The 11th International Conference on Precision Agriculture is past, and the three days of immersion in technology people and topics has given me a lot to contemplate and digest. I think the best way for me to share my thoughts is to simply stream consciousness, and allow you to pluck out whatever you think is of value. I wish we could have a real two way conversation about it (although you're always free to send me an email or drop a comment in the box at the bottom) but seeing as that's not going to happen, you'll have to endure my ramblings. So, without further adieu ...
1. The opening general session featured two long time precision experts/researchers, Dave Mulla from the University of Minnesota, a protege of late ICPA founder Pierre Robert, and Newell Kitchen, soil scientist with USDA ARS and adjunct associate professor at the University of Missouri. Together they provided a robust overview of where we are with remote sensing technology. It was ambitiously suggested that we might be moving toward managing fields plant by plant using sensing technology and algorithms in the future, which makes clearly makes sense for wine growers cranking out $100 dollar a bottle vintage. But I wonder how closely that will translate in the world of rowcrop production.
2. I had a chance to sit down with two gentlemen who are helping to coordinate the efforts of a committee within the standards facilitating organization AgGateway to create data standards for precision agriculture. Jeff Keiser of John Deere is now chairing the Precision Agriculture Committee, and Rick Greene, who coordinates the precision program at cooperative MFA Inc. in Missouri and who is one of a number of retailers on the Committee, sat in on our chat. The third person at the table, Dennis Daggett of Producers Ag Insurance Group (ProAg), has taken a key role in leading the effort to build a glossary of terms that identify specific aspects of ag operations associated with precision.
The glossary has been a major project for the committee, and Daggett told me that by AgGateway's annual meeting there will be more than 4000 terms with definitions established in draft form. But that's not the end of it -- the terms will be placed in a wiki, and members will be able to view, review and make comments about the definitions and suggest more terms in need of defining.
In case you think it's a relatively simple exercise, I suggest you think about how many different definitions you can imagine for the word "application." (At least four should come to mind pretty darn quick)
If you'd like to get involved in AgGateway or have questions about the standards process, you can reach Dennis via email at email@example.com.
3. Are we officially beyond the era of the "latest thing" in precision hardware? This conference was all about data and software and how to most efficiently move and store and use what we collect, and outside of a few relatively minor announcements there was precious little focusing on hardware. I'm attending an event that Raven is hosting next week and there may be something coming out of that ... but otherwise it's been a blockbuster-free summer.
But it's not really a surprise... Deere (FarmSight), Raven (Slingshot) and Trimble (Connected Farm) have focused their efforts on connectivity in recent months and years. These emerging platforms, along with more "agnostic" cloud-focused offerings like AgJunction and AgIntegrated de-emphasize the role of hard goods and focus on software, data and connectivity. It's exciting stuff, but so much more complex to explain, and to understand how it all fits together. But I really think that this is what we can expect from here forward, and I believe it's a good thing.
4. We presented our Awards of Excellence at the conference, and we were thrilled to have Australian grower David Cox come all the way up from Down Under with his nephew Graeme to accept his award and attend the conference. Cox is a sugarcane farmer that was able to gather up technology developed for corn and soybeans and, with the help of collaborators around the world, find the best ways to employ the technology to his particular crop. By the mid-2000s he was fully employing technologies that were barely on many grower's radars at that time.
He charmed the award luncheon crowd with a terrific acceptance speech and, despite being a late entry on the practitioner's A to Z program, drew a standing room only crowd to his brief presentation. And David seemed to have a halo of people talking to him for the rest of the event. "Coming up here has been a real inspiration for me," he told me on the last day. Many were inspired by his story as well.
As an aside, he has been working on a software package in collaboration with Trimble that Cox says is the next generation of land leveling, called OptiSurface. Check it out.
5. Award recipient Terry Brase of Kirkwood Community College has been a real champion of the role of Community Colleges for delivering technically trained individuals to retailers, cooperatives, consulting firms and manufacturers. Terry also led AgroKnowledge, a National Science Foundation funded project that made it possible for Kirkwood to help other community colleges serving rural communities to develop ag technology curricula. Unfortunately that funding ran out earlier this year, and Terry is looking for sponsors and supporters to keep the program going. We here at PrecisionAg.com are committing to help in any way we can, and if you are interested you can contact Terry through the website.
This also brings to mind a lively discussion we had here on the Network two years ago about the need for an agricultural Geek Squad. I think it's time t orevisit. Related to this, I had a conversation with a manager at a web based agronomy company and he told me he finds it significantly easier to train a tech-trained individual in agronomy than to train an agronomist in technology. Let the debate begin ...
6. The third Award recipient, consultant Daryl Starr of Advanced Ag Consulting in Lafayette, IN, started his business at the age of 25. He grew up on a farm but went to college and got his degree in history and business before settling on starting a precision consulting company in 2006. He's now servicing more than 350,000 acres and keeps a core group of smart young people engaged, employed and happy. It occurred to me that he had two real obstacles going in -- youth and inexperience. But he turned it upside down, applying business training and raw youthful enthusiasm into a successful and thriving enterprise. There are people that say that farming is significantly more unique than your "typical" business, but I think Daryl proves that basic business skills can be applied to any business segment and result in success. It might even give an ambitious entrepreneur not saddled with experiences and industry conventions a leg up.
7. We often hear that the international community is hungry for precision technology information, and we got evidence of this from three fellows attending from Russia. They had looked over our PrecisionAg Buyer's Guide and decided that they'd like us to translate it into Russian for them to distribute. Apparenty, the interest in technology is off the charts.
There was too much good stuff to hope to cover in this space, so look for ongoing coverage of the International Conference in the weeks ahead, including stories, pictures and videos.Thanks for your attention and have a great weekend....