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
Data ManagementBeck’s Builds Out ‘Freemium’ FMIS Offering
August 17, 2017
Beck’s today announced the release of several new tools available in their precision farming service, FARMserver, which enhances farmers’ ability Read More
Area-of-Interest-Web-Soil-Survey-screenshot
Data ManagementSignificant Updates Made to SoilWeb, Web Soil Survey Programs
August 15, 2017
Agronomic professionals and technicians dealing with precision farming must understand the soils within the field before writing effective prescriptions.  A Read More
Spray Drift
Data ManagementJanzen: Data to Play Key Role in Sorting Out Dicamba Disaster
August 10, 2017
You would have to live under a rock to not have heard about farmers’ issues with dicamba this growing season. Read More
Data ManagementDuPont Acquires Ag Tech Startup Granular for $300 Million
August 9, 2017
DuPont announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire San Francisco-based Granular, Inc., a provider of software and Read More
Trending Articles
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agriculture
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More
Wade-Barnes
Excellence AwardsBuilt By Agronomists: 2017 Award Of Excellence Winner Wade Barnes on the Making of Farmers Edge
August 2, 2017
Farmers Edge President And CEO Wade Barnes reflects on the process of building his company, shortly after receiving the Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award during the InfoAg Conference in July. Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg 2017 Recap: Service Providers Take Center Stage
July 28, 2017
As I sit here and ponder just what it was that we all experienced last week, off the top of Read More
Resistant-weeds-in-Brazil
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in Brazil
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementBeck’s Builds Out ‘Freemium’ FMIS Off…
August 17, 2017
Beck’s today announced the release of several new tools available in their precision farming service, FARMserver, which enhances farmers’ ability Read More
Israel-Irrigation-system-featured-image
InternationalIsraeli Precision Ag Companies Lead in Water Use Effici…
August 16, 2017
In the last week, AgriHub, formed by farmers and consultants from Brazil, visited 10 Israeli agribusiness companies, including the Ministry Read More
Gregoire-tractor
ProfessionalsMechanization Key to the Future of Vineyard Management
August 15, 2017
Precision technology moves at different speeds across different segments of agriculture. For example, technologies like curve compensation, precision spraying, and Read More
Area-of-Interest-Web-Soil-Survey-screenshot
Data ManagementSignificant Updates Made to SoilWeb, Web Soil Survey Pr…
August 15, 2017
Agronomic professionals and technicians dealing with precision farming must understand the soils within the field before writing effective prescriptions.  A Read More
Univ.-of-Illlinois-Palmer-in-soybean1
Business ManagementOpinion: How to Leverage Precision Agriculture to Launc…
August 14, 2017
To continue where my last article left off (which you can check out here), a precision ag company that specializes Read More
Industry NewsFarm Dog Inks Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement with USD…
August 14, 2017
Farm Dog, a pest and disease management platform for growers and agronomists, has entered into a Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement (NFCA) Read More
Lisa-Prassack-Photo-Credit-Weekly-Times-Now
InternationalAgtech: What the Umbrella Term Really Means
August 10, 2017
Acclerator, incubator, start-up, connectivity — the buzzwords of the digital age can be clear as, well, mud, writes Alex Sampson Read More
Spray Drift
Data ManagementJanzen: Data to Play Key Role in Sorting Out Dicamba Di…
August 10, 2017
You would have to live under a rock to not have heard about farmers’ issues with dicamba this growing season. Read More
New-Zealand-Precision-Ag-Tour
InternationalNew Zealand Study Tour to Demonstrate Recent Advances i…
August 10, 2017
If you’re interested in an intense, week-long immersion in the use of high-tech products and practices in New Zealand agriculture, Read More
Data ManagementDuPont Acquires Ag Tech Startup Granular for $300 Milli…
August 9, 2017
DuPont announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire San Francisco-based Granular, Inc., a provider of software and Read More
EventsSDSU Prof to lead Profit-Focused Panel at Upcoming Inno…
August 9, 2017
Convening a day prior to this summer’s Farm Progress Show at the I Hotel in Champaign, IL (about an hour’s Read More
AGCO White planter 9800VE
ProfessionalsAGCO Crop Tour 2017 Features Precision Planting Add-Ons
August 8, 2017
Higher yields and greater returns are the ultimate goals for crop producers. To help corn growers better understand the role Read More
Corn
Business ManagementCrop Pro Insurance Closes $8 Million in Series A Fundin…
August 8, 2017
Crop Pro Insurance today announced the close of an $8 million Series A round of financing co-led by top agriculture Read More
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agricultur…
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Satshot imagery
Imagery/SensingImagery in Agriculture: Some Sage Advice
August 6, 2017
SatShot President Lanny Faleide has been a fixture on the remote imagery scene for as long as about anyone still Read More
Blue-River-See-Spray-technology
ProfessionalsHow Blue River’s See & Spray Technology Could Chang…
August 5, 2017
The blistering West Texas heat rocketing towards triple digits, the affable cotton grower trudged across his dusty field and approached Read More
Grower Services & Solutions2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part II
August 4, 2017
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part II of Tim Norris’ Yield Monitor Calibration checklist, Part I of which was published in Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More