IoT-based precision agriculture reduces the guesswork in farming

Farmers make better data-driven decisions with GROWERS soil analysis and customized planting prescriptions.

“Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together”.

Steven Valenscin, the founder of Growers exemplifies this 400-year-old quote by Jonathan Swift.

Steven grew up working on his family farm in Washington State. After serving in the US Navy, He started North Carolina’s first private soil testing laboratory and then combined his passion for soil fertility and farming to found Growers. Steven aims to simplify the complex world of agronomy into precise farm management decisions.

"I’m a second generation farmer and farming is in my blood", said Steven. "My volunteer work with Nicaraguan farmers through the Auburn University World Hunger Institute showed me how better farming practices could reduce hunger. I’ve seen farmers struggle to preserve their family legacy in the face of increasing prices and farming complexity. So after leaving the US Navy, I decided to start Growers".

What is data driven farming?
Farming involves a lot of uncertainty. What seeds are best suited to a particular soil and weather conditions? When is the right time to plant? What type of fertilizer should be used? Where should it be applied? How much irrigation is needed?

Traditionally farmers have made many of these decisions based on their own experience and recommendations from their agricultural suppliers. Data driven farming takes the guesswork out of farming by pinpointing exactly what works and what doesn’t. Custom fertility and planting prescriptions are developed by cross-referencing elements like soil texture and organic matter against snapshots of yield performance.

How is data collected to prepare a 'farming prescription'?
Sensors from Veris Technologies are towed behind a tractor driving over a field. They capture soil properties such as texture, organic matter, slope, curve and electrical conductivity. Soil electrical conductivity (EC) for instance, measures how much electrical current soil can conduct. Smaller soil particles such as clay conduct more current than larger silt and sand particles. 

The sensor data is used to develop a 3D model of the field along with soil conditions, depth and topographical contours. This information is cross-referenced with a large database of soil, planting, and harvest data. Growers then develops a customized farming prescription that includes variable rate seeding instructions, nitrogen / fertilizer application and irrigation schedules.

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How the process is implemented
1. Farm evaluation
The first step is to understand every aspect of a farm’s operation, yield potential, and profitability targets. This is followed by a comprehensive boots-on-the-ground evaluation to collect :
• Soil fertility diagnostics (sampling, mapping, analyzing)
• Collect on-farm data (yield, as-planted, as-applied)
• Operational review and goals
• Equipment capabilities
• Water utilization

2. Prescription development
A vendor-independent prescription is developed on where to source and apply fertilizer, seed, and chemicals. The prescription correlates how all of a farm’s unique features drive yield and profitability performance including:
• Seed input optimization
• Fertilizer input optimization
• Chemical input optimization

3. Apply prescription & refine
Instructions of what, where and when to plant are transmitted to equipment such as John Deere, Case IH, Precision Planting, Agleader and Raven. Crop health is monitored with drones and other technologies. These inputs are used to further refine the farm’s operations including:
• Fertilizer prescriptions
• Planting prescriptions
• Profit mapping and analysis
• Crop planning

Farming prescriptions increase yields
Farmers have to optimize their use of fertilizer, seeds, and chemicals. Custom soil fertility prescriptions are developed by mapping and analyzing the farm’s soil texture and fertility levels. 

These prescriptions are customized for individual fields. Certain spots are more fertile and need just half the fertilizer. Fertilizer spreaders with variable-rate monitors automate the process of spreading custom amounts of fertilizer where needed with pin-point accuracy. Variable-rate planters adjust the number of seeds planted according to the growth potential of the soil. This improves both soil health and crop yields.

Steven and the Grower’s team are on a quest to grow "two or more ears of corn where one grew before". Jonathan Swift would be proud.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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