The key to unlocking farm management data is finally in the hands of growers, in the form of web-based whole farm solution systems. Here’s a look at cutting edge software platforms from Trimble and BASF.
The ag industry has been talking about it for quite some time: simple, intuitive farm data collection and management that provides valuable information to growers, which ultimately leads to increased yields and profits.
Until now, farmers have been piecing data management systems together, gleaning information and efficiencies where possible. Meanwhile, many collection and organization processes remain cumbersome and inefficient, and the data’s full potential unrealized.
However, with the recent launch of some cutting edge web-based, whole farm software platforms, all farm management data housed in one system is no longer a concept, but reality.
Today, intuitive, whole farm software platforms integrate all farm management data, such as accounting, field cropping, operational functions, mapping, precision agriculture and grain inventory, with user-friendly, convenient and accessible interfaces. With these tools, growers can harness the information generated by their data for more informed decision-making, ultimately affecting yields and profits.
Compass Grower Advanced
Last November, BASF launched Compass Grower Advanced, a mobile, all-in-one, web-based farm management solution, with fully integrated accounting, field crop management, mapping and grain inventory management functions.
“It’s a tool that delivers crop, financial and grain marketing management data on one central solution for more informed decision-making,” says Andrew Elgersma, BASF’s Grower Solutions manager.
“In the past, what you’d see is a package focused on farm finances or a solution focused on crop management. Typically, an accounting platform is not attached, and that’s what makes this one unique: all records are stored onto one platform. We also wanted growers to be able to plan and track their existing grain inventories and contracts,” he says.
The combined data provides a powerful decision-making tool through automatic, easy-to-run report generation and analysis.
Growers optimize yields — and profits — largely by running various scenarios as they review cropping plans, says Elgersma. Reports can be generated by field, crop, total farm crop yields, input costs or financial data. A financial overview for crop budgeting is generated by crop or field, including break-even and return on investment analysis.
“Data shows trends over time — it shows insights. You can run various reports and profitability scenarios. When all of that data is tracked, the opportunities are nearly limitless because you can look at what you’ve done in the past and learn from that…. As we go forward, there’s benchmarking opportunities from which to study past trends,” says Elgersma.
Developed by Affinity Management, growers can access this Microsoft-based platform in real time from any mobile device or computer. Information is secure on a cloud-based Microsoft system, and user education, system set-up and full-time one-on-one software support is provided by the Affinity Management team.
There’s many different technologies out there, and it’s always evolving, but I’m starting to see the industry on a more dedicated path from which to begin operating with data.
– Andrew Elgersma
“We’ve had growers say it’s not worth anything unless I can get the support I need. It’s part of the package — we’ve included dedicated support staff, and they work according to the grower’s schedule,” says Elgersma.
Equipment data integration is an important component of the platform, allowing farmers to import data from John Deere and Case IH equipment. Portable storage devices move data from the cab to the office, and there’s fewer keystrokes involved with data input, increasing ease of use and efficiency, notes Elgersma.
“Today a lot of farmers are using that data when they’re in the cab, but after that, it’s largely left in the cab, and we’re not getting a lot of value out of that data. By reducing keystrokes, and taking that information from the tractor or combine cabs and uploading it into the system, we’ll get a lot more use out of that data,” says Elgersma.
Efficiencies are also created in the areas of scouting and soil sampling. For example, when field scouting, problem areas, disease, or weeds, etc., can be geotagged in real time from mobile devices, and soil sample results can be integrated automatically. Time and effort is also saved by financial, traceability and sustainability records generated by the software.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction, especially as we see a lot more consumer demand for sustainability and verification of records from food buyers…. The other opportunity is when a financial institution is looking for past records, or current records, on farm finances — the [system] does have reports that satisfy those financial institution requirements,” says Elgersma.
Growers can also track crop inputs, production costs, crop pricing and yield targets. In addition, the tool allows for GIS/GPS field mapping and the import of existing GIS records.
“It manages crop applications in a very clean and well-organized manner,” notes Elgersma. “Knowing that potato producers are often doing many crop protection applications in a season — it can support them well through that, as well as on the contracts end.”
Growers own their own data, and may export or enable other users, such as agronomists, business partners, or farm managers, to access information and data on the system.
Producers want to start managing their data, says Elgersma, but taking those first steps toward data collection and management can feel overwhelming. He recommends focusing on the crop plan as a place to begin.
“What is your plan for that year? What are you putting on that crop? Then you can talk about some of the other things. That’s really the heart of the start of farm data management as we go forward,” says Elgersma.
The industry is paying close attention to data management developments, he adds. “There’s many different technologies out there, and it’s always evolving, but I’m starting to see the industry on a more dedicated path from which to begin operating with data.”
Trimble’s web-based software solution Connected Farm simplifies data management, and real-time access from computers, tablets, smartphones or Trimble’s TMX-2050 display to help growers generate timely, informed decisions. The efficiencies and increased productivity created by the platform mean greater yields and profits, says Mike Martinez, Trimble’s Connected Farm director.
“With these types of platforms, why and how they’re making farmers more efficient and better decision makers, and, ultimately, affecting yield, is really the power of the data,” he says.
“Connected Farm has enough intelligence to know when data is flowing from a farmer’s potato planter that it’s a planting operation. It knows what to do with it, where to store it, how to store it, and where it’s easily accessible to the farmer. The same goes for harvesting, nutrient management and for the different processes the potato farmer does on the operation.”
Trimble overcame the hurdle of getting data from the cab to the office with wireless data transfer. “Prior to systems like this, the majority of farmers’ data sits in their machines forever until the machines get too full and they end up deleting it,” says Martinez.
“Connected Farm offers a complete wireless data transfer. Basically, operators in the field doing their work don’t have to worry about it — as soon as that job is done, it appears in the farmer’s Connected Farm account. That really reduces a lot of worry and work.”
Trimble is brand-agnostic, so data flows from machinery of all brands. “Whether it’s tractors, harvesters or sprayers, that data has a place to go. You don’t have to worry about piecing together other systems or trying to figure out how to get data from one place to another,” says Martinez.
The system automatically organizes incoming data for the grower. It is able to detect data type and to label, organize and generate user-friendly maps and information. Connected Farm also analyzes precision farming maps as tasks are completed in the field.
“Where it was taking several hours of phone calls and physical checks in the field, growers can get a picture of how their operation is doing in a minute. Then they can immediately turn that into actions for their staff,” he says.
Also improving production and yield is Trimble’s PurePixel solution, available through Connected Farm. PurePixel maps provide farmers and their advisors with an assessment of a field’s crop health or maturity level. The chlorophyll index map, for example, gives users the ability to assess crop variability and differences in maturity within and between fields, leading to better harvest decisions and increased profits.
“It’s an early identification system for any types of growth problems. That’s what some farmers are using that satellite tool for today — getting a quick view of what’s going on. If you’ve marked three areas you need to look at, you can check them out instead of hoping your crop scout finds them.”
Connected Farm also manages operational functions, such as fleet management. The software tracks machinery and fuel usage, and can combine in-field activity and machinery usage to provide farmers with machine and operator utilization performance metrics.
With these types of platforms, why and how they’re making farmers more efficient and better decision makers, and, ultimately, affecting yield, is really the power of the data.
– Mike Martinez
“Often our customers find that a machine is having engine performance issues, or they need to do more operator training. We’ve had our customers tell us without a system like this, they never would have known they had an issue, or that a percentage of the fleet was running suboptimally. There’s quite a bit of efficiency, time and money gained when you start looking at machine and operator usage,” says Martinez.
Blended into the data management platform is an irrigation management control product called Irrigate-IQ. Hardware and software work together to control the disbursement of water and nutrient through the irrigation pivot at every nozzle.
“What that means is the farmer, with his advisor, can create a high resolution water-needs map and prescription map for water for his field,” says Martinez. “Electronically tying all those things together and having it presented in one user screen is an immense benefit in time savings for these growers.”
Trimble’s guidance and steering systems combined with the Connected Farm solution provides specific applications for potato growers.
“We have a specific set of functionalities that gives potato planters and harvesters very accurate positioning in the field. In a sense, the potato is a subsurface crop, and there’s a lot of damage that can happen if you don’t have a high level of accuracy. That, combined with our Connected Farm solution, which allows farmers to see data coming through — and they can ensure their operators are not damaging the crop — has been the most powerful tool in the potato market for us,” says Martinez.
The Connected Farm financial analysis tool, called field analytics, is a graphic representation of how each field is doing on a farm. The system automatically extracts information from the files, such as type of operation, time to complete operation, resources used and operator time.
As tasks are being performed, data, such as seed cost, crop input costs and quantity, application location, etc., feed the financial summary page, providing the grower with a field-by-field graphic representation of the financial analysis or summation of the entire farm. “That’s been one of the biggest eye openers for farmers,” says Martinez.
Several seasons of planting maps, yield maps, rainfall information and crop health imagery provide excellent information for agronomic advisors to make recommendations on nutrient requirements, soil amendments, variety choice or crop choice, says Martinez.
Data is secure and is housed in cloud storage. Data belongs to growers and can be exported to advisors of their choice. As part of the Trimble family, Agri-Trend’s network of agricultural advisors is also available to Connected Farm users.
“We’ve tried to make the system as universal as possible, so growers have a choice to use whoever they want on the advisory side,” says Martinez.
For 2016, Trimble has been focusing on user interface, making it as intuitive and easy to use as possible. Martinez says according to customers and the industry, “it can’t be easy enough.” He says Trimble has also bundled popular Connected Farm packages and popular features, making the platform simpler and more cost effective for farmers when evaluating the solutions best suited to their farms.
For growers on the fence when it comes to signing on, one bundle is free, so farmers can become acquainted with using a whole farm management tool.
“It’s a big decision for a farmer to implement something new in their operation. They’re already short on time and tight on resources, and nobody wants to get it wrong,” says Martinez.
“Using technologies like this, which give you accurate weather and rainfall information, and using satellite imagery, can help determine when to harvest the crop. These are all just tools to help the farmer,” says Martinez. “I grew up farming, and I know if our farm had a tool like that it would absolutely change what you’re doing, if it’s detecting a field that is costing you money to farm.”