Plug-and-Play Data Exchange

Agribusinesses want to enhance accuracy and simplify how farmers manage and transfer information.

Jeremy Wilson holds the internet source and relay device that listens for beacons, Image by Mary Ann Carter

Data collection continues to be a big part of every farmer’s daily chores. But, the reams of data are only as good as how the farmers use it. AgGateway, a nonprofit consortium of ag businesses, has for the last few years been evaluating ideas to enhance the industry’s transition to digital agriculture and to determine how best it can maximize efficiency and productivity for farmers and other partners throughout the food chain. (Editor’s note: DTN/Progressive Farmer’s parent company is an AgGateway member.)

Following is a look at some of the projects and applications the organization is focused on:

ACCURATE GRAIN TRACEABILITY

Jeremy Wilson collects data in the fields he farms near Olney, Illinois. He also is senior vice president of field data solutions for EFC Systems and past chair of AgGateway’s Precision Agriculture Council.

“I am driven by data interoperability so I can become more profitable and sustainable,” Wilson says. “I want farmers to be able to take next steps and trace every bushel at harvest. With traceability standards, we minimize human intervention, make data more available and easier to share.”

Wilson admits he’s not always good about recording which load goes into which bin compared with tracking his elevator deliveries. He pulls his data into a spreadsheet but says a uniform tracking system would better reconcile his data-recording process.

“We need an easy button to make traceability easier, to save time and to improve accuracy,” he says. “It would help to manage tracking for government programs like crop insurance.”

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AgGateway started the Commodity Automation by Rail and Truck (CART) Project to determine how best to improve electronic data exchange between harvest equipment, transport vehicles and storage/delivery. Goals include eliminating paper, reviewing weights and grade of shipments prior to arrival, and automatically identifying grain-transport containers upon arrival.

Wilson tested the concept on his farm with grain trucks and a grain cart capturing data. Beacons on the combine, cart, grain bins and elevator sent signals to document transfers.

“We were thrilled to get standards into the field and to see successful, seamless data transfer,” he says. “As an industry, if we do not make these changes now, the SuperValus and Walmarts will make us do it. We need to figure it out ourselves and prove we are doing the right thing.”

Work continues on designing the necessary software and testing it on-farm. Wilson says next, they will add traceability tests for seed, crop protection and crop-nutrition processes. “We may do another proof of concept in 2019. We are laying the foundation for better records, accounting software and contract management,” he says.

PLUG-AND-PLAY ADAPTABILITY

Just as the “Intel Inside” label may be reassuring as to the capabilities of a computer, AgGateway’s ADAPT framework could be seen as the indicator of smoother data transfer.

“ADAPT from the farmer perspective will provide a ‘plug-and-play capability,’” says Andres Ferreyra, special projects manager for Ag Connections and part of AgGateway’s Precision Ag Council. “We are building integrations where farmer data can be universally exchanged and translated between equipment and retailer systems. In a perfect world, farmers won’t even need to know this framework for communication exists in the background.”

Ferreyra says a major goal of the ADAPT team is to reach the point where plug-ins exist to convert between all the formats of interest to the agricultural industry.

“ADAPT is a promise to ‘integrate once and communicate many times,’” he says. “The ADAPT team is writing some fundamental plug-ins, but manufacturers are encouraged to write plug-ins for their own formats of interest. This is an open project, and anyone can participate.”

Data-driven agronomy has its advantages, but Ferreyra anticipates even greater benefits with the one data-entry process. Farmers will be able to save time collecting data and, in return, have more reliable records. The framework will be able to make corrections behind the scenes.

“If big hardware-buying decisions can be made knowing that all of the hardware speaks the same farm-management software language, we will see less gnashing of teeth,” Ferreyra says. “Farmers should already be feeling the warm fuzzies from the ADAPT framework, as some manufacturers have released plug-ins, and others are near-ready.”

IMPROVED IRRIGATION

AgGateway’s Precision Ag Irrigation Language (PAIL) Project was created to give farmers a way to evaluate weather, soil and crop data, and make more informed irrigation decisions that lower costs and protect yield potential. PAIL standards already have made it onto farms.

“These standards allow multiple pieces of irrigation equipment from different manufacturers to send and receive data in a more efficient and user-friendly manner,” says Aaron Berger, AgSense software engineer and chair of AgGateway’s Precision Ag Water Management Working Group. “With growing water concerns and the need for better recordkeeping regarding water use, having an industrywide format provides for improved water applications.”

AgGateway is now working with the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) to finalize data formats for irrigation equipment, including weather stations, soil-moisture sensors and irrigation control systems. The next step is ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification.

“Technology has come a long way helping growers irrigate land in smarter ways. Producers can invest in irrigation technology and now tie them together through software applications,” he says. “These tools have been proven to talk effectively and efficiently to each other.”

DTN Values AgGateway Partnership:

Seeing the potential for benefits at the farm level, DTN (Progressive Farmer’s parent company) joined AgGateway several years ago. “We were working on our grain portal at the time and wanted to be part of the industry standardization,” says Mary Tangen, DTN vice president of strategic initiatives, agriculture. “The question we wanted to address was how we could be involved to help our customers.”

Tangen says grain traceability and automated workflow efforts are opportunities to improve efficiencies in the supply chain that may ultimately lead to higher prices paid to farmers. In addition, DTN’s entry into in-season agronomic management and leadership in weather data appear to be natural fits for greater involvement in AgGateway’s precision ag efforts.

“Everyone involved with AgGateway is trying to do the right thing for agriculture,” Tangen says. “Competitors put aside their own interests to help farmers be more efficient and profitable.”

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