Building A Precision Program Piece By Piece

You don’t have to have a engineering background to make precision agriculture technology work in a cotton farm, but for Mississippi grower Byron Seward, having a background in mechanical engineering and a talent for tinkering has made it a bit easier to figure out.

Seward has been using technology to get more precise about his farming practices for several years now, starting with use of GPS and prescription mapping to variably apply fertilizer. That eventually expanded into variable rate defoliants and plant growth regulators using aerial imagery, a practice that has proven effective for cost savings on chemicals and labor.

Seward is a comparatively large southern farmer, growing corn and soybeans along with cotton, and like many of his neighbors has invested in harvest and storage infrastructure to ensure his grain has a home at the end of the season. It also means he has made a commitment to technology use to help him be as efficient and economical as possible.

In Collaboration

Seward’s initial foray into precision agriculture centered around variable rate fertility, not unlike many of the early pioneers of site-specific ag in the Midwest. He had some essential partners lined up at the time to help get started.

The choice for storing and maintaining electronic field maps and data was Ag Fleet, a web-based program developed by the Pennsylvania-based company ZedX. Ag Fleet allows users to put all field records into one centralized electronic space. There are several important advantages to using this sort of system. First, the data is safely and efficiently maintained on a powerful computer system off site, which makes it one less thing to worry about. Second, because Seward’s fields are so far flung, He can access his data from the office, home, or wherever Internet access is available. His retail partner, Jimmy Sanders, Inc. also works with Ag Fleet and is able to help with technical and agronomic issues with relative ease.

Seward also worked with Pettite Ag Services to initialize his precision program, setting electronic field boundaries and doing initial field sampling for variable rate fertilizer. When Jimmy Sanders came on board, the company helped to fill out the remaining GPS and soil sampling information on all Seward’s farms.

“We have a data bank of all our locations with fertility information,” explains Seward. “We then take our handheld computers, and go out and click in what the pre-plant is, what the crop it is, what seed was used, and take the handheld back, tie it into the computer and upload the information into Ag Fleet.”

Today, the annual regimen is pretty clear cut. With all the field information in place, the soil sampling company Seward uses sends the results files to Jimmy Sanders, which forwards them to AgFleet, which overlays the information with Seward’s fields. “We can then bring down the images of the field and it will show what nutrients go where,” say Seward. “We check it over, make adjustments, and then write prescriptions for the machine we are using.” Seward has a four-bin Soilection Air Max machine available that he can use to variably apply nitrogen, potash, sulfur and zinc if needed. He also shares access to a plane for aerial application.

The Next Level

About three years ago, Seward got involved with John Deere Agri-Services on a new aerial imagery service that would make the variable rate application of defoliants and plant growth regulators (PGRs) more automated. To make it work more seamlessly with Seward’s existing collaboration with Jimmy Sanders and Ag Fleet, Deere worked with both entities to make the imagery offering available to Seward through the Ag Fleet Web site.

“John Deere came to us because we already had a precision agriculture program that has been successful for a number of years,” says Jeff Dearborn, precision agriculture manager at Jimmy Sanders Inc. “I think they figured that they could leverage our experience and relationships that we had to better position their imagery product. We had experience with Landsat and satellite-based imagery, and had experienced problems with delivery and turnaround. Working with Deere, we were able to help them develop their imagery product, and they help us get what we need — timely imagery.”

Deere’s imagery offering, now called OptiGro, resides on the Ag Fleet web site as a click-on option for Seward any time he needs imagery.

“All I have to do is tell the program which pictures I want taken, and send it through the Internet,” Seward explains. “When I order it, it guarantees delivery on a specific date, but often it comes sooner than that.”

When it arrives, Seward downloads it to his computer, and Ag Fleet writes a prescription based on the equipment being used. “All we do is click on “Satloc” or “Viper” and it writes the files so it can be read by that machine,” says Seward. “We put the information on a card, load in and off it goes.”

And using the imagery is easy and quick within Seward’s configuration. “If it pops up in the morning we can be running in an hour,” he says. “With a laptop we can download the prescription , find the applicator, take the card out, put it in the laptop and transfer the information, put it back in the applicator and off we go.”

Variable rate defoliation has proven to be most beneficial for Seward, and after three years of working with it and tweaking, he feels that he really has it right.

“The first year was hard, getting all the hardware and software together, but last year we had no problem,” says Seward.

A significant challenge was getting it to work with an airplane application system. Seward employs a Satloc M3 variable rate control system.

“You can write the prescription, but the airplane has to be able to interpret it. And the airplane must be able to handle volume of information coming in. We worked on it for an entire summer, and last year it worked well — it was a hassle to do, but knew we wanted to do it so we worked hard at it.”

Prior to the new system, Seward would typically need to apply defoliant 2 to 3 times based on scouting and re-scouting fields. “Now we take a picture of the field to locate the vegetative and not-so-vegetative places in the field, and adjust our defoliant applications. We get it all with one trip through the field.”

Seward estimates savings of between 3% and 7% depending on the weather and crop conditions. “Every year is different, but it’s always something less than was used before.”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the June 2007 issue of Cotton Grower.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Building A Precision Program Piece By Piece

  1. This must be a very old article. Deere has shut down OptiGro, and Jimmy Sanders is no longer using AgFleet.

  2. This must be a very old article. Deere has shut down OptiGro, and Jimmy Sanders is no longer using AgFleet.

Service Providers Stories
John-Deere-labs
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment for a More Sustainable Future
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
Diamondback moth
Tools & Smart EquipmentTechAccel Invests in Unique Sprayable RNAi Pesticide Technology
September 12, 2017
TechAccel, the Kansas City-based technology and venture development company, has announced it has awarded the first grant under its “Path Read More
LettuceBot
Tools & Smart EquipmentThe Tipping Point for Machine Learning in Agriculture
September 8, 2017
At the PrecisionAg Innovation Series earlier this year, retailers and growers both expressed the need to gather data and the Read More
Farming at Sunset
Business ManagementAgtech Issues: The Shiny Object Syndrome
September 6, 2017
Do you remember those cartoons where someone lures someone else by placing a piece of candy, small amount of money, Read More
Trending Articles
Farmer with iPad
Australia/New ZealandAgrian Expands into Australia
September 20, 2017
In line with a familiar growth trajectory, Agrian Inc. is moving into Australia with a physical support and sales presence Read More
John-Deere-labs
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment for a More Sustainable Future
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementWhat Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights in Precision Agriculture
September 12, 2017
The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innovation
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
Farming at Sunset
Business ManagementAgtech Issues: The Shiny Object Syndrome
September 6, 2017
Do you remember those cartoons where someone lures someone else by placing a piece of candy, small amount of money, Read More
AgQuip overview
Australia/New ZealandAgQuip 2017 Displays New Ag Technology in Australia
August 28, 2017
The annual AgQuip field days took place in Gunnedah, NSW on August 22-24. Being the largest agricultural field days in Read More
Latest News
deepfield-robotics-bonirob
Robotics/Labor SaversDeepfield Robotics to Showcase Precision Agriculture Te…
September 22, 2017
Deepfield Robotics is preparing to showcase its robotics and automation technologies for the agriculture market at the Agrilevante event, in Read More
Kray Drone Application
DronesCrop Spraying Drone Manufacturer Kray Technologies Gets…
September 22, 2017
Chernovetskyi Investment Group (CIG) has reached an agreement on investment into Kray Technologies company, which manufactures Kray Protection industrial robotic Read More
Imagery/SensingPlanet Announces New Hi-Res Imagery Products
September 21, 2017
Since our acquisition of Terra Bella, and the SkySat constellation of seven satellites, we’ve been focused on making this high-resolution Read More
Systems ManagementBayer Dismisses Antitrust Concerns about Digital Farmin…
September 20, 2017
Bayer said it was unable to propose the sale of any digital farming assets to allay EU concerns about its Read More
Farmer with iPad
Australia/New ZealandAgrian Expands into Australia
September 20, 2017
In line with a familiar growth trajectory, Agrian Inc. is moving into Australia with a physical support and sales presence Read More
Robotics Specialty Crops
EventsPrecision in Specialty Crops Gains Momentum
September 20, 2017
When John Deere acquired Blue River Technologies (BRT) recently, BRT’s See & Spray technology received plenty of play. Yet many Read More
Decision Support SoftwareSyngenta Helps Lead Efforts for Farm Management Softwar…
September 19, 2017
Ag data from tractors, combines, planters, and other farm machinery present a huge opportunity for growers to manage their operations Read More
Petra-Andren-Cicada-Innovations
Australia/New ZealandGrowLab’s Rocket Fuel for AgTech in Australia
September 19, 2017
Despite its superpower status as a producer and exporter of agricultural goods and services, up until now Australia has had Read More
CropIn-Team-Photo-credit-BW-Disrupt
AsiaCropIn Aims to be a Global Leader in AgTech Sector
September 19, 2017
Krishna Kumar created AgTech startup, CropIn Technology in 2010, along with co-founders Kunal Prasad and Chittranjan Jena. The trio went Read More
China-Beidou-Navigation-Satellite-System
AsiaChina’s Navigation System Gets Powerful Chip to I…
September 18, 2017
A new powerful chip technology has been introduced in China’s national satellite navigation system to provide high-precision positioning, according to Read More
Tablet Grower
Industry NewsFieldReveal Names Hesse New CEO
September 18, 2017
Matt Hesse has been selected as the Chief Executive Officer of FieldReveal, a newly launched joint venture formed to deliver Read More
John-Deere-labs
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment…
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
Wheat sunrise
Australia/New ZealandSparkLabs Group Launches an Agricultural Tech Accelerat…
September 15, 2017
SparkLabs Group, which claims to be the largest startup accelerator group in Asia, is stepping into agricultural tech with a Read More
Sensors/IoTCollaboration Leverages Internet of Things, Sensors in …
September 15, 2017
The vision of having license-free community sensor networks for agricultural users has made a giant leap closer to reality. A Read More
Young Corn Field
Data ManagementPurdue Online Tool to Help Farmers Make Precision Decis…
September 14, 2017
An innovative online tool developed by a Purdue University engineering professor will allow farmers to process data collected from their Read More
forbes-agtech-summit
Precision IrrigationImproving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
September 13, 2017
I recently attended the Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, CA, where roughly 50 start-up companies originating from Silicon Valley and Read More
Nate-Dorsey-Field-Trial-Curve-Compensation
Systems ManagementField Trial: Precision Application and Curve Compensati…
September 13, 2017
Several months ago I wrote an article about curve compensation in planters and how these systems can help create more Read More
Diamondback moth
Tools & Smart EquipmentTechAccel Invests in Unique Sprayable RNAi Pesticide Te…
September 12, 2017
TechAccel, the Kansas City-based technology and venture development company, has announced it has awarded the first grant under its “Path Read More