see variable rate seeding take off as we start to lean more about the data. Guys now have the technology to do it, but haven’t been using it because they really don’t know how.

One thing we’ve been working on is taking advantage of ISO BUS compatibility. We did a little bit of testing on a Gleaner combine, we removed the GTA console and loaded up all the combine ECU components into the Integra display so that we had all the harvest settings and fuel gauges tied into the one display. We put out a couple of those systems this year and guys are happy with them.

In future months and years I think we are going to see more and more development around ISO BUS and hopefully more machinery as manufacturers continue to move in that direction. As more growers see how equipment can work using ISO BUS, we’ll see more development around it.

We will also see more developments with wireless communication. Trimble is out there with Connected Farm, and Ag Leader offers the remote support through the ParaDyme system, which is a very powerful tool. When a customer calls with an issue I can get logged onto his equipment and working to fix the problem in five minutes or less, instead of hopping in a truck and driving for 30 minutes or more.

Q. How have you fine-tuned service at HTS?
We actually have fewer full-time technicians now than a year ago, and we have more people that are well-rounded in their expertise. They can handle the full gamut, they are knowledgeable enough to talk about products, place the product with customers, install and support it. It’s been very beneficial for us.

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