The New AgVerdict Is In

The newest version of AgVerdict is rolling out to 180 Wilbur-Ellis retail facilities and grower customers.
The newest version of AgVerdict is rolling out to 180 Wilbur-Ellis retail facilities and grower customers.

Ag retailers and growers long have called for precision farming software that is easy and intuitive to use, has interoperability with multiple pieces of equipment, and can toggle among multiple crop areas. In AgVerdict, the people at Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness Division believe they have that product, or at least one that is well down the path.

After taking a first pass at Ag­Ver­dict and releasing it four years ago, Wilbur-Ellis stepped back, recruited Web and software developers from Microsoft and other tech companies near their Seattle, WA­-area facility, and began to build an upgrade using a “software-first approach.” The new version of AgVerdict — with 80 tech engineers now dedicated to the product’s user-experience design, software development and testing — should turn a lot of heads as it continues to roll out to all 180-some Wilbur-Ellis retail facilities and current grower customers from Washington State to Ohio by the end of 2014.

Ease, Simplicity Of Use

Huddling around a conference room table recently in Tukwila, WA, to review a developmental version of the new software update, senior members of the AgVerdict product team repeatedly made observations like “the user only wants to see what the user needs to see,” and emphasized that “any data field that can be prepopulated, is.” And indeed, tailoring the experience to each of 300-plus crops and allowing growers and their advisers to spend more time on agronomy and less on technology is the central intent of what the company is calling a “strategic decision toolkit.”

“The vision,” says Jason Ellsworth, product manager AgVerdict, Wilbur-Ellis, “is to create an efficient platform for people to do their jobs — especially scouting, recommendation-writing and agronomic decision-making.”

In preparation for development, Wilbur-Ellis personnel spent 12 weeks fanning out through the U.S., meeting with growers across multiple crop areas and “figuring out what their needs are. What they told us is that [the software] has got to be mobile, it’s got to be easy, and it’s got to be intuitive,” says Mike Wilbur, vice president of data services and field technology for Wilbur-Ellis.

What emerged is a product that is as simple to use as an iPhone, with easy-to-understand graphic icons; stores all data in the cloud, making it accessible from anywhere including desktops and through use of a native iPhone app; has “lots of offline functionality,” enabling a user to start a task on one device and finish on another, and adapts data fields instantly based on a particular crop. For instance, “If you’re a grape grower, you’re not seeing data fields for corn,” says Rusty Harder, strategic marketing manager, Wilbur-Ellis, meaning the producer doesn’t have to scroll past irrelevant data.

Use of the software begins when a field agronomist or Pest Control Adviser (PCA) GPS-maps a field using an iPhone loaded with the AgVerdict app, tracing a field’s contours in an ATV and visually monitoring his or her progress, in real time. After the map is set and field sampling information has been input, an adviser can log into the software with his or her grower and build a fertility “equation,” based on soil samples and starting with baseline recommendations set by a national agronomist but adjustable for factors such as, say, more or less rain. At all times, dropdown menus provide options on various fertilizer products and application rates, and the running cost of each option is calculated. If a determination is made that the initial recommendation calls for, say, too much urea, the rate for that nutrient is reduced and the software recalculates the equation.

The step from final fertility plan to application is efficient as well: The plan, whether for uniform or variable-rate application of fertilizer, can be printed or emailed, or (eventually) exported wirelessly as a GIS shapefile to a machine or controller. This direct link from software to hardware will be a huge leap from the “old days” when field maps had to be batched overnight, notes Ellsworth. It also improves on the current use of thumbdrives to transfer data.

Efficiency, Extensive Recordkeeping

When it’s time for in-season scouting, the AgVerdict app automatically “knows” via GPS which field a user is in and lists other fields within two miles. When a scout makes note of, say, a particular insect in the field, a selection is made from a list of pests specific to that crop. The scout then can call or text appropriate personnel directly from a screen on the app, and a scouting report is generated on the server side with a link sent via email.

As a crop protection plan is being crafted, AgVerdict pings a comprehensive listing of labels, displays only those products that are currently labeled for that particular crop and state, and creates an Application Work Order report to be used by an applicator. In time Wilbur-Ellis hopes to overcome current limitations of hardware and enable a crop protection application order to be sent directly to the controller, eliminating the need for applicators to re-enter work orders. For now, as-applied maps — generated for every field Wilbur-Ellis serves — answer questions that increasingly are asked by regulators and sustainability-minded food companies and retailers, such as: why did you apply the product?; who did it?; did they actually do it?; when, where, and what were the field conditions? “The precision piece of the software is really table stakes,” Wilbur observes. “Fulfilling regulatory requirements is where the real value is.”

Real value also comes from placing all the grower’s data points — including seeding and harvest information — in one place. “We want to make sure we can integrate all this data easily for the growers,” Harder says. “Otherwise it’s just numbers for them.”

Data Is Safe & Secure

Wilbur-Ellis’ tech people have taken extreme steps to ensure all data uploaded to AgVerdict is secure and available. The software is hosted by Amazon Web Services, at three data centers in the U.S. large enough to handle the volume Wilbur-Ellis is anticipating. This means AgVerdict can “auto-scale during sessional high computing,” in the words of Wilbur-Ellis Web designer Toji Thomas Oommen, meaning: the system is not likely to go down during harvest. Compromising of the site is not likely to occur either, as Wilbur-Ellis has paid third parties to try hacking AgVerdict data, with no success.

As for who owns the data, Harder is unequivocal: “You [the grower] own your data. And growers who decide they no longer want to subscribe get their data back.” However, Wilbur-Ellis does not anticipate too many growers will abandon the service, which will be available to all of their current grower customers by the end of 2014.

The company says retailer and grower reception to AgVerdict so far has largely been in the ballpark of “you guys built what I asked for” and “finally somebody listened to what I want.” This is music to the ears of the team at Wilbur-Ellis, which “made a huge investment to do this, and do it right,” Wilbur says.

“It will become increasingly more challenging for growers to divide out activities from their own operations, and those activities with partnerships developed with their suppliers and advisers. Everything we’re doing here is designed to help build out those partnerships that already exist.”

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “The New AgVerdict Is In

  1. As an applicator, how can we get connected to complete our use reports for the recommendations supplied through your system?

  2. This is interesting of course, but I’m not sure if they have fully thought out what was actually needed, and what would be fluff.. Farmers are good at spotting “fluff”, especially when the market already has tons of other programs that are fairly the same, and possibly simpler.

Decision Support Software Stories
Data ManagementREPORT: Bayer’s Digital Farming Business Slated for BASF Takeover
April 11, 2018
Germany’s Bayer plans to sell its digital farming business to BASF as part of changes to concessions it has offered Read More
Farmer and laptop
Decision Support SoftwareReport: U.S. Farm Management Software Market to Reach $1.62bn
April 9, 2018
Most farmers in America don’t currently use farm management software (FMS) – but that could change, fast. Working from data Read More
Farmer-Soybean-field
AmericasWillness: Building VRA Fertility Zones on Plant Biomass Alone is Short-Sighted
March 29, 2018
I posed a question in a twitter poll in order to raise awareness of how measurements of biomass from remote Read More
Farmer-tablet
Decision Support SoftwareOpinion: The Missing Link in Precision Agriculture
March 15, 2018
The agtech boom over the last two years is indeed astonishing. Farmers are becoming more open to new, emerging technologies Read More
Trending Articles
SDSU-drone
Business ManagementInside the Key Strategies For Selling Precision Ag Services
April 13, 2018
In its earliest manifestation, the motive for developing precision agriculture service was entirely pure. Agronomists knew that crops were responding Read More
CROO Robotics’ automated strawberry harvester
Robotics/Labor SaversSpecialty Crops: Get in Gear Now for Agriculture’s Robotic Revolution
April 11, 2018
While the immigration debate rages on in Washington, DC, with little chance for reform in sight, the uncertain labor picture Read More
InSiteDCM
Business ManagementDelivering on Ag Data Value
April 3, 2018
Bruce Baier is another deeply experienced precision agriculture manager who survived the early years of ag technology while riding the Read More
University-of-Georgia-photo-credit-USDA
Business Management25 Best Colleges for Precision Agriculture
March 21, 2018
Choosing the right college is a process. It’s one that I’m just now embarking on with my teenage daughter. Long Read More
Farmer-tablet
Decision Support SoftwareOpinion: The Missing Link in Precision Agriculture
March 15, 2018
The agtech boom over the last two years is indeed astonishing. Farmers are becoming more open to new, emerging technologies Read More
Filling The Planter from Cab
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture: What is it?
March 15, 2018
If we look at the title of the article, all of you will come to an answer. These answers will Read More
Latest News
field_in_back_1000_wd-featured-image
Industry NewsAyrstone Introduces High-Speed WiFi System for Farms
April 20, 2018
WiFi has become a necessity, and a proliferation of new WiFi devices have come to market for urban homes and Read More
Indian-Agriculture
AsiaIndian IoT Platform for Pre and Post Harvest Raises See…
April 19, 2018
Indian startup AgNext has raised an undisclosed seed round led by India-focused Agtech VC Omnivore Partners along with Singaporean angel Read More
Bayer-Forward-Farming
Industry NewsMaryland Farm Opens as Hub of Learning about Sustainabl…
April 19, 2018
Fourth-generation Maryland farmer Trey Hill measures the success of his operation not just by how many bushels of corn, soybeans, Read More
THRIVE
Industry NewsAgritech Startup Backers Announce New Corporate Partner…
April 18, 2018
Entering its fourth year, the THRIVE Venture & Innovation platform announced today the nine finalists and investment in its spring Read More
computer-in-field
EventsFinding Our Way in the Business of Precision Agricultur…
April 17, 2018
Service providers are the essential link between precision agriculture products and practices and the farmers who are increasingly relying on Read More
Farm-Storm-Clouds-Photo-Eden-Hills
Data ManagementThe Precipitation Problem in Agriculture
April 17, 2018
Precipitation is arguably the most important agricultural weather parameter, yet it is the most difficult variable to precisely measure. For Read More
Digital-Farming
Business Management7 Factors That Could Make or Break Digital Farming
April 13, 2018
Digital farming is the new technology genie – a genie that is now out of the bottle and cannot be Read More
SDSU-drone
Business ManagementInside the Key Strategies For Selling Precision Ag Serv…
April 13, 2018
In its earliest manifestation, the motive for developing precision agriculture service was entirely pure. Agronomists knew that crops were responding Read More
Facebook-phone
Data ManagementWhat Lessons Can the Ag Industry Learn from the Faceboo…
April 12, 2018
Today, a seemingly endless amount of ag data flows from growers’ fields into a host of technology platforms. It is Read More
DronesWhen High Value Crops Meet Inaccessible Areas: How Dron…
April 12, 2018
Avocados are one of the few crops in Chile that can economically be commercially cultivated on hills. On one hand Read More
Almond-trees-blooming
Sensors/IoTWhy Virtual Sensors Could Save California’s At-Ri…
April 12, 2018
To say that the Golden State can lay claim to the title of king of almonds might be an understatement. Read More
AgJunction, InfoAg 2014, Autosteer, GPS
Industry NewsAgJunction Launches Online Store, Low Cost Guidance Sys…
April 12, 2018
AgJunction today announced the opening of the HandsFreeFarm.com online store to bring low-cost, simple-to-use precision agriculture solutions direct to all Read More
aggateway
Business ManagementAgGateway Encourages Use of Standard Identifiers with A…
April 11, 2018
AgGateway, the non-profit organization with the mission to promote and enable the industry’s transition to digital agriculture, is offering a Read More
Remote-Soil-Sensing-Mapping
Imagery/SensingRemote Soil Sensing Enhances Precision Farming, Promote…
April 11, 2018
Precision agriculture management requires understanding soil at increasingly finer scales. Conventional soil sampling and laboratory analyses often lack this granularity Read More
Data ManagementREPORT: Bayer’s Digital Farming Business Slated f…
April 11, 2018
Germany’s Bayer plans to sell its digital farming business to BASF as part of changes to concessions it has offered Read More
Corn
Industry NewsSentera Announces New FieldAgent Features
April 11, 2018
Sentera announces the availability of high-fidelity crop stand, weed pressure mapping, spot scouting maps, and free local image stitching within Read More
Lettuce-field
Specialty CropsTaylor Farms, Plug and Play Partner to Further Innovati…
April 11, 2018
Taylor Farms, a leading producer of value-added healthy fresh foods, and Plug and Play, the world’s largest global innovation platform Read More
CROO Robotics’ automated strawberry harvester
Robotics/Labor SaversSpecialty Crops: Get in Gear Now for Agriculture’s Robo…
April 11, 2018
While the immigration debate rages on in Washington, DC, with little chance for reform in sight, the uncertain labor picture Read More