Precision Point Blog

Ag Leader

Apr, 30 2010 - by Corey Weddle

SMS Basic/Advanced V10.0, SMS Mobile 4.0 Released!

Today, we officially released Version 10.0 of SMS Basic and SMS Advanced software and Version 4.0 of SMS Mobile.  Here are a couple sources for complete details of this release.

Blog Post - provides an overview of what's new, includes a couple of screenshots.

Release Notes - detailed information of items included in the release.

Video - offers a visual tour through the software update.

For those of you in the SMS Maintenance Program you will be getting a CD in the mail soon.  If you would like to download the software, visit our website.

 

Ag Leader

Apr, 30 2010 - by Roger Zielke

Side-dressing nitrogen application window

Corn at V5 growth stage.

"What is the application window for side-dressing nitrogen (N)?" I hear this question a lot from corn growers thinking about using crop sensors for variable rate N application.  Imagine how much better we could answer that question if we knew the weather! Unfortunately we don't have that luxury.

For those who may not be familiar, the application window for corn is quite simply growth stage V5-V12.  V5 growth stage is close to filling a 30" row or about 1.5-2.0' tall.  V12 is approximately 5.5-6.0' tall.

Since I first started working with crop sensors in 2007, I've had many conversations with growers about the application window. When the grower says, "I can't get over all my acres in that time frame", that's a clue to me their applicator is a tractor pulling a N toolbar.  My response is that toolbars typically can get through corn taller than V5, but some are still concerned about covering their acres before the corn gets too tall.

 

Applicator with high clearance toolbar.

So how can the application window be extended?  Answer:  High clearance applicator. That's not to say there isn't more than one way to skin a cat, but turning a high clearance sprayer into a N side-dress machine is an option, a very good option in fact. Installing drop hoses on the boom between each corn row turns a sprayer into a N side-dress machine.  Another option is high clearance sprayers made to accept a high clearance toolbar with arms that go between the rows to inject liquid N into the soil.

But what if you don't have your own high clearance applicator? Your local custom applicator probably has a machine that will do the job.  In fact crop sensors (Ag Leader's is called OptRx) are a good way for a custom applicator to set themselves apart from their competitors.  I can't speak for other products, but field testing results showed OptRx routinely outdoes growers' flat N rate by $15-30/acre. That's a pretty nice new service for a custom applicator.

In conclusion, crop sensors have many applicator options; some have longer application windows than others.   Always consider the goal at hand - how can you get the most return on your investment?

Ag Leader

Apr, 28 2010 - by Ag Leader

Ag Leader Adds Dual Product Application Control to EDGE™ Display

AMES, IOWA, April 28, 2010 – Today, Ag Leader Technology, Inc., a leader in the development of precision farming solutions, added dual product control for application operations to the popular EDGE display. Dual product control is the latest piece of functionality added to an already feature-packed, year-round precision farming display. Chemical Injection Dual product control in the EDGE display will support sprayer control of a liquid carrier and a single injection pump. Like other Ag Leader products, the EDGE display’s DirectCommand system now interfaces to the Raven Sidekick chemical injection pump for complete control over chemical injection applications. The EDGE display and CAN module will replace the Sidekick Console, directly connecting to the injection pump. Automated prime and calibration routines as well as advanced sensor diagnostics are part of the new functionality. This addition can be used for herbicide, fungicide, and insecticide as well as nitrogen stabilizer injection application. Granular Fertilizer Application Dual product control also means two channels of granular product control in the EDGE display. Operators have the ability to apply two products simultaneously at varying rates, either manually or using a prescription. “We continually strive to provide practical solutions to enhance user-experience and productivity,” says John Howard, Product Manager. “The addition of dual product application control combined with existing EDGE display functionality provides an economical solution with the tools to achieve this.” Additional functionality of the EDGE display includes SeedCommand, DirectCommand, yield monitoring, guidance and steering capabilities. In addition, the EDGE display is plug compatible with Ag Leader’s Integra and InSight displays; this gives users who wish to upgrade in the future a seamless transition. About Ag Leader Ag Leader Technology, Inc. is a pioneer and recognized technology innovator of precision agriculture hardware and software. Located in Ames, Iowa the company manufactures and markets industry leading precision farming technology designed to help growers make smart, profitable business decisions. Founded in 1992 the company has achieved consistent growth and expansion by providing value-based products that help growers and ag professionals achieve and maintain a successful operation. For more information visit: http://www.agleader.com

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Ag Leader

Apr, 28 2010 - by Dave King

Volcanic eruption strands me in Europe…

Horse-drawn combine

I came across the combine on the right (sorry the picture isn't better, it was taken with a phone) while traveling in Europe this month.  This horse-drawn combine is from the early 1900's and is made mostly of wood with some tins use on parts of the elevator.  Seeing this combine made me stop and think about how far agriculture has come, and I have had a lot of time to think about it as I've been trapped in Europe due to the ash cloud from the volcanic eruption in Iceland. From this wooden combine 100 years ago to today's class VIII combines with yield monitors and auto-steer systems, we have come a long way.  However, if we look close at this old combine there are some core components that are still in use today, although in slightly altered forms.  For example, grain tanks and elevators are core components of today's combines, just like this wooden one - proving good ideas stand the test of time. This is true for precision ag products as well.  While the yield monitor has been around for sixteen years now, it is still a core component of any precision farming operation. The yield monitor provides information not only for a starting point, but also provides information to prove what precision farming practices have been successful in an operation.  While we are all excited about the new precision farming technologies that come to market, let's not forget about that core component, the yield monitor.  Make sure that a yield monitor is part of your operation - it is just as important to precision farming as a grain tank or an elevator is to a combine.  Good ideas and good products do stand the test of time. In closing, sorry for the short post, but I need to get back to trying to figure out how to make it back to the US.  Airlines are chaos and a cargo ship is starting to sound like a good option! Author's Note:  This post was written on April 18, 2010. I made it back to the US in one piece, fives days later than planned, but safe nonetheless.  International travel is always an adventure.

Ag Leader

Apr, 26 2010 - by Corey Weddle

SMS Basic/Advanced v10.0 and SMS Mobile v4.0 – What’s in it for me?

Coming soon, Ag Leader will release of our latest versions of desktop and mobile software:  SMS™ Basic and SMS™ Advanced Version 10.0 (v10.0) and SMS™ Mobile Version 4.0 (v4.0).  I’m sure you are asking yourself, what’s in it for me?  Why should I upgrade from the version I’m running?  Well, I’m confident there are a number of reasons for you to give the new release a try.  I’ll touch on a few of them below. To give you some insight, when planning a new version of the software we listen very closely to new features, changes or improvements you ask for.  We also watch what is going on in the ag marketplace and try to predict what might be needed next in your operation or what hot new system we need to be supporting.  I’m happy to say, v10.0 and v4.0 address all of these items in one way or another. Ease of use is always one of the main areas we try to touch on in each major release.  Everyone always asks for simpler ways to do things and v10.0 is no exception.  One common question we hear is “how do I find information in SMS that I’m looking for when there are just so many items available to select?” A solution we have implemented is actually a very simple one.  It’s common in most web browsers or newer applications you have on your computer – a search box.  Whether you are trying to filter down data to show in your management tree or find that chemical name that you think you spelled wrong when you logged data in the field, now all you have to do is type in part or all of the word(s) – or even a combination of words.  SMS will filter your available items down to the ones that match what you typed in.  It’s that easy…

search_products2

We also tried to show some love to all you Advanced users with a major rework to the Analysis Wizard and Equation Based Analysis.  Our goal was to make managing, reviewing, editing and running analysis functions as easy as possible.  Don’t worry, all the work you have already done in analysis will transfer over, just with a different look and feel.  Equation writing is now even easier and more visual.  We have added some really powerful tools to help you build more complex equations, multiple product outputs and we even improved the speed of processing equations – up to 50 times faster in some cases.

Equation Writer in SMS Advanced v10.0

For SMS Mobile v4.0 we have added some new sensors that you can log data from in real-time.  There is an increasing interest in the ag market for crop sensors and now we can support data logging from the Greenseeker and Crop Circle sensors. I was only able to touch on a few specific areas in this post but there is much, much more that has been added or changed.  As usual, those in our Maintenance Program will receive a CD in the mail, or you will be able to download the software update here.

Ag Leader

Apr, 23 2010 - by Nick Ohrtman

Troubleshooting Tips

If you have an issue while in the field, knowing the state of the following items can help significantly with troubleshooting.  To expedite the diagnosis process, be sure to be familiar with these items so when the Tech Support Specialist asks, you know what they are asking about.

Firmware - Nearly every support call - either to your dealer or Ag Leader - will require checking the firmware version on your display, connected modules and GPS unit.  Verifying that all of these components have the latest firmware helps the technician understand the operation of the system.  Firmware versions can operate differently and contain unique features so always make sure the firmware on your precision ag equipment is the most recent.

Module LEDs - On CAN modules you will find an LED light that will tell you the current status of the module.  If the light is green the module is powered on and will be communicating with the display and other modules on the CAN bus.  If the light is amber the module is powered up, but is not communicating with other devices on the CAN bus.  If the light is red the module is in program mode. Taking note of the module LED color will give the technician further information to help with any issues you may experience.

gps1500

GPS Unit LEDs - Many Ag Leader GPS units have LED lights on them used to troubleshoot GPS signal.  These lights will tell you the status of the receiver and the signal it is receiving.  For example, on the GPS 1500, the light will either be green, amber or red.  A flashing green light tells you that DGPS is being acquired. A solid green light indicates the receiver has acquired DGPS, while an amber light tells you the receiver has GPS satellites, but no differential signal.   Lastly, a red light means the GPS unit is currently powered on, however it is not seeing GPS satellites or differential signal.  Again, these are things to take note of to help your technician diagnose any problems.  For information about other GPS receivers and the meanings of their LED lights, consult the operator's manual for the GPS unit. Just a few things to pay attention to while you are in the field - if you do have to call Tech Support, knowing the state of the items above will expedite the diagnosis process.  Good luck as spring field work continues!

Ag Leader

Apr, 21 2010 - by Paul Rose

My dream job? A tour around the world of precision ag

Some people would say I have a dream job - traveling a large part of the world and meeting a lot of new people, all at the expense of the company.  And they'd be right!  But of course its not without its challenges, both in terms of logistics whilst traveling and developing products for these markets.  But as Dave King mentioned in his first post, it is these challenges that make it interesting.  Though I might not always agree when stranded at an airport having missed a flight!  I'd like to give you a rough guide through some of the areas I visit as part of my job. One of the most interesting things for me is seeing how different regions of the world adopt new technology to meet their needs.  As you might expect, there are areas of the world that are now only starting to adopt precision technology and other areas that are pushing the boundaries of what can be done. The majority of the Netherlands is covered by RTK due to high land values as well as the intensive nature of crops grown there.  Crops such as vegetables and flowers are planted with great precision and therefore RTK is an absolute must.  Land values are driven by the fact that the Netherlands is densely populated country 400 people per square kilometer (km).  Land is obviously a valuable commodity!  As a comparison, the US has 32 people per square km and the most densely populated area is Macau, China with 18500 people per square km!!! The opposite end of the spectrum in terms of land mass and agriculture would be Russia. Technology is certainly being used here but it is mostly manual guidance and assisted steering systems.  However, the scale of some farming operations is truly mind boggling.  One of the largest farming operations I have come across is a staggering 200,000 Ha (for those of you in the US, 500,000 acres) and from what I am told, it is not the largest. Uptake of new technologies here is still growing but has been slowed in recent times due to the economy.  There are in fact several large farms in some areas of Russia that have actually not put a crop out this year due to grain prices. [caption id="attachment_2183" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Picture shows a Kirovitz tractor pulling an Amazone cultivator. This was part of a demo day put on by Eurotechnika GPS in 2007.

"Picture shows a Kirovitz tractor pulling an Amazone cultivator. This was part of a demo day put on by Eurotechnika GPS in 2007.

Moving back towards the west and south we come across Italy.  Here is the land of history, great food and great wine!  But also here technology is being used in places where perhaps the average person would not realize.  A good example here would be planting olive trees and vineyards.  In this case a map is created and then exported to a display, which is running as part of an RTK system and the planting mechanism is triggered every few meters to plant an olive tree or vine.  The end result is a plantation that is set on a perfect grid, which makes subsequent operations easier and more efficient. Next, we can jump across the Mediterranean and into Spain.  Cropping here is very diverse and ranges from winter cereals to rice and even vegetables such as carrots, lettuce and potatoes.  However, despite some high value crops the market here has always been at the low end with farmers mainly investing in manual guidance systems.  That changed last year when Spain introduced a free RTK correction via mobile phone, similar to CORS networks in the US.  The only cost is a data charge and this is also inexpensive at €10-20/month ($13-25/month) for unlimited data.  This has opened up the market for RTK steering because producers are aware of the advantages RTK systems provide and it has now become affordable. Carlos Escribano, our distributor in Spain installing an OnTrac2 on a Deutz tractor.Carlos Escribano, our distributor in Spain installing an OnTrac2 on a Deutz tractor.

For our final stop on this brief tour, we head into the southern hemisphere to South Africa. This country is probably better known for its wildlife and wine rather than precision agriculture.  But thanks to efforts of our distributor CLM Precision Agriculture over the last four to five years, the uptake of technology has been very good in this area.  Yield mapping was where it started but since then, variable rate fertilizer has also become very popular.  Cropping in the northern areas of South Africa is very reliant on rainfall and there will not be a seed planted until the rains come.  Once it does come though, watch out! Planting in this area is done within two weeks, regardless of the size of the farm.  Harvest on the other hand is a far more laid back afair and carries on for several months.

A deep tillage rig set up for variable rate P & K in South Africa.

And this concludes the tour.  Over the course of the next few months, it is my intention to visit each of our distributors and give you a more in-depth picture of the country, agriculture and some of the ways in which they adopt precision farming.

Ag Leader

Apr, 14 2010 - by Dave King

Farming in Chile - After the Earthquake

Rodrigo Pic 2

On February 27th of this year Chile was struck by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake causing great damage to the country. Rodrigo Ortega Blu from NeoAg, the Ag Leader distributor in Chile, was near the epicenter when the earthquake struck. Thankfully, Rodrigo and the rest of the staff at NeoAg and their families were not hurt during the earthquake. Unfortunately, this is not where the story ends. It's been six weeks since the earthquake.  I recently spoke with Rodrigo when he was back near the epicenter. He states "the biggest problem for the Chilean farmers has been the damage to the infrastructure of the farming community.  Roads and bridges were destroyed making it very difficult to get machinery and supplies where needed." Harvest is coming and many farmers are concerned about getting machinery to their farms to harvest the crops.  There was a lot of damage to irrigation canals and dams causing the loss of crops due to flooding in some areas and lack of water in others.  Additional losses occurred due to grain bins and elevators being destroyed and storage tanks at wineries collapsing spilling all of their contents.  While the grain from the damaged bins and elevators can be recovered at a cost, the wine is a complete loss.

Grain storage facility in Concepción

On top of the damage to the infrastructure, Chilean growers are struggling with trying to operate their farms without a home.  Rodrigo says, "There are a lot of farm families that are living in tents or makeshift shelters because their homes were destroyed by the quake.  Even though their homes are gone the farm work must get done so they can earn their living." Farming without a home?  Quite the testament to the Chilean spirit and perseverance. With all the damage and destruction Chilean farmers do appear to be optimistic.  Commodity prices have come back after falling right after the earthquake.  A new government that is more favorable to the farming community has been elected promising to help rebuild the infrastructure so that the spring planting season can occur, although it will likely be delayed.  Also, the US government extended the period for Chilean imports into the US by two weeks allowing more growers to get their products (mainly fruits and vegetables) exported. We wish Rodrigo and the Chilean farmers the best of luck as they work to recover from the destruction of the earthquake.  Our prayers are with them.

Ag Leader

Apr, 13 2010 - by Isaac Bowers

Are you a "field doctor"?

Planting season has arrived.  Time to implement all the things you learned last year into your operation for the 2010 growing season.

If there is one thing I learned while growing up on a farm, it's that a farmer's job changes every day.  As an owner and/or operator, farmers are tasked with jobs ranging from electrician to mechanic to machinery operator and the list goes on and on; but how many of us would have thought to consider adding "field doctor" to this list?

Just like a doctor prescribes the amount and type of medicine to a patient, you have the ability to prescribe products and rates to the field.  The difference here is that the doctor doesn't have variable rate technology on his side.  Unlike the doctor at the clinic who only gets to choose one dosage to give his patient, you have the ability to choose multiple rates to apply within the same field.  This can be accomplished with any product type: seed, liquid or dry fertilizer, or a chemical.  Precision farming desktop software gives you the ability to reference one or more maps to create variable-rate prescriptions.  Examples of maps that can be referenced are:

  • Yield data (one or more years, or a layer with multiple years averaged together)
  • Soil test results
  • Soil type
  • Hand-drawn management zones
  • Irrigated vs. dryland zones
  • Vegetative index data base on imagery or crop sensors

By creating variable-rate prescriptions and using a display that is capable of controlling the rate of application, you have the ability to apply more inputs in the ares of the field that are going to give you a higher rate of return and less in ares that do not.  Prescriptions can also be used to ensure no product is applied where there may be environmental concerns, such as spraying certain chemicals near a river bank.  If creating prescriptions is a new concept for you, you can also use your software to create check strips in small areas of the field.

Prescription map featuring

After harvest is done, you can then query the information to find out if that is something you want try on a larger scale next year.

Check out the video below to learn how to become a "field doctor" using SMS Software.

 

Ag Leader

Apr, 12 2010 - by Ag Leader

Getting Started: How do I narrow my precision ag choices?

When starting in precision ag, the decisions for what to use on your operation can seem daunting. What features do I need? What is best for my operation? Where will I save the most money? What brands of equipment talk to each other?  There are simple but important steps to take when you are a new user adopting precision technology. Here are some points to consider as you get started narrowing down the precision ag choices.

The information in a notebook.

The first step to getting started is to plan for what you want to accomplish, thinking in terms of both short-term and long-term goals. Make a list – what do you want to accomplish now?  What do you want to accomplish in the future? Next, research which precision ag products are out there to choose from, without getting too distracted with brand names or specific products.  Some good online resources include: PrecisionAg.com,  PrecisionPays.com, Agriculture.com and AgWeb.com, as well as precision equipment manufacturers' websites.  An obvious resource is other farmers who are experienced using precision technologies. Talk to them and see what products they have benefited from; do not focus on brands, but more on what features those growers are using, and how they are impacting their operations. Will those benefits work for your operation? Of course another resource during this process can be a precision farming dealer; we discussed what makes a good dealer here. It is important to find a dealer you can trust and feel comfortable asking tough questions. A dealer should make sure you know all of your options and tailor the technology choices to best suit your needs. Keep in mind different operations call for different precision technologies. For example, a strip-till farmer may find it best to invest in a RTK signal and autosteer system to ensure that seed is put exactly where fertilizer was placed.  An operation with lots of odd shaped fields would benefit from planter section control to save on seed costs in traditionally double-planted areas as well as alleviate yield loss due to overplanting. Taking time to develop a plan and researching a wide range of technologies can help ease the decision-making process when first adapting to precision farming. Talking to others can provide scenarios you may not otherwise considered. But most importantly, remember that the most cost-effective precision technology is one that fits your operation. With that said, stay open to choices that would fit your operation while still having the option to take it to the next level. If you plan to upgrade or add additional features later, make sure your investments are made with that in mind.

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