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

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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 Stories
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota High Tech Association
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Success
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
Trending Articles
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secrets
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Farmers
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Latest News
AgBot16 Challenge
Hort TechUSDA Announces $3 Million For Agricultural Robotics Res…
December 8, 2016
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the availability of $3 million in available funding for Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Business ManagementPrecision Farming Forecast: 4 Challenges, Opportunities…
December 7, 2016
Opportunities and challenges. They are the yin and yang of the business world. It could easily be argued that, out Read More
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Buhler Versatile HQ cab
BusinessThe State Of Precision Ag In 2016
December 7, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Elsewhere on this site, you will find Read More
BusinessFarmobile Details New AGCO Distribution Deal
December 6, 2016
Farmobile today announced a strategic partnership with AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment. The agreement will allow Read More
Hort TechSol Chip Launches Autonomous, Wireless Solar Tag for Sm…
December 6, 2016
Sol Chip, a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) systems and energy harvesting solutions, today announced the introduction of its Read More
TechnologyAgGateway Announces 2017 Board Of Directors And Leaders…
December 2, 2016
AgGateway has announced its leadership for the coming year, including the directors of its new Strategic Board and Operational Board, Read More
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota…
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
AGCO AgControl
TechnologyPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
December 1, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To En…
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to…
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Sensors/IoTIoT The Focus Of New Topcon Partnership
November 22, 2016
Topcon Agriculture and SDF plan to enter into a non-exclusive long-term partnership agreement. This latest arrangement of Topcon with a Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secr…
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Succe…
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Far…
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
THRIVE
BusinessCall For Ag Tech Startups: Apply To THRIVE’s Open…
November 10, 2016
THRIVE is looking for high growth ag tech companies with an in-market solution that are positioned to scale. The top 50 Read More