Stepping Forward on Precision Agriculture Standards

The lack of data standards in precision agriculture has hampered broader adoption of high-technology products and techniques for years. But the proliferation of new technology in the cab and at the office, combined with the development of wireless communication, is bringing to light the need for equipment to speak the same language.

One of the biggest challenges to creating standards is the highly competitive precision agriculture market. Manufacturers are understandably defensive of their own proprietary technology, but the result has been equipment that doesn’t move data seamlessly without a lot of additional development.

Last month, manufacturers took an initial step toward creating that universal data compatibility during the 5th Ag Gateway Annual Conference in St. Petersburg. The group of leading organizations — which include John Deere, Raven Industries, Trimble, Monsanto and SST Software — have formed a council within the Ag Gateway organization to identify the issues and put a roadmap in place that will lead to data compatibility in precision ag.

Founded in 2005, Ag Gateway is a consortium of agriculture companies and organizations that provide an international source for facilitating implementation and collaboration in the use of information and communication technologies for agriculture. It works with members to develop eBusiness standards and databases, helps to enable the members to implement the technologies. Ag Gateway initiatives in seed and crop protection connectivity have been completed, and several others are in process.

The idea to use Ag Gateway as the facilitator for the precision agriculture project came from Chip Donahue of John Deere, who had been involved in the group as a retailer representative when he worked at Brandt Consolidated in Pleasant Plains, IL.

It was spurred by Deere’s own internal commitment to make technology that eases data transfer. “On a global basis, Deere wants to go to an ISOBUS standard on machines and provide plug and play capability,” says Donahue. The capability would allow users to plug an implement into machine and have the machine instantly recognize it, similar to how peripherals install on a personal computer. Deere also identified seamless data movement as an important capability. “We started talking internally about how we could be doing a better job on that front, and how we could identify standards that allow more interoperability between systems.”

This led to the idea of bringing the industry together on standards evaluation and development, and use Ag Gateway as the format and forum to work collaboratively. Donahue found plenty of industry partners willing to work through Ag Gateway on a precision ag council. Heading the council are Kelby Kleinsasser of Raven Industries and Ian Harley of Trimble’s Farm Works Software Division.

The first step for the group will be to identify and evaluate current standards to determine where gaps exist and to decide whether what’s currently available could serve as a platform for the standard to be developed. Evaluating ISO11783, the ISOBUS standard for ag equipment, will be a key early task.

Another important initiative is the data dictionary. For instance, a hybrid with a specific identifier ideally would be recognized the same way by all equipment and software from planting to harvest and post-harvest analysis, making data about the hybrid more easily analyzed. Identifiers would also include clear definitions of terms such as farm fields and field boundaries to ensure consistency and ease of data analysis.

Ag Gateway will also help with the implementation phase, getting all manufacturers large and small on board and using the standards. “Some of the smaller players without the resources of the larger companies will need help to implement the tools we create to ensure we achieve interoperability of equipment,” says Donahue.

The effort will take a significant effort in time and resources, but true compatibility will be worth the work. “We now have people around the table that are 100 percent committed to the process,” says Donahue. “Kelby and Ian have a good perspective of the industry from both the hardware and software side, and they will help bring others to the table.”

For more information on this effort, visit www.aggateway.org.

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