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Data transfer needs to be automatic and simple

By Doug Rich

Data solutions could be as important to meeting the global demand for food by the year 2050 as irrigation.

“To be sustainable from a yield perspective irrigation is important, but technology will be the driver for production growth,” said John Fulton, associate professor and Extension specialist biosystems engineering department at Auburn University.

Speaking to ag journalists covering the John Deere product introduction in August at Columbus, Ohio, Fulton said people who are going to be successful in agriculture in the future are going to be using integrated data solutions. If predictions are correct, global agriculture will need to double its production by the year 2050. Fulton said he is convinced that precision agricultural technology will contribute at least 30 percent of that production growth.

“I understand the genetic side will have a significant role to play in growing yields but that is only a finite jump,” Fulton said. “In a lot of cases it will be the improvement in farming practices that makes a difference. It will be how we utilize the data and what we can do with that data.”

Precision farming practices will help farmers use new machinery more efficiently, help farmers with input stewardship by placing nutrients accurately, and help them with the paradigm shift in data management.

Precision agriculture has been around for 20 years. Fulton said researchers spent that 20 years getting the technology into farmers hands and now experts are trying to better analyze the data that was collected. Precision agriculture began with farming by the foot, and then farming by the inch, and now it is making the jump to farming by the plant.

“From a research side we are beginning to talk about individual plants,” Fulton said. “On the engineering side and the agronomic side we are looking at each individual seed, how that seed is oriented when it is placed in the ground, how accurately we can control planting depth of that seed, how accurately we can control each individual row unit that might impact that seed, and how can we mark that seed when it is planted so we can follow it through the entire process.

“We are not to this point yet but that is how we are thinking,” Fulton said.

Each individual corn plant can generate a tremendous amount of data. Using the equipment available today a progressive farmer can produce about 0.5 kilobytes of information per corn plant. At that rate 2,300 acres of corn planted at the rate of 30,000 plants per acre could fill a two-gigabyte thumb drive with information on each plant.

Fulton said they not only want information on the plant itself but on each part of that plant so they can understand what makes the most productive plant out there. Fulton said they want to know about soil conditions during the growing season, what the weather was like, and how much water was available to the plant. When all of that data is added to the total a farmer could collect 8.5 kilobytes of data per plant per year.

“That is a stretch today but I think we are heading that way and we are starting to see pieces of the puzzle put together to make that a reality sometime in the next five to 10 years,” Fulton said. “We are talking big data when we multiply that out to the number of acres of corn produced in this country.”

Last year Fulton did a survey of agricultural professionals across the Midwest asking them what were the top hurdles in data management at the farm level. The top answer was automatic data transfer. Many times collected data is still on the machine and has never been downloaded. Fulton said if it has not been downloaded or transferred it couldn’t be used or analyzed.

In response to this survey no one said anything about privacy concerns or about who owns the data. Fulton said when he talks in person to these groups that is generally the first question they ask.

In order to get past this hurdle, Fulton said wireless data transfer needs to be automatic, it needs to be simple, and there has to be a service component.

When farmers ask Fulton how they can change their farm, change their farm management, and change their farm practices to maximize profits he tells them it is all about data. Farmers will have to be engaged with big data and big data transfer if they are going to be profitable and if they are going to meet the demand for food in 2050.

Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-349-5304 or by email at

Date: 9/23/2013


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