Precision Ag Advancements

Drew Underdahl, Precision Ag Specialist (507) 696-4693

In 2014, located in the Salinas Valley, CA a robot named Potato, created by Jorge Heraud, was tested on its ability to thin baby lettuce plants so the hardiest ones had space to grow. Potato looks like a large Metal Pez dispenser laid sideways, attached to the back of a tractor. The idea for Potato was too ”see” seedlings via the cameras mounted on the rack and zap the weak lettuce with toxic rate of fertilizer to eliminate them. As with most prototypes, there were issues and the test did not go well with the robot killing healthy plants and malfunctioning due to the surrounding field elements. By late 2015, with the help of investors who did not give up on the idea, LettuceBot, formerly Potato, was fully functional and by 2017, a fifth of all lettuce grown in the U.S has been thinned by a LettuceBot. Heraud didn’t stop with the LettuceBot though, with what he learned designing the LettuceBot he has now created the See & Spray. This new prototype is currently used in cotton and has 128 nozzles across 8 rows. The machine detects single weeds and directly sprays them. The technology is set to release in the U.S in 2020 and could save farmers thousands a year on chemical costs along with better weed management. Precision Ag is pretty exciting!

Precision Ag Technology is always advancing, at what seems like a pretty fast pace. With this technology growing so fast it could be easy to get ahead of ourselves and invest in technology we may not be prepared to fully utilize before we have invested in some of the fundamental Precision Ag tools available to us already. Some of the Basic Precision Ag tools that come to mind include Grid Sampling and VRT Applications, GPS and Yield Monitoring.

The foundation of most Precision Ag platforms is grid soil sampling. I know we write about grid sampling a lot in our articles but this is the first step to learning what type of variability lies within our fields. So many Precision Ag products and technology are about helping manage that variability. I’m not sure how that can be accomplished if we don’t know where that variability lies. Grid Sampling is a sound foundation to several other Precision Ag Technologies. The initial and obvious management tool where immediate decisions are made based on these grid sampling results would be Variable Rate (VRT) applications of Fertilizer and Lime.

The second fundamental Precision Ag tool is GPS and Yield Monitoring. I can’t stress enough how much we can learn from properly analyzing our yield data. There are companies pouring millions of dollars into research and development related to data analytics because they know how valuable the information we derive from a yield monitor is. Remember though, quality yield data is key. Your yield data is only as good as the time you put into recording it correctly. This means naming your hybrids correctly in every field when planting; calibrating your yield monitor in every field, not just once at the beginning of harvest. And harvesting this data in a consistent and uniform manner.

Once we have invested in these key Precision Ag tools, it’s the time to discuss the idea of investing more into more advanced tools such as VRT planting, drone technology, and even tools like Climate that provide a platform to evaluate your yield data in depth to make sure you are planting hybrids in the right soils, applying nitrogen at the optimum time, along with many other items you wish to evaluate within your operation.

There is so much potential for what Precision Ag Technologies can bring to the table, especially at a time when we are counting every dollar. Precision Ag tools like Climate bring some much added value because you can quantify the decisions you’re making on your farm by comparing data to fine tune the decision making process for your acres. If you’re interested in learning about any of the Precision Ag tools our co-op has to offer within our GrowMor program, or if you are looking for your next step with Precision Ag Technologies, please feel free to contact Gary Suess or myself. Thank you for your business!

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