Reifsteck: What Precision Ag Needs

Illinois farmer John Reifsteck has been working with precision technology for about as long as it started becoming commercially viable in the mid-1990s. In fact, he was a speaker at the InfoAg Conference in 1995 when everyone who attended wanted to know how the convergence of inexpensive computer processing, global positioning and the World Wide Web was going to revolutionize American agriculture.

Ten years later, he presented at the 2005 InfoAg Confer­ence to share his successes, disillusionments and desires for ag technology and his farm, and many of his key points were still valid. And in 2013, while Reifsteck gives a nod to advancements in technology, there are still many difficulties and challenges for growers when it comes to precision agriculture.

We caught up with Reifsteck recently after giving a talk to a group of agriculture professionals on the topic of precision ag adoption: What works, and what continues to elude the industry.

Data-To-Knowledge Disconnect

“We have the technology that allows us to control stuff — fertilizer, seed — and we can do that very well,” says Reifsteck. “But we are gathering a lot of information that we are not able to move over to knowledge yet. That is going very slow and in my opinion, it is a little frustrating.”

Most farmers he comes in contact with are not getting the information out of their technology equipment, and Reifsteck admits that he struggles to get what he needs. “I am chastising the industry a little bit about this, about why is it so difficult to get questions answered,” says Reifsteck. “I am convinced the technology is there to do it.”

“The industry spends a lot of time and effort looking at doing more stuff and collecting more information, but the industry “cannot easily answer some basic questions that farmers have,” asserts Reifsteck. “How did this variety compare to other varieties, how did the nitrogen tillage we did work?  We can get a lot of these answers, but it is still really complicated to do it.

“If I want a trial on nitrogen my fields, why are our systems not capable of setting up a trial?” he continues, “pushing the information to the correct monitors or controllers for each field operation and, after harvest, be able to show me the entire season’s trial data and the result? I don’t see us getting any closer to this.”

Beyond this, Reifsteck says that there are questions that growers don’t know enough to even ask yet based on the data. “We have all sorts of information being collected, from direction of travel to speed, weather data and planter settings,” he says. “What are we doing about mining this big data to extract knowledge out of it? That’s why precision is so frustrating — because we’ve not made a lot of progress on that front.”

The Complexity-Integration Disconnect

Electronics are getting more complex, and making what used to be pretty straightforward operations much more involved. As capabilities are added, ease of use has not followed.

“Back in the day, the planter monitor only told you that seeds were dropping. The next monitor told you the population, and the next allowed you to do variable-rate (VR). That was followed by VR of multiple varieties, then VR on-the-go. We’re piling on capabilities but we’re not making it easier to use.”

The lack of integration and increasing complexity are a problem not only for farmers experienced with the technology, but for the “tech-savvy” next generation that is beginning to take the helm of large farming operations.

“The farmers coming online now are experienced technology users, but not how farmers are forced to use technology today,” says Reifsteck. “They grew up using technology that worked, that was integrated, and performed tasks with desired results. I hear it talking to people who are servicing equipment — that they are getting calls from growers who ‘don’t like the technology’ but they want to be able to use it.”

Looking outside of agriculture, he sees examples where companies have successfully wrestled the complexity of technology to the ground to give its customers a useful and productive experience. “I’m a big fan of Apple,” says Reifsteck. “What they can do is package the system and allow people to get out what they need. We don’t have that structure in agriculture, and we need it. Farmers want to know what time it is, not how to build a clock.”

“I know companies are working on those things, but as of now this is a barrier to implementation. And the more barriers we have, the fewer number of farmers we have to engage in precision adoption, which means the data set is not as rich as it should be. We will not get the rich data set until precision gets to be so easy that anybody can do it and feel like they gain clear benefits.”

Data Movement Difficulties

Another issue is data-sharing and movement, which is still very complicated, says Reifsteck.

“In the end, we must have seamless connection between all the devices — the desktop, the cab, the mobile device that’s on my belt — all have to be able to work together,” he says. “When you add complexity to that process, you start losing grower interest in the process. Time is no longer productive. We need an integrated systems approach, that somebody who looks over this system we have in ag and says, ‘This is how we are going to solve this problem.’ The devices are a way to get the work done, they do not stand alone.”

Charging Ahead Despite The Challenges

Reifsteck says that he is as optimistic as he has ever been about technology in agriculture, and is continuing to adjust and adopt. When it comes to new technology purchases, he’s looking for the most open structure he can find so that he is able to innovate as he comes across technologies he wants to add on.

His most recent monitor purchase, two Trimble units, was based on its ability to more effectively move data with his machine configuations, and to hook into the CenterPoint RTX network for an RTK signal. A couple of years ago, he got caught in the middle of a dispute between two operators who could not agree on a tower sharing arrangement, which resulted in no RTK service in some of his fields — an unforgivable transgression in our GPS-driven ag industry.

He’s concerned about the continuing competitive state of precision, and whether the industry can find common ground without going through a costly competitive war for business before we get to the other side.

Manufacturers want to make decisions that provide them a competitive advantage, and industry standards would put that at risk. “Who would risk it all and step out of the pack if you could lose customers in the process?” says Reifsteck. “If you’re a major manufacture you want to lock things in.”

Reifsteck wonders if the drive toward more compatibility might come from an outside source looking to make a significant investment in agriculture. Or could the data issue be a place were academia finds a role?

“Academia has huge expertise in computation,” says Reifsteck. “They run systems computers and they are efficient at mining data.”

Leave a Reply

5 comments on “Reifsteck: What Precision Ag Needs

  1. John is not alone in his frustration. Indeed, precision ag technology has come a long way since that first InfoAg in 1995, where he was our token "Cyberfarmer". But we have still avoided solving one of the most important parts of the whole system….the integration and interpretation of all the data we continue to collect. I still get excited about how all of the technology helps us do a better job of managing crop production and collecting data to guide better-informed decisions. And we have made a lot of progress on those fronts. But for John and other early Cyberfarmers, we have failed to develop the power that is within those data for really understanding our production systems and making the most use out of the information—to turn it into "knowledge", as John says.

  2. John is not alone in his frustration. Indeed, precision ag technology has come a long way since that first InfoAg in 1995, where he was our token "Cyberfarmer". But we have still avoided solving one of the most important parts of the whole system….the integration and interpretation of all the data we continue to collect. I still get excited about how all of the technology helps us do a better job of managing crop production and collecting data to guide better-informed decisions. And we have made a lot of progress on those fronts. But for John and other early Cyberfarmers, we have failed to develop the power that is within those data for really understanding our production systems and making the most use out of the information—to turn it into "knowledge", as John says.

Data Management Stories
Data ManagementEFC Announces FieldAlytics, Adapt-N Expanded Integration
July 17, 2017
EFC Systems is pleased to announce an expanded integration between its FieldAlytics product and Agronomic Technology Corp’s Adapt-N nitrogen recommendations Read More
Data ManagementOpinion: Benchmarking in Precision Agriculture is Big Statistics
July 17, 2017
Benchmarking has become a buzzword in precision agriculture recently and before we get too excited with all of the profound 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
Helena Spreader
Data ManagementDriving Value Through Machine Data
July 5, 2017
Telematics data is readily becoming common place thanks to smart edge devices in ag equipment. Many groups have begun storing Read More
Trending Articles
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
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
ProfessionalsPatience Needed: Lessons for Getting New Tech onto the Farm
July 6, 2017
A popular joke within the tech industry was trotted out at GAI AgTech Week in Boston, MA, speaking volumes about Read More
PrecisionAg Vision Conference
EventsPrecisionAg® Vision Conference: Focused on the Future
June 13, 2017
PrecisionAg® is pleased to announce the return of its PrecisionAg Vision Conference, October 10-12, 2017. Based on overwhelmingly positive response Read More
Gavin Newsom Forbes AgTech-Summit
ProfessionalsAgTech Summit Aiming High for Modern Farming Solutions
June 12, 2017
THRIVE AgTech, in partnership with SVG Partners and Forbes, is hosting the third annual Forbes AgTech Summit June 28-29 in Read More
Quantix Drone Farmer
DronesTop 10 Most Intriguing Technologies in Agriculture
June 3, 2017
This may be a bit of stating the obvious here, but we’ll throw it out there anyways: as much as Read More
Farming iPad
Data ManagementOpinion: ROI or Die in Precision Agriculture
May 12, 2017
The thought of $3.50 corn for the foreseeable future seems pretty disheartening. However, if you look at the precision ag Read More
Latest News
Industry NewsLindsay Corp. Names Dow’s Timothy Hassinger New C…
July 19, 2017
Lindsay Corp. has  announced the appointment of Timothy Hassinger as president and CEO and a member of its board of Read More
InfoAg 2015
Events2017 Awards of Excellence Winners Announced
July 18, 2017
PrecisionAg Institute is pleased to announce its Awards of Excellence winners for 2017. Honorees of this year’s prestigious award are Read More
Interseeding Cover Crops
ProfessionalsA 3-Step Approach to Interseeding Cover Crops
July 18, 2017
As growers continue to search for opportunities to create healthier soils and increase yields, more trusted advisors and farmers are Read More
Rod Weimer and Paul Schrimpf
Excellence AwardsPast Recipients Of The PrecisionAg Awards Of Excellence
July 18, 2017
Since 2007, the PrecisionAg Insititute has sponsored the annual Awards of Excellence program. Here's a list of the past winners. Read More
Data ManagementEFC Announces FieldAlytics, Adapt-N Expanded Integratio…
July 17, 2017
EFC Systems is pleased to announce an expanded integration between its FieldAlytics product and Agronomic Technology Corp’s Adapt-N nitrogen recommendations Read More
Data ManagementOpinion: Benchmarking in Precision Agriculture is Big S…
July 17, 2017
Benchmarking has become a buzzword in precision agriculture recently and before we get too excited with all of the profound 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
Industry NewsQuick Rewind: Ohio Dealer Talks Deere-Precision Plantin…
July 12, 2017
A few weeks ago I took a quick trip south down I-71 to Central Ohio (for you non-Buckeyes, I-71 runs Read More
DronesSentera Launches Versatile Quad Sensor for Drones
July 12, 2017
Fully Customizable Filters on Sentera Quad Sensor Allow for Unique Crop Health Detection Capabilities Sentera introduces the latest update to Read More
Hortau Irrigation Management Software
Sensors/IoTHortau Named Finalist for CogX Artificial Intelligence …
July 10, 2017
Hortau was recently named a CogX Award finalist in the Best Artificial Intelligence Product in Agriculture category. The awards were Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsVantage South Atlantic Announces Mid-South Expansion
July 10, 2017
Vantage South Atlantic announced that it has joined Trimble Agriculture’s global network of independent Vantage partners to provide farmers, advisors, Read More
Ag Retailer and Grower WinField United
Decision Support SoftwareAgronomic Technology Corp Surpasses Daily Nitrogen Reco…
July 6, 2017
Agronomic Technology Corp, a leader in agricultural field modeling for soil, water, crops, and fertilizer, for the first time surpassed Read More
Precision IrrigationDealership Celebrates 25 Years in the Irrigation Game
July 6, 2017
25 years ago, Bobby Kempenich had an idea. An idea to launch a business that combined his knowledge of irrigation Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
ProfessionalsPatience Needed: Lessons for Getting New Tech onto the …
July 6, 2017
A popular joke within the tech industry was trotted out at GAI AgTech Week in Boston, MA, speaking volumes about Read More
Deere R4023 cab
Business ManagementOpinion: Reality vs. Hype in Precision Agriculture
July 6, 2017
I think there is a certain word that can accurately describe much of the precision ag and/or ag tech industry right Read More
Events2017 agBOT Challenge Winners Announced
July 6, 2017
Driverless robotic machines entered the fields of Gerrish Farms in Rockville, IN in June 2017. Universities and entrepreneurial teams showcased Read More
gomez-featured
ProfessionalsCommitment to Ag Innovation: Q&A with DuPont Pionee…
July 5, 2017
Editor’s note: PrecisionAg.com contributor Amy Wu often writes about women in ag technology. Recently, she interviewed DuPont Pioneer’s Nadilia Gomez, research scientist, Read More
LAP
InternationalLAP and ABPSAP: Advancing Precision Agriculture in Braz…
July 5, 2017
In this article, I would like to highlight two important entities of precision agriculture in Brazil. The first of these Read More