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
Business ManagementPrecisionAg.com: Top 10 Most Popular Stories in 2017
December 28, 2017
The editors at PrecisionAg.com always get excited putting together our website’s list of the most-read stories of the year. To Read More
Wabash-Valley-Services
Business ManagementWabash Valley Service Co.: Back to the Basics
December 19, 2017
Wabash Valley Service Co. has been at the grindstone on precision agronomy for as long as almost any cooperative service organization Read More
Sentera drone
Business ManagementAgTech Conference of the South Coming to Alpharetta, GA
December 13, 2017
Tech Alpharetta, with the support of the city of Alpharetta, has announced the AgTech Conference of the South to be Read More
Grower-Field-iPad-Connectivity-Photo-Credit-VLab
Business ManagementOpinion: Agtech Boom Is Yet To Come
December 6, 2017
Many agronomists, farmers, and VC groups monitoring the agtech world are proclaiming the startup boom is over. Investments are down, Read More
Trending Articles
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season Maintenance Goes A Long Way
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More
Farmer and computer
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team in 2018
December 10, 2017
About The Opportunity: PrecisionAg.com is looking for people to join our team in 2018 and submit original content to our Read More
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementBlockchain: Making Data Cleaner, More Secure
January 16, 2018
Probably most professionals who deal with business data have at least heard the term “blockchain” bantered about as potentially the Read More
Soybean-field-clouds-Photo-courtesy-of-Earl-R-Shumaker
Data ManagementBetting on Rain? The Accuracy and Reliability of Precip…
January 16, 2018
For you sports junkies out there, if I could prove to you that I can correctly predict winners and losers Read More
center-pivot-irrigation-drop-sprinklers-on-corn
Precision IrrigationFinding Your Precision Ag Mindset
January 15, 2018
A precision mindset is the most important requirement for successful precision ag technology adoption. One of my first VRI (variable Read More
Drone-and-operator-Photo-courtesy-of-Kray-Technologies
DronesCrop Protection Application by Drone: A Q&A with Kr…
January 15, 2018
January is a busy month for agricultural companies. It’s a month that strong sales can set the mood for the Read More
Data ManagementAgGateway Grain Traceability Proof-of-Concept Seeks Ind…
January 15, 2018
AgGateway’s Precision Agriculture and Grain & Feed councils have issued a call for participation for a proof-of-concept initiative in AgGateway’s Read More
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season…
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Corn-Planter
Grower Services & SolutionsCorn Planter: The Train of Consequences
January 11, 2018
It’s always planter season in our shop but now that harvest is done the corn planter is the next piece Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversSmart Ag Announces Driverless Tractor Automation Platfo…
January 11, 2018
An Iowa technology company has unlocked the tremendous potential for automation in agriculture by developing the first cloud-based platform for Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrible
Grower Services & SolutionsAgrible to Launch Retailer Services in 2018
January 9, 2018
It’s a new year, which means new market challenges. Full service retailers are searching for ways to differentiate themselves and Read More
jeremy-speaking
Grower Services & SolutionsGrower and Precision Ag Services: Opportunities Lost
January 9, 2018
I often spend time with growers, talking about their operations, and the processes they go through each season to do Read More
Winters-Farming-farm-manager-Alex-Bergwerff-and-Ranch-Systems-marketing-and-business-development-manager-Hylon-Kaufmann
Precision IrrigationInside California Irrigation: Winters Farming
January 9, 2018
As many of us already know, almonds tend to get a bad rap for their water-use efficiency — or some Read More
Sentera software
DronesSentera Offering Elevation Data Mapping Via AgVault
January 9, 2018
Sentera announces the availability of elevation maps within the Sentera AgVault platform, offering agronomists, crop consultants, and growers additional field Read More
Industry NewsRaven, South Dakota State University Link Up: What You …
January 9, 2018
On Tuesday afternoon Raven and South Dakota State University (SDSU) held a press conference on the SDSU campus in Sioux Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More
Aarav-Unmanned-Systems-team
Asia12 Indian Agritech Startups to Watch Out For in 2018
January 3, 2018
Farming is a profession of hope. And India holds the record for the second-largest agricultural land in the world, with Read More
Amazone-Amaspot
Australia/New ZealandAmazone Set to Release Weed-Detecting Sprayer in Austra…
January 2, 2018
European farm machinery giant Amazone is set to release its UX trailed weed-detecting sprayer in Australia, which it says can Read More
drone-wheat-field
DronesAgricultural Drones: From Detection to Diagnosis
January 2, 2018
There is not a remote sensing platform that is innately better at all things: satellites, manned aircraft, and unmanned aerial Read More