Technology And The Practice Of Farming

Iowa farmer Clay Mitchell truly is a precision pioneer. Mitchell grew up on a farm, but his talents and fascination with technology took him all the way to Harvard, where he earned a degree in biological engineering.

But the farm called him back, and he set to work applying the disciplines of engineering to the practice of farming. An early adopter of RTK automatic steering in 2000, Mitchell has attempted to stretch the boundaries of precision agriculture and conventional thought. At the PrecisionAg Luncheon, Mitchell shared some perspective on farming technology, and the positive effect of competition in improving farming practices.

On Automatic Steering

“As I look at all the technology that is here at InfoAg, I am reminded about something that Bill Gates said about personal computers — he imagined a day when there would be a PC in every home. In agriculture, I think one of the most important technologies that we’ve used on our farm has been the autosteering system that we got in 2000, which has really been the basis of a lot of the advancements we’ve had. I’ve imagined a day when we would have an autosteering system on every tractor and I’m amazed at just how fast that’s happened.”

On The Importance of Scale

“While farming is my passion, my background is in biomedical engineering, and that is the approach I take to farming. One thing that’s really important in engineering for modeling and design is thinking about dimensions, and how when things change in size, one needs to consider what things will scale and what things won’t scale. Scale is a big issue in farming as things change in size.

“Imagine we are the size of ants — some significant changes would come with the change in scale. For example, flame and fires can’t exist scaled down to the size of ants. A miniature hammer would not have enough kinetic energy to drive a miniature nail. There would be no books, because the pages would stick together at this scale. We couldn’t take a shower because water droplets would be so large they would drop like missiles, and if we did get hit, the surface tension would be so strong that we could not get out of the droplet. On the positive, we could lift 10 times our weight and we could jump off the top of this hotel.

“Thinking about farming and dimensional analysis and how things scale, consider a 150-acre field I work on, a challenging field because of the number of waterways surrounding the property. Using a 60-foot boom, it would take me two hours to go up and down the field and one hour to go around the waterways. As we think about the effect of machinery getting larger, if I used a 120-foot boom, as is not too uncommon today, it would only take me one hour to go up and down the body of the field, but it would still take me an hour to go around the boundaries.

“So one thing that we see as machinery gets larger and faster is that the effects of the field boundary affects are very important — and are a big reason why boom section control is so important. On our farm, we have Capstan nozzles that we turn on and off with a ZYNX controller, and we have 31 sections that are all controlled within milliseconds. So we can avoid that outlining pass where the waterway is, saving us 30% of our time. As the machine becomes larger and technology becomes more valuable, we would save 50% of our time on a larger machine.”

On The “Parallel” Effect

“If we think about traditional farming operations there are a lot of things that are done at an angle. Fertilizer might be spread at an angle to a tillage pass and a secondary tillage pass might be done at another angle. Things aren’t perfectly straight. And as we first start reducing paths in the field, we tend to have operations that are more parallel. As we go to strip-till and autosteer and controlled traffic farming, we become completely collinear. And with controlled traffic farming, we cannot deviate from those rows — it’s a very strict rule.

“One thing that happens is that we become very aware of the operations we are doing in the field. When things are done at an angle, if the sprayer nozzle is not putting out an even amount of fertilizer, we get streaks of low performance in the field and they sort of become pixilated noise, and we can’t really see them or observe them.”

On The Benefits of Competition

“As I look over how I am doing and how my neighbors are doing, I can’t help but be amazed by how poorly we are doing. I think farmers generally have come to believe that the things we have been doing for a long time we do well at. And that simply is not true.

“There are a lot of things that we do our entire lives that we do very poorly at and many times it’s the things we care about the most. And why is that? It’s because we don’t approach it as a practice. One thing that really aids us in approaching it like a practice more than anything else is the example of somebody else that is doing something right, and that is what we get when we have competition.

I saw a great example of this in New Zealand. When you travel around that country, you see one thing that stands out right away. There is a lot of livestock, and they are penned in with better fences than anywhere you will see in the world. And one of the great reasons for that is for the last 38 years, they have held what’s called the Golden Pliers competition. In the competition, they have professional fencers, people who have done this all their lives, put up a 40-meter wire fence which is judged on quality, speed, appearance, and strength of the fence.

Over the last 38 years there have only been 10 winners, but if you talk to the competitors, they all talk about how it has improved the quality of their fencing. This competition has a profound impact on the quality of the work they do every day.

The hallmark of a practice is that perfection becomes visualized, it becomes known and it becomes within reach.”

Leave a Reply

Data Management Stories
Ohio State
Data ManagementRecap: The Ohio State University Explores Ag Tech ROI at Soybean Workshop
October 19, 2017
How do soybean producers begin to extract value from the vast selection of digital tools available in agriculture today? At Read More
corn weather
Data ManagementSeasonal Weather Outlooks: High Risk Worth the Reward?
October 18, 2017
Often, when discussing weather service needs with a potential client, I am asked about the possibility of providing long-range weather Read More
Vector-and-Raster-image
Data ManagementUsing Vector Soil Data in a Raster World?
October 16, 2017
Why spend the time and resources to extract the NRCS ‘Soil SURvey GeOgraphic’ (SSURGO) soil polygons only to display the Read More
Young Corn Field
Data ManagementPurdue Online Tool to Help Farmers Make Precision Decisions, Keep Data Private
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
Trending Articles
Brazil-Soybean-field
AmericasIPNI Brazil: Precision Agriculture to Improve Nutrient Use Efficiency
October 16, 2017
As I mentioned in my last article, the IPNI Brazil Symposium on Precision Agriculture was held in early October in Read More
Decision Support SoftwareFarmers Edge, Service Provider Talk High-Frequency Imagery Deal
October 11, 2017
As the domestic ag tech market continues to mature and develop as we barrel into 2018, another intriguing partnership has Read More
Corn Field Sunset
Industry NewsEFC Systems’ FieldAlytics Now Available in Canada
September 29, 2017
According to an AgPR news release, FieldAlytics is now available in Canada through FieldAlytics Solutions Canada, Inc. This new company Read More
Decision Support SoftwareSciFi in Ag: Chatbot with your Plants?
September 26, 2017
(Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
deepfield-robotics-bonirob
Robotics/Labor SaversDeepfield Robotics to Showcase Precision Agriculture Technology at Agrilevante
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
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
Latest News
Robotic-Field-Scanner
Specialty CropsOpinion: Agriculture’s Big Data is Coming to You
October 20, 2017
If you think your world is changing at a dizzying pace, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. That’s my takeaway from Read More
Ohio State
Data ManagementRecap: The Ohio State University Explores Ag Tech ROI a…
October 19, 2017
How do soybean producers begin to extract value from the vast selection of digital tools available in agriculture today? At Read More
Industry NewsAGCO, Climate Corp. Announce Digital Partnership
October 19, 2017
AGCO announced today a new digital partnership with The Climate Corp. that will provide AGCO customers the option to connect Read More
Industry NewsFieldReveal Inks Agreement with Texas Agronomy Outfit
October 19, 2017
FieldReveal has entered into an agreement with Ag Producers Cooperative of Dalhart, TX, to offer the full FieldReveal precision ag Read More
corn weather
Data ManagementSeasonal Weather Outlooks: High Risk Worth the Reward?
October 18, 2017
Often, when discussing weather service needs with a potential client, I am asked about the possibility of providing long-range weather Read More
Industry NewsAgDNA Announces Dealership Expansion
October 18, 2017
This week AgDNA surpassed their growth projections, announcing partnerships with eight new multi-store dealerships across the mid-west, mid-south and east Read More
Tomato-crop-India
AsiaIndia Maps 185 Districts Through Remote Sensing for Hor…
October 17, 2017
India’s Union Ministry of Agriculture has mapped 185 districts under a project using remote sensing technology to identify areas best Read More
Brazil-Soybean-field
AmericasIPNI Brazil: Precision Agriculture to Improve Nutrient …
October 16, 2017
As I mentioned in my last article, the IPNI Brazil Symposium on Precision Agriculture was held in early October in Read More
Vector-and-Raster-image
Data ManagementUsing Vector Soil Data in a Raster World?
October 16, 2017
Why spend the time and resources to extract the NRCS ‘Soil SURvey GeOgraphic’ (SSURGO) soil polygons only to display the Read More
Precision Irrigation
Precision Irrigation4 Important Ways Precision Technology Is Impacting Irri…
October 12, 2017
Water management is becoming an increasing concern in agriculture, whether that’s dealing with too much or too little water. This Read More
DronesDroneLife: Global Ag Drone Industry Potentially Worth $…
October 12, 2017
Via DroneLife.com’s Jason Reagan: According to an August study by Esticast Research & Consulting Market Research, the global commercial drone Read More
Decision Support SoftwareFarmers Edge, Service Provider Talk High-Frequency Imag…
October 11, 2017
As the domestic ag tech market continues to mature and develop as we barrel into 2018, another intriguing partnership has Read More
Planet Labs satellite imagery
Industry NewsFarmers Edge, Planet Labs Announce Multi-Year Exclusive…
October 11, 2017
Farmers Edge announced today a strategic partnership to bring Planet’s best-in-class global monitoring platform to the Farmers Edge precision agriculture Read More
John Deere Combine Harvester at Hagen Farms
Decision Support SoftwareAg and Rail Equipment Uptime Critical for Good Harvest
October 9, 2017
Across the American Heartland, growers have started harvesting their crops for what the USDA predicts will be a good yield Read More
Ag Drone
Industry NewsBotlink, SST Announce Integration
October 6, 2017
Botlink has announced a seamless flow of actionable aerial data into the agX Platform. This integration makes it quick and Read More
corn field
Industry NewsEFC Purchases AgSolver Assets, Establishes New Sustaina…
October 6, 2017
EFC Systems announced it has purchased the assets of AgSolver Inc. The move establishes a new Agronomic Planning and Sustainabilty Read More
Ag Retailer and Grower WinField United
Australia/New ZealandNew Technologies vs. Agronomic Knowledge in Precision A…
October 4, 2017
As the days are getting longer and the temperature is starting to rise, Australian broadacre growers are gearing up for Read More
Field Sky Beauty shot
Industry NewsClimate, West Central Distribution Join Forces on Phosp…
October 3, 2017
To help farmers improve productivity and return on their investment, West Central Distribution and The Climate Corporation have teamed up Read More