High Tech Farming

By Charlyn Fargo

Tractors can already steer down a row without help. Now, the digital age of farming has made another leap.

A merger of high-tech Silicon Valley and mainstream agriculture has farmers integrating field and cropping data with real-time weather information and agronomic computer models to gain field-specific management recommendations.

After trial tests last year, the Climate Corp., a Monsanto subsidiary, began offering Illinois farmers digital agriculture services through local ag supply companies this year. Prairieland FS Inc., based in Jacksonville, offers its farmer customers a couple of Climate Corp. products that help with nitrogen decisions and choices for scouting and management.

We believe we are just scratching the surface of what we can learn,” said Rick Myroup, Climate Corp.’s Illinois regional services manager.

Last year, some of Prairieland’s customers tried a Climate Corp. basic program, mainly to measure rainfall, according to Mandy Bachman, Prairieland’s precision ag coordinator. This year, several farmer customers are using Climate Corp.’s nitrogen adviser and field health adviser programs..

Myroup noted the immediacy of information put into farmers’ hands –- and even their smartphones.

In central and south-central Illinois, they have had rain dumped on them … We take real-time weather information and apply it to their (computer) models,” he explained. In turn, farmers use that information to determine whether they need a side-dress application or to even consider a late-season application, he said.

Especially this year – when the rains seem to be so abundant — farmers like getting notifications of rainfall and having quick access to know how much rain their fields have gotten, especially those who have fields spread out across a large geographic area. In addition, farmers can use images from a field health program to help identify problem areas for scouting.

Satellites are used to get data into farmer’s smart phones and computers. Every hour, The Climate Corporation uses radar, satellites and more than 10,000 automated weather stations to calculate the average rainfall on grids that are matched to a farmer’s fields. Rainfall totals are estimated across the entire field. Over the next three days, these rainfall estimates are further refined using data from roughly 20,000 additional weather stations and our advanced analytics, so that we may provide farmers with the most comprehensive information possible.

The company uses a multi-sensor approach that offers the advantage of widespread radar coverage, plus the pinpoint accuracy of weather stations to feed weather models. Both sources of data are used together as a unique way to reduce inaccuracies caused by a variety of environmental factors. Bird activity, wind and debris can all affect the accuracy of the data reported by radar and rain gauges, the company said. Ultimately, a field may use 800 million data points to create rainfall estimates.

A farmer can receive hourly precipitation estimates to make daily management decisions. As data collection continues, farmers can make longer term planning decisions by knowing the amount of precipitation within a particular field.

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About the author

Charlyn Fargo spent 27 years at the State Journal-Register covering agriculture, business and food. She currently is the Bureau Chief of County Fairs & Horse Racing with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. She is also a Registered Dietitian and writes a weekly syndicated nutrition column for Creator’s News Service (www.creators.com) and is co-owner of Simply Fair, a fair trade boutique at 2357 W. Monroe in Springfield. She has bachelor’s degrees in agricultural communications and food from the University of Illinois, Champaign and a master’s degree in nutrition from Eastern Illinois University. She and her husband, Brad Ware, have a daughter, Kate, and son, Jayden. When she’s not working or writing, she enjoys baking cookies for Simply From Scratch, a company she formed to support faith-based ministries.

View all articles by Charlyn Fargo

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