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
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
Trending Articles
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower-Retailer
Imagery/SensingAgtech: 10 Things I Hate About You!
September 4, 2018
Before you get bent out of shape from the title, remember if you’ve read my articles before you know I Read More
Kansas State University
Industry NewsKansas State University, Topcon Form Precision Ag Research Partnership
August 30, 2018
Kansas State University and Topcon Agriculture are collaborating to develop tools and systems to advance precision agriculture and support farmers. Read More
Blockchain building block graphic
Specialty CropsIs Blockchain the Future of Food Safety?
August 24, 2018
When the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized in 1982, permitting the worldwide proliferation of interconnected networks and eventually the Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Latest News
Business ManagementIvy Tech, Farmers Partner to Help Precision Ag Educatio…
September 20, 2018
Harvest time has taken on a new meaning for some Wabash Valley farmers, and Bobbi Hunt-Kincaid hopes her family’s first Read More
Sensors
Sensors/IoTThe Answer to Agriculture’s Daunting Challenges – Soil …
September 20, 2018
According to the United Nations, 9.6 billion people will live on planet Earth by 2050. Feeding these mouths will require Read More
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
PenelopeNagel
Business ManagementWhy Is Funding a Challenge for Women-Led Agtech Compani…
September 17, 2018
When it comes to women-led agtech companies the funding discussion never seems to cease. In June after the The New Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Decision Support SoftwareWhy Are 570 Million Farmers Not Yet Using Agricultural …
September 17, 2018
Until recently, using agricultural apps and software was a rare practice among growers. This is now changing. The mass adoption Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsDeere-Granular Collaboration Produces New Profit Maps T…
September 14, 2018
The newest development from the ongoing John Deere-Granular product development and marketing collaboration is Profit Maps, now available to farmers Read More
Wingtra
DronesOpinion: Combining Two Pluses with the WingtraOne UAV
September 13, 2018
For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the Read More
Farmer-tablet
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to…
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for PrecisionAg.com’s sister site, AgriBusinessGlobal.com. This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
ICON-Link-Licensing_featured-image
Industry NewsValley Irrigation Adds Remote Irrigation Management Opt…
September 11, 2018
Valley Irrigation, an industry leader in smart irrigation solutions, has announced enhancements to its remote management technologies. Multi-Year Licensing In Read More
Reflex-Connect-Agri-Inject-featured-image
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable Rate Fertigation System Expands with Mobile Co…
September 10, 2018
Building on the success of its Reflex Variable Rate Fertigation system, Agri-Inject has taken fluid injection to the next level Read More
Industry NewsTeralytic Earns Ag Data Transparent Certification
September 10, 2018
Soil analytics company Teralytic has completed the Ag Data Transparent certification, affirming that their data use is private, secure, and Read More
Business ManagementTop 20 Two-Year Colleges for Precision Agriculture
September 10, 2018
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. Read More
Industry NewsRaven, Topcon Announce Slingshot API Agreement
September 6, 2018
Raven Industries and Topcon Agriculture announced today a licensing agreement for Topcon Agriculture’s use of the Slingshot Application Programming Interface Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
DronessenseFly Launches eBee X Drone, Breaks Through 1,000 ac…
September 5, 2018
senseFly today reportedly sets a new standard in mapping tools with the launch of the eBee X. Launched with the Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
EventsAg Experts Discuss Big Data Challenges in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Agricultural experts at a Houston conference praised the advancements in unmanned aerial vehicles, sensors, and data-collecting technology used in precision Read More