Jerry Seuntjens has changed the way he views his farm. Rather than seeing 2,100 acres of corn and soybeans, he sees one ongoing, on-farm trial. The Kingsley, Iowa, fourth-generation farmer has been using digital farming tools since 2015, layering in more data each year so he can fill in the blanks to continually tweak operational efficiency and optimize productivity.
"I started with just a yield monitor, but I didn't do anything with the data it generated, so I didn't learn anything," he said. "I have been using the FieldView digital platform the last several years and doing side-by-side trials in my fields to find the best returns on investment. Since I am a one-man show, layering data helps me more quickly and decisively control the variables I can."
Seuntjens is not alone in his quest to collect and analyze layers of data to make better decisions. Data is fueling the next revolution in agriculture, touching the entire food chain from field to table and dictating the equipment, tools and inputs farmers use to grow that food.
The landscape is crowded with companies offering data-driven solutions, platforms and technologies. Crop-input businesses jumped in early to help their customers make smarter agronomic choices, preferably from their respective product portfolios. Since then, they have continued to enhance and expand their data capabilities and services.
DATA DRIVES DECISIONS
For Seuntjens, he uses the results of his in-season comparisons to guide decisions about seed selection, population, fertilizer use, new products and tillage. Using the FieldView platform from The Climate Corp. (owned by Bayer), he can collect data on every trip across every field and for custom work he performs for neighbors. Most recently, he began layering in precipitation data to better understand its impact.
"Rain patterns here have changed the last few years. Tracking moisture with crop performance shows me what varieties and hybrids respond best. It shows me the good and the bad," he said.
Layering data so far indicates seed population has the greatest impact on his final yields. FieldView generates customizable planting scripts by combining his historical yield data with field-testing results from the company so he can choose the right seed for each location. Seuntjens layers in field-health data to create zones and select crop-input rates. FieldView also can be used manually to build zones from satellite images and assign fertility, crop protection and seeding rates.
Since starting with FieldView Seed Scripts, Seuntjens' corn yields have increased 8 to 15 bushels per acre (bpa) and soybean yields have improved up to 3 bpa, depending on the season. He has not seen a difference in total quantity or cost of inputs. Rather, the same amount of total product is applied at variable rates, leading to a productivity boost.
"That is a common theme we hear from farmers. Product use is rearranged, not always reduced," said Matt Lau, global product manager of scripting for The Climate Corp. "Farmers build customized fertility plans with additional map layers for specific nutrients, for example, and then evaluate the impact of those decisions on yield to make adjustments for the following season."
Tom Ryan has seen an increase in yield with a slight reduction in input use by layering data. Ryan, an active partner in his family's 1,200-acre corn and soybean farm near Springfield, Minnesota, is also vice president of business operations and retail alliances for WinField United.
"We began stacking layers of data in 2005 to create management zones for fertility and seeding. When married with product-placement data using WinField United CHT and in-season management of nutrients and fungicide data (WinField United Response-To Scores), we have realized a 20% improvement in actual production history and a 10% reduction in input costs per acre, which has increased our net return on investment," Ryan said.
"We think collecting and layering data helps reduce the complexity of farming by reducing some of the uncertainty and by helping farmers better anticipate changes in their environments," said Jeff Spencer, BASF head of technology and data-digital farming. "This especially becomes true as farm and field data become more frequent and precise. We want farmers to have more confidence in decisions that determine productivity, crop quality and return on investment."
BASF offers data products under its xarvio Digital Farming Solutions platform. The platform includes xarvio Scouting, Field Manager and Healthy Fields.
"The goal is to surround our seed and crop-protection innovations with farm- and field-specific data, weather, soil and other environmental data, and seasonally relevant agronomic insights to increase probability of desired outcomes with BASF products and other products where relevant," he said. "Apply the right product at the right rate for the right place at the right time."
Winfield United is looking at ways to partner with various digital platform manufacturers to connect its products and ultimately serve in more of an industry aggregator role. Their agronomic tool kit includes the Answer Plot program that generates crop-performance data, the R7 Tool's satellite imagery and soil maps and the CHT Tool to manage seed decisions and place and manage nutrients. Partner data added to these tools maximizes value of the technology, although Ryan noted that one challenge continues to be piecemealing data from different sources.
"Most farmers have access to the same stacks of data, so you have to know what to do with them together to make a difference," Ryan said. "That's where WinField United and its Aligned Retail Network are focusing to help farmers unlock full potential and identify unrealized opportunities to maximize return on investment while positioning acres for emerging markets like carbon."
On his own farm, Ryan looks forward to eventually eliminating the need for five monitors in his tractor and help others do the same. "The monitors don't talk to each other. As an industry, we need to bring these digital tools together for simplicity, connectivity and success," he said. "Seamless integration would be the Holy Grail for us to generate and manage quality data stacks."
Corteva's Granular Insights takes a whole-farm approach and allows farmers to upload data from 10-plus manufacturers. Planting and yield data automatically combine with revenue and costs.
"Granular Insights is set up so farmers can use it 'self-serve,' or they can use the tool with their own set of advisers to make decisions," said Casey Onstot, Corteva U.S. digital leader. "All farmers and all fields are different. When you combine our proprietary data with local farmer data, farmers and advisers can see financial and agronomic map layers side by side to see what's working and drive management actions."
Onstot breaks Granular Insights capabilities into seasons: plan, grow and analyze. First, farmers build seeding, crop-protection and fertility plans with yield goals in mind. Seeding scripts are written to maximize dollars spent and crop protection applied field by field. Knowing weather may mean adjustments must be made. The grow portion includes watching the weather, crop maturity and satellite images for directed scouting, in-season nitrogen needs and more. At the end of the season, farmers can analyze the whole farm to make adjustments for the next year.
TURN AGRONOMICS INTO ECONOMICS
Jeremy Goyings has been testing and combining digital technologies since the mid-1990s. A fifth-generation producer, Jeremy farms with his father, Doug, near Paulding, Ohio. They raise 5,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat with three full-time employees.
"We consider ourselves as very technology oriented. We had the second RTK system in the state of Ohio and used Encirca (now Granular Agronomy) data services platform from the beginning to write field scripts for seed and nitrogen layers," he said. "We added that with the yield data we had been collecting since the mid-1990s and then got involved with the AgriEdge program."
Jacky Davis, Syngenta digital ag solutions marketing lead, said AgriEdge also takes a whole-farm management approach to promote faster, data-driven decisions for better yields and returns.
"For the last few years, Syngenta has been acquiring the pieces needed to fill out digital needs like satellite imagery, managing field health and pest monitoring," she said. "We are scaling up the capabilities and 2022 will be a big year moving this forward for farmers and retailers."
For example, AgriEdge technology tracks, measures and analyzes each acre for profitability as farmers spot inefficiencies and nutrient deficiencies. It also incorporates advanced equipment integrations, such as those from John Deere and Case IH, to save time while improving yield potential. Farmers use Syngenta's satellite, aircraft and drone imagery and scouting platform to detect diseases, pests and more to save time and increase accuracy. "The goal is to turn agronomics into economics," Davis said.
Goyings Farms has seen a 12% to 15% increase in farm profitability stacking variable-rate fall fertilizer applications with in-season applications, with a large part of that coming from increased yields. While it's hard to estimate the change seed population has had, Goyings thinks it may be 5% to 10%. His goal is to achieve a 15% to 20% impact on farm profitability.
"As more technology became available, and we could break fields into smaller grids, it has become more useful. We soil-sample grids and layer in elevation and soil types into one platform for more controlled and complete results," he said. "We can see what works or not, and where."
Goyings layers field maps down to the row to focus on crop-protection use and to see how nitrogen affects corn yields, for example. He also evaluates whether early fungicide applications with micronutrients in soybeans translates into smart economic use of the input. He can measure productivity and identify if any crop inputs have been under- or overapplied.
"It takes a different mindset to run technology with the machinery and work with the data," Goyings explained. "But it allows you to make more efficient use of your office time for data management. We can get the manufacturer support we need either on the farm or online."
ENHANCE FUTURE OFFERINGS
Farmers can wade into the digital ag world with little financial risk. Most company platforms have a free basic entry-level tool. But, as farmers become more involved or require assistance, they can expect costs to be attached to product advice and application recommendations.
Farmers who want a whole-farm approach using Corteva's Granular Insights can leverage free features with the opportunity to collaborate with an adviser and upgrade for charged prescriptive applications. The Climate Corp.'s FieldView offers a tier of subscriptions beyond its free basic platform, while AgriEdge is free to farmers who buy Syngenta products at specific thresholds. BASF's xarvio Scouting is free, and xarvio Field Manager is free for two fields. However, some Field Manager functions and Healthy Fields require subscriptions based on location and user needs.
"Winfield United customers should contact their local retailers to learn what solutions and costs may be applicable for their own situations," Ryan advised. "Costs for services will vary with different local platforms and retailers who build their own strategies and product offerings."
All these companies say the surface has only been scratched in terms of data capabilities, so products and cost structures could change in the future. Solutions may be delivered in a hyper-localized manner, driving unique outcomes sometimes even within subregions of a field.
BASF is investing in high-resolution digital field trial activities, which will provide unique insights into specific environments where the company's products work best. Such insights will be passed on to farmers in the future with targeted digital application advice. The Climate Corp. also is exploring new programs that are more advanced and optimized for data management.
"Farmers collecting data that maintain a history will have a leg up in the future with any new functionality," said The Climate Corp.'s Lau. "We will be able to help farmers more precisely reach their per-acre level goals for seed selection, seed placement and planting rate."
Syngenta has digital pilot programs and proof of concept testing underway for IoT (Internet of Things), soil sensors and other data layers that Davis said will connect things together to further integrate data flow.
Ohio farmer Goyings is already headed down that path. "We will test a system from Augmenta next year, which uses artificial intelligence and a camera on our wheat sprayer to variable-rate nitrogen applications based on what the system sees," he said. "That will provide another layer of data for us so we can create a script that can be modified in real time."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
-- xarvio: www.xarvio.com/us/en.html
-- The Climate Corp.: climate.com
-- Granular: granular.ag/company
-- Syngenta AgriEdge: www.syngenta-us.com/agriedge
-- WinField United: www.winfieldunited.com
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