Leading By Example

Much is written about the contributions of large organizations in driving advancements in agriculture. But the industry also has benefited tremendously from the entrepreneurial spirit and drive of many individuals, working on their own or with small groups, providing focus and vision to ag’s biggest challenges. This year’s PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence honored three such individuals who followed their own visions, built successful businesses, and advanced the state of ag technology.

Allen Myers, president, Ag Leader Technology

Myers’ efforts in the 1980s led to the development of the first commercially viable yield monitor, a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself. But today, Myers is most pleased that his initial ideas have spawned an organization beyond his own visions.

“What I’m most proud of at this point is that I’ve given a lot of opportunities to smart, young, aggressive people that have taken the technology far beyond what I could have done alone,” says Myers. Even for the people who came to Ag Leader and then decided to leave, Myers recognizes that the training and experience afforded them enhanced the state of precision agriculture wherever they ended up.

“We brought a lot of people up to speed, and that’s played a part in fostering the growth of precision agriculture and helped push it along,” says Myers.

Today, precision is undergoing a “very rapid rate of adoption,” notes Myers, because of the accuracy available in GPS technology. “It’s enabling the auto swath control on sprayers and (planter control on) planters,” he says. “That will continue to get more sophisticated all the time because of the ability to be accurate and control things very precisely.”

Also driving adoption is the fact that more growers are getting comfortable with technology. “They realize that if they are going to make a full-time business from farming that they need to get into precision,” says Myers. “They are very concerned about the rising cost of inputs, and technology can help them save a lot of dollars and keep more of the income coming in from higher crop prices.”

Joe Russo, ZedX, Inc.

ZedX Inc. is probably best known for the development of AgFleet software for data collection and management, but the company has been building a wide range of electronic tools that help collect, manage, and interpret data for many years. Some of these tools, which include modeling programs for weather and pest infestations, were ahead of their time in terms of wider adoption by agriculture. But Russo is hopeful that technology advancement is going to make the tools more accessible, and work more seamlessly, in the near future.

“What’s happened is that the communication infrastructure is starting to get there,” says Russo. “That is what’s really been keeping some of these tools from being accessible. But we’re seeing wide area networks coming on line, and cellular technology, and we can piggyback and use these ‘roads’ to get to the grower.”

Maturing sensor technology is also an opportunity for advancement. “This area is really advancing — we have been waiting for technology that would allow the integration of real time monitors tied into advances in modeling. I think that communication, coupled with the ability to collect real time data in the field to tie into a network and add modeling, can create management products today that we could not do just a little while ago,” he says.

Russo says demand for tools has increased in recent years. “One of the surprising developments is that growers are asking us directly to provide help with issues they face, such as food safety and labor. There are real issues that translate into real dollar losses if they are not dealt with.”

Ted Macy, MapShots

Macy has toiled for many years trying to help growers collect data and understand what it means. The high cost, high reward world of agriculture today has made the conversations with growers a bit easier.

“There is definitely an increase in grower interest about getting better, more complete data,” says Macy. He also recognizes that those who come to him today are not the eager early adopters of the past. “The people originally involved with precision agriculture would jump through hoops to get reports of how many bags of seed were used and how many gallons of glyphosate were applied,” says Macy. “The next round of adopters are not as willing to jump those hoops.”

What’s making things easier are new, more powerful field devices that come very close to letting a grower do complete recordkeeping from the cab of the tractor, explains Macy. “As soon as we get to the point where we know what product got put into the machine without the operator having to make a selection, then we will have it.”

In recent years, the proliferation of guidance has had a tremendous impact on adoption overall. “I’m not sure that guidance alone fits the ‘right product, right place, right time’ definition of precision, but it has really brought the technology into the machine. Growers that have it in a piece of equipment are looking at other ways to use it, such as variable-rate seed and fertilizer. In the past they might have had trouble pushing a pencil on something like that,” says Macy.

On the whole, Macy says that the most satisfying part of his job is working with top growers and helping them succeed. “The guys in our organization are from a farming background and are very passionate about it,” says Macy. “We live vicariously through these growers, who are really top managers. To be able to sit with them and discover that decisions were because of what we learned from data we helped capture is gratifying.”

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