Satellites Show Ozone Cutting Soybean Yields

Kurt Lawton

Losses of up to $2 billion per year (10%) in soybean yield is due to rising surface ozone, according to satellite measurements by NASA, as outlined in a recent study

Above a threshold concentration, ozone inhibits photosynthesis and reduces yield in soybeans, one of the more sensitive crops to high surface ozone levels. On the left are plants that have been exposed to “clean air” and are healthy, while on the right are plants exposed to ozone that are showing injury.

The study, presented at the American Geophysical Union Joint Assembly meeting, May 24 in Toronto, is based on five years of soybean yields, surface ozone, and satellite measurements of tropospheric ozone levels in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. It revealed summertime ozone concentrations consistently exceeded threshold levels at which crops are negatively affected. The states, three of the biggest soybean producers in the U.S., account for a large chunk of the country’s $27 billion annual soybean crop. The study estimates damage to the soybean crop – by a yield reduction of approximately 10 percent – of at least several hundred million in some years in those states alone, and possibly more than $2 billion nationwide. 

Climate change scenarios present numerous global problems for agriculture in this century, with the probability of more severe and extended droughts. But there’s also the strong likelihood that as cars, factories and power plants both here and abroad continue to change the fundamental chemistry of the air, the altered atmosphere will negatively impact the biological processes of important crops. 

“In the 19th and early 20th century, background surface ozone concentrations were relatively low so that an increase of 25 percent, (5 to 10 parts per billion), didn’t affect living organisms,” said Jack Fishman, a research scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center. “But now, we’ve crossed the line where you can expect to see modest increases in surface ozone result in crop growth being stunted.” 

Since the early twentieth century, surface ozone levels in rural areas in the Midwest have doubled, Fishman said. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that surface ozone concentrations will rise another 25 percent by 2050. In the southern region of the three states studied, peak daytime concentrations often surpassed 60 parts per billion. And so the yields in the southern region definitively suffered. In the northern region of the area studied, averaged concentrations were nearly 20 percent lower, and the impact of ozone was less. 

“Background conditions are rising. Precursor emissions are rising,” said Elizabeth Ainsworth, a professor of crop biology at the University of Illinois. “This is likely to get worse in the future and impact a greater area of the Midwest.” 

Education, GPS, Industry News, Research, Satellite, Soybeans, sustainability

Trimble Offers Rebate On Precision Ag Tools

Kurt Lawton


Trimble EZ-Guide 500 Lightbar

Trimble EZ-Guide 500 Lightbar

If you’re in the market for precision agriculture equipment such as a good lightbar, an assisted steering system or an boom control system, Trimble is offering cash-back rebates of $150 to $300 until June 30.

EZ-Guide® 250 lightbar — US $150 rebate
EZ-Guide 500 lightbar — US $250 rebate
EZ-Steer® assisted steering system
— US $300 rebate
EZ-Boom® system
— US $150 rebate

 Customers may submit one rebate form for multiple EZ Products, but the total rebate cannot exceed US $2,500 per household. Purchases must be made through a participating and authorized Trimble dealer between 8 May and 30 June 2009. Visit to learn more about Trimble products and to find a Trimble dealer near you.

 For more information on the rebate program visit or call 1-800-865-7438.

This offer is good only in the USA and Canada, excluding Quebec. All rebates must be postmarked by 30 July 2009.

Company Announcement, Equipment, GPS, Trimble Widget

Chuck Zimmerman

Hello fans. How would you like to have news on your website or blog?

Now you can and it’s free. It’s also very easy. We’ve created a widget that allows you to display the latest headlines from the stories and posts on All you have to do is paste some code onto your web page. The widget also allows you to choose some display options. Not sure what a widget is? Learn here.

So to get the widget for your web site just click on “Get Widget” at the bottom of the display below.

Let me know if you have any problems or questions.

Company Announcement

Precision Guidance In Central California

Chuck Zimmerman

Precision On DisplayI’ve had the opportunity to work on a project for John Deere that involves their new utility tractors and vehicles this year called the Drive Green Utility Tractor Show. During the course of the project I’ve visited John Deere dealers and show stops where these new tractors have been displayed. This has included a number of ride and drive opportunities for attending customers and the general public.

The last location I visited with the Show was Fresno Equipment in Fresno, CA. I found out that in their ride and drive lot they had a precision guided tractor demonstration being run by local AMS Consultant, Joey Todd, pictured here. So I climbed in the cab with Joey and had him explain what was on display. To start with we were in an 8230 wheel tractor running RTK using iTEC Pro. Joey set up a field with boundaries so that the tractor would turn at the appropriate spot and raise and lower the implement. He said we were getting sub 1 inch accuracy. In California Joey says the need for precision is “a must” especially because of water restrictions.

You can listen to my interview with Joey here: [audio:]

Audio, John Deere

Precision Crop Technology Proves Sustainability

Kurt Lawton

While anti-agriculture naysayers continue to blast away at GM crops as the end of the world, it’s our duty to offer sound science to the discussion.

To this end, a recent study by the British-based PG Economics offers some statistics on the value of biotech crops…as discussed in a recent Nebraska Corn Kernels blog post.

Biotech crops help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of pesticides – in addition to increasing yields for many farmers while reducing production risk, according to a study released this week.

In other words, biotech crops help farmers produce more with less – and that’s good on the sustainability front.

Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics and co-author of the report, had this to say:

Since 1996, biotech crop adoption has contributed to reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, decreased pesticide spraying and significantly boosted farmers’ incomes. … The technology has also made important contributions to increasing the yields of many farmers, reducing production risks, improving productivity and raising global production of key crops.

The combination of economic and environmental benefit delivery is therefore making a valuable contribution to improving the sustainability of global agriculture, with these benefits and improvements being greatest in developing countries.

If farmers who used biotech were not able to, in 2007 it would have taken an additional 14.6 million acres of soybeans, 7.4 million acres of corn, 6.2 million acres of cotton and 0.7 million acres of canola just to produce the same sized crop. (This total area requirement is equivalent to about 6 percent of the arable land in the U.S. or 23 percent of the arable land in Brazil!)

Other Biotech crop benefits from the study:

  • Reduced tillage and fuel use in 2007 which cut carbon dioxide greenhouse gases by the equivalent of removing 6.3 million cars from the road that year.
  • Reduced pesticide spraying by 8.8% (1996-2007)
  • Increased no-till adoption in many regions, especially South America
  • Increased on-farm net economic benefits to $10.1 Billion in 2007, with a total of $$44.1 Billion (1996-2007)
  • Almost 50% of total farm income gains are due to yield increases with biotech crops, with the balance from production cost reductions
  • Farmers in developing countries got the lion’s share of farm income gains in 2007 (58%), while garnering 50% over the 12 year period.
  • Since 1996, biotech corn has added 62.4 Million tonnes and biotech soybeans added 67.8 Million tonnes to global food production.

Read the entire study to gain more insight. And kudos to the Nebraska Corn Board for promoting the value of biotechnology.

Ag Group, Conservation, Corn, Education, Research, sustainability

Concerns with GPS Satellites and Future Viability

Kurt Lawton

If you’ve heard news about potential failure of satellites in the GPS constellation by 2010…the sky is not falling and it’s not time to panic.

Is there concern? Yes. A study just released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that the Air Force (which maintains the system) and suppliers have not lived up to their promises of replacing satellites—which have an operational life of about 7.5 years.

If new satellites are not deployed on a more timely basis, there is an increased likelihood that the overall GPS constellation could fall below the number of satellites required (24) for proper function.

What does that mean for agricultural uses? talked to sources at Trimble who stated that there is concern, but it will likely cause only potential degradation of the free WAAS signal.

Trimble expressed confidence in the GPS satellites, and stated they are preparing for the future by incorporating signals from other systems. Their AgGPS 442 receiver (with the new AgGPS FmX Integrated display) can receive signals from the Russian version of the US GPS, known as GLONASS. This system isn’t as developed yet as the US system–currently containing 18 satellites–but it is predicted to increase to 30 satellites by 2011, according to the Russian space agency Roscosmos. While the current 18 satellites are not enough to be an effective system by itself yet (minimum of 24 needed), adding those extra satellites can make a significant difference in uptime for anyone who can reference both the US and Russian systems with one receiver, according to Trimble.

As more countries add their own navigational systems (like the Compass system being developed by the Chinese Aerospace Industry—which Trimble is a 50-50 partner), Trimble predicts there will be a shift in thinking. It will shift from exclusively US GPS to thinking GNSS (global Navigation Satellite System), which includes GPS, GLONASS, Compass and several additional satellite constellations being developed in the EU (Galileo) and Japan (QZSS).

If you are a Twitter member, the Air Force (who tweets at AFSpace) conducted a tweet forum Q&A session on this issue yesterday (May 20) and just posted a transcript this morning. Bottom line from the conversation is that the Air Force “has plans to mitigate risk and prevent a gap in coverage,” and it’s very unlikely that a user will notice any difference in GPS accuracy. Currently there are 30+ satellites in orbit, and they plan to launch another in August and one in early 2010. “Going below 24 (satellites) won’t happen,” stated Col. Dave Buckman, AFSPC command lead for Position, Navigation and Timing.

What could happen if the GPS falls below the needed 24 satellites? Check out this piece by GPS World magazine.

Education, GPS, Industry News, International, Precision Ag in the News, Satellite, Trimble

Who Makes Your Precision Ag Technology?

Kurt Lawton

If you like to track what company’s technology is used where, GPS World offers an interesting take on the OEM market for Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) business.

Industry consultant Rob Lorimer writes about the future of three competing OEM business models. 

One. The first model posits that core OEM GNSS technology (at board or chip level) is designed in-house and released to market-focused internal divisions and JV’s at undisclosed transfer pricing. The same products (or variants of it) are also released via an OEM business unit for external customers. Examples of this model are Trimble (who market their professional OEM GNSS boards via Pacific Crest) and Topcon.

Two. The second model resembles the first, but the supplier and customer are slightly more at arm’s length, such as the cases of NovAtel supplying Leica (both companies belonging to the Hexagon group) and Navcom supplying Deere (Navcom now a Deere company).

Three. In contrast to the first two models, the third model is based on relationships between unrelated parties. This allows for a wide range of commercial terms and conditions covering length of contract, sole/multiple supplier status, exclusivity, and so on. Examples of existing open market arrangements include Septentrio supplying Veripos and Hemisphere GPS supplying Farmscan.

Looking at the precision agriculture side of the biz, Lorimer looks at three professional OEM GNSS suppliers working with 70% of the global machinery manufacturers.  You have Trimble‘s JV with Caterpillar and an OEM deal with CNH–supplying two of the top four machinery manufacturers. Then there’s Topcon‘s relationship with AGCO and Komatsu. And you have Navcom supplying Deere. 

To learn more details about his scenarios on how this industry may or may not shake out…read more.

GPS, Industry News, International, Trimble

Auto Steer Helps Recover Wet Spring Delays

Kurt Lawton

Rain delays always impede timely planting in areas of the country every spring. But thanks to precision farming tools like GPS-guided auto steer, farmers like Johnny Verell near Jackson, Tenn. can make up for lost time. 

“It takes a lot of the stress out of planting,” Verell told Monsanto Today. “We can cover more ground and work at night a lot easier because we don’t have to worry about seeing our markers.”

Since GPS-derived agriculture products were introduced in the late-1990’s many farmers have been adopting the technology because of the benefits—improved efficiency, higher yields and better environmental stewardship.

Improved Efficiency

In the past, farmers would have to overlap their rows to prevent missing parts of their field. Now, with GPS-enabled auto-steer, growers don’t have to worry about human error in applications.

“Ten years ago we used a 20-foot planter,” Verell said. “Now we’re using 40-foot planters, farming the same 20-acre fields that we did 10 years ago. We used to have to overlap at least five feet with the 20-foot planter. Now, with the 40-foot planter, we are able to reduce overlap to a matter of inches. That really helps us be more efficient.”

GPS also allows farmers to apply fertilizers at variable rates based on soil test data collected from the fields in previous years. The data is loaded into an onboard computer that maps out the field and automatically drops fertilizer only where it is needed. With this technology, farmers can manage their fields spatially rather than on a whole-field basis.

“Variable-rating is a big cost saver for us,” Verell said. “Since we started variable-rating our fertilizer, we’re saving anywhere from $20 to $30 an acre just on our [potassium and phosphate]. And with nitrogen we just try to level out the field and make everything uniform.”

The technology is also available to allow farmers to fine-tune application rates on seed and chemicals in the same way. “We take a few years of yield data and then write a prescription for each field,” Verell said. “We’ll place higher seed rates where the water holding capacity is higher. Once you start increasing seed in those areas you’ll start pulling out extra bushel per seed. The numbers start adding up really quick. That’s when the technology starts paying for itself.”

Environmental Stewardship

Precision farming has significant impacts well beyond the individual farm. For example, more efficient use of chemicals and fertilizers means less runoff.

“With auto-steer on the sprayer we’re minimizing the amount we’re spraying on our field borders,” Verell said. “The new technology makes it easy for us to keep track of what chemicals we’re spraying. We’re able to see what we sprayed and on what day. If we are ever asked for our records, we can just print it off.”

Check out this story, some planting updates and other pieces on agriculture at Monsanto Today.

Company Announcement, Education, Equipment, Farmers, GPS, Precision Ag in the News

Promote Precision Ag Benefits Beyond The Choir

Kurt Lawton

As efficient farmers–using precision agriculture tools to apply less fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides, et. al.–you know your technology ROI is helping your bottom line. But do the people we feed know the improvements–in crops as well as livestock? Sadly, no they don’t.

It’s time we all make a greater effort to use some precision social media tools (Twitter and Facebook, along with blogs and websites) to help tell a wonderful environmental story to our off-farm folks who enjoy the foods of our labor–and talk beyond the choir.

As a farm-reared agricultural journalist (, I’m just as guilty of talking tech benefits solely to the choir. But thanks to Twitter and Facebook, connecting with concerned consumers has become much easier. In fact, I’ve had some interesting dialogue with anti-agriculture folks who, once you help them understand that large farms are run by ‘families’ who truly care, they can start to soften their stance a bit.

Now, it does no good to fight fire with fire, and granted there are some people who won’t listen or have an open mind beyond their “industrial ag is bad” mode. But there are some in agriculture who are just as guilty by not having an open mind about organic production, or eating local. We can learn from each other. We can all do better. Yes we can.

To this end, I leave you with some links to efforts by some admirable people who are fighting (figuratively) the good fight and telling the good story of agriculture to consumers. This is a short list, and keep me posted of more, which we’ll pass along in coming posts! Have a great, safe weekend.

One Nebraska farm couple and their excellent blog

Very good Alabama dairman’s blog

Ohio farm broadcaster Andy Vance and his great blog

The Hand That Feeds U.S.

Read Michele Payn-Knoper’s Cause Matters blog and check out all her valuable links on this page.

See how farmers are using Twitter:
Nebraska Corn Growers blog

Join Twitter and become a part of the AgChat group (farmers, industry folks, foodies and more) held every Tuesday night from 8-10 EDT. You can check out a recent chat here. And AgChat has a Facebook page, too.

Education, Farmers, GPS, Resources, sustainability

Technology Will Drive Economic Recovery

Kurt Lawton

Farm operations that embrace increased productivity through technology will help drive the world’s economic recovery, according to Ray O’Connor, president and CEO of Topcon Positioning Systems. “And this drives top-ranked technology companies to continue to support strong R&D efforts.”

“In tough times, increasing productivity through the acceptance of technological breakthroughs will be the difference in success and failure, the difference in being competitive and trailing the competition.

“The economic turnaround will be technology-fueled, driven by the products of forward-thinking companies and the forward-thinking businesses that buy the products that increase productivity,” he said.

The key to any successful farm operation “is managing time to optimize results. If you can save time on every phase of every job, you put more money in your pocket. If you find a technology that will make your machines and people more productive, you become more competitive. And, if you look at what technological breakthroughs can do to not only help you make it during the tough times, but exceed, or even double, the industry averages, you will be in the driver’s seat when business turns around.”

History, he said, “shows us this is true. The companies that emerged from the Great Depression in the 1930s strong and viable adopted emerging technologies when times were tough. They made investments in technology to maximize productivity in every phase of their operation.

“The same opportunities exist today.”

O’Connor says the company’s AGI-3 next generation satellite signal receiver and System 150 prove it’s drive for innovation. “It’s not just another improvement on an old technology. We’re talking about a unique technological innovation,” he says. “It sets the standard for complete in-the-field control of machinery and applications.

“If farm owners recognize the need to do whatever is necessary to create a lean, efficient operation in the economic conditions we are all facing today, the first thing to check out is what technologies are available to increase productivity in their operations . . . and do whatever is necessary to obtain that technology.

“In this economy, the future viability of many farm operations will depend on expanding upon or adopting that forward-thinking philosophy.”

Company Announcement, Equipment, Industry News, sustainability