About Ag Connections
Ag Connections develops and continuously updates crop management software solutions that make our clients’ lives easier and their farms more efficient and compliant. Our experienced crop management specialists help farmers get these systems up and running with a mix of on-site training, web-based training, video tutorials, and friendly, knowledgeable phone support.
Where is production agriculture information management technology headed?
Nov 18, 2011
The Challenge of “Knowing your Numbers”
Knowing your numbers is a key part of knowing your profitability. When we are required to report information to our business partners, when our banker needs production cost budgets and when we need to make marketing decisions, the only way we can do that efficiently is if we “know the numbers”. The problem with knowing your numbers is that you need to collect data and to have that data accessible in order to be able to summarize and make decisions from the data.
In our software business, we are all about creating tools that make production agriculture specifics easy to record and give our users the functionality to report and to retain the history of what they have recorded. Success in collecting the data comes when you put the people and data collection tools into play that fit your operation.
The Challenge of “Collecting the Data”
That is where technology comes into play. The future looks bright on how data can be collected. Computers, smart phones, 3G /4G networks, tablets, mobile computers, telematics, and RFID systems are becoming the foundation for quick and accurate data management. The ability of these technologies to collect information and transfer it back to software systems that summarize, move, report and archive data are in rapid development.
- Computers and their operating systems: Horsepower and hard drive storage on computers have made huge progress over the last couple of years. The software operating systems like Windows 7 are now happily accepted by the marketplace and have found a stability that was not seen with Vista. Software development companies are back focusing on building software versus spending their time working on operating system compatibility.
- Smartphones: Mobile phones have literally created a revolution in information access and distribution. These phones create an automatic connection to the user and their servers that control storage and distribution of their information. We are excited about the new HTML5 browser-database, which allows the user to open an interface on their smart phone, enter data and synchronize with the server for later import into software. The HTML5 cache-manifest allows the user to collect data when there is no cell phone signal or Wi-Fi and later submit that data when they have signal access. This meets the needs of agriculture where we are not always in a connected world. We are heavily focused on developing software solutions based on these technologies and have AgC Mobile currently in the marketplace and AgC Scout on the way.
- 3G / 4G Networks: We remember the days when we said to someone on a cell call, “I only have 2 bars” or “Can you hear me now?” With the arrival of 3G networks we could actually look at websites on our phones without going to sleep. The 3G networks running at 1.5 megabits per second now have competition from the 4G networks. The 4G networks have hardware system requirements of 100 megabits per second download speeds. These networks are going to be a big part of data management in the future.
- Tablets: The iPad has created a new successful hardware segment that had previously failed. Now numerous hardware manufacturers are chasing that market of a high powered, long battery life, visually pleasing and compact computer. The ability for this to become your very portable computer in the future is here. Several of our growers across the country now use these tablets for collecting information in the field and then submit the records back to the office.
- Mobile computers: We have seen in agriculture that ruggedized computers have become the controllers in tractors, sprayers and combines; currently they collect and manage huge amounts of data. Connecting this data to the office is one of the new frontiers in agriculture. We are excited about how these systems are going to play in automating data collection and providing platforms for daily evaluation of data quality and accuracy.
- Telematics: From irrigation control systems, to weather station and soil sensor data, to remote vehicle communications, this data is becoming part of daily decision making systems. In tractors, sprayers and combines, the controllers that manage guidance, as well as data coming from the CANbus on the vehicle, needs to get back to the office. Several manufacturers are racing to get that data wireless back to the office. Having all of these expensive assets in the field and to be able to monitor every conceivable variable has tremendous value.
- RFID: Radio Frequency Identification: When we manage multiple trucks, pallets and anything else that has value and needs to inventoried, these tags are a solution for data collection automation. In the future, a truck leaves the harvester and its GPS location and RFID is shot, the data goes to the server, the truck pulls on a the scales and the truck RFID is read, the gross weight is collected, at the storage location the RFID is shot, the truck pulls back on the scales for the tare weight. All of these data points are sorted chronologically and we end up with a record that shows the field, the gross weight, the storage location and the tare weight. Sounds like data automation to me!
The Challenge of “Managing the Data”
If you are involved in production agriculture, “planting, growing and harvesting” is what we love to do. The issue in modern farming operations is that we are now managing so many variables that we have to spend more time with our data and our numbers. The data helps us make decisions; the data confirms our decisions and keeps us from second guessing our actions. Profitability mistakes can be huge if we make uninformed decisions. Multiple families depend on us making the right choices.
Did you ever think you would say “planting, growing, harvesting, collecting data and managing variables” is what I love to do? Maybe that needs to be our new attitude as we learn how to use these new technologies to manage our operations for profitability and sustainability.
Thinking about how we perceive our future technology management challenges, I finish with a plaque I saw in a grower’s office in Idaho, that makes the point:
“WORK IS PLAY AND PLAY IS WORK AND DON’T FORGET IT BECAUSE YOU ARE GOING TO DO IT 95% OF YOUR LIFE, SO YOU MIGHT AS WELL START ENJOYING IT” BUS DRISCOLL