Precision Drives More Ethanol from Corn

Laura McNamara

Ethanol production is taking off throughout the U.S. It seems a new ethanol plant is popping up every week. Well, maybe not every week. But, it is safe to say that, with the recent high gas prices and the recent push for alternative fuels, ethanol plants are coming online at an accelerated rate.

This recent surge in ethanol production means corn growers are looking at corn in a new way. Starch is now a high dollar attribute of corn and that means farmers are interested in ways they can get more starch out of each crop yield. Therein lies the problem. Matias Ruffo, a post-doctorate researcher from the Crop Physiology Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says his studies have found that nitrogen fertilizer can have a negative impact on ethanol yield and starch concentration in corn.

But, Mattias says his research in the U.S. has found ways to minimize that loss and optimize ethanol yields from corn. Mattias says that through the use of a variable rate nitrogen, a precision farming technique, farmers can have a positive impact on ethanol yields compared to the traditional uniform nitrogen application. In effect, Matias says growers can increase their ethanol yields through an exact nitrogen rate application to their crops. This technique, he says, means corn will have a less negative response to Nitrogen as it relates to ethanol yield. This result is even more successful, he says, when it’s applied to specific hybrid corn varieties. Mattias says nitrogen will have a more negative impact on yellow, non-specific corn than on a hybrid designed specifically for ethanol yields.

“The ethanol plants will be benefited by having a precision ag program as far as their work with farmers because they will see an increase in their ethanol yield as a grain with improved quality,” Mattias said.

I interviewed Mattias about his research on the impact nitrogen fertilizer has on ethanol yields. You can listen to my interview with Mattias here: Mattias Ruffo, post-doctorate researcher with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Audio, Education, Precision in Practice, Research

Precision Works for Farmers

Laura McNamara

Elliot Nowels, Director of the Precision Agriculture InstituteWe’ve featured various articles from the Precision Agriculture Institute here on precision.agwired.com and that’s because we’ve recognized just how committed the independent media company is to precision agriculture. The time and research the institutes’s journalists pour into the study of precision technology and the stories they publish on PrecisionAg.com is extensive. That’s why it’s safe to say that the institute represents a leading voice of expertise in the field of precision. That’s also why the institute developed PrecisionAg Works, a resource for “ag professionals considering adopting or deepening use of precision ag practices.”

I caught up with Elliot Nowels, the Director of the Precision Agriculture Institute and grilled him on what he knows best. We talked about the growth of precision, it’s value as a sound investment for farmers, trends in the adoption of precision technologies, benefits of precision technologies, cost savings and more.

“We’re trying to get across the idea that precision ag is more efficient, you can be a better steward of resources when you’re doing this, and that there’s more of a profitability associated with precision ag,” Elliot said. “That really it’s a better time to adopt this technology than ever before.”

You can listen to my interview with Elliot here: Elliot Nowels, Director of the Precision Agriculture Institute

Audio, Education, Equipment, Research, Resources

Fertilizer Compliments Precision

Laura McNamara

International Plant Nutrition InstitutePrecision ag companies boast that their technologies boast can reduce input costs by reducing the amount of fertilizer farmers need to use. So, at first, it might not make sense for a fertilizer company to be so enthusiastically on board with precision technology as the International Plant Nutrition Institute. But Harold Reetz, the Director of External Support for IPNI, says the fertilizer industry has every reason to be involved in precision agriculture. He adds that’s why the IPNI not only participated but helped sponsor the 9th annual International Conference on Precision Agriculture in Denver, CO last month.

Harold says precision technology not only improves “production practices and profitability for farmers,” it also means they are “better able to use nutrients they way they should and do better management with nutrients.” So for Harold, precision and fertilizer work hand in hand, especially he says, when it comes to more environmentally-conscious agriculture. Harold says the IPNI is committed more sustainable approaches to farming.

I spoke with Harold about how fertilizer fits in with precision. You can listen to my interview with Harold here:
Harold Reetz, Director of External Support for the International Plant Nutrition Institute

Audio

FutureFarm and a Field of Robots

Laura McNamara

Dr. Simon Blackmore, Founder and Managing Director of Unibots and Manager of FutureFarm.Dr. Simon Blackmore says he has his sights set on the future of agriculture. Not many could doubt that after considering the extensive breadth of research and development the world-renowned agriculturist continually applies to his work in precision farming.

Simon was a leading speaker at the 9th International Conference on Precision Agriculture, sharing his expertise on two main fronts: FutureFarm and Unibots.

FutureFarm is a project that’s meant to conceptualize and then fully manifest the European Union’s ideas on the Farm of Tomorrow. As manager of FutureFarm, Simon says precision agriculture techniques are critical to the development of agriculture. He says FutureFarm is researching and conducting real-world tests of how precision agriculture is reshaping farming practices around the world. It’s a project, he says, that considers and studies integration of information systems, real-time management support, implications of biofuels, socio-economic impacts, the development of robotics and more.

FutureFarmUnibots is the brainchild of Simon himself. Simon is the founder and managing director of Unibots Ltd, a company that commercializes academic research in mobile outdoor robots. Robots, not men, make up most of the labor force in Simon’s vision of the future of agriculture. There are many factors, Simon says, that support the need for such a robotic future. He points out that current technology means farming machinery such as combines, sprayers and plows get bigger to increase output. But, Simon says that trend cannot continue. There will be a point where size gets to big to handle.

Instead, Simon says the ag industry needs to focus on developing more intelligent machines that are sensitive to plant needs. He says replacing large manned tractors with multiple, small intelligent machines would offer numerous advantages. The use of robots, he says, can provide opportunities to conduct operations that are not currently possible or that currently cost too much time and money. Robots can be designed to operate on low energy. They can target inputs intelligently. He says they are also cost effective through incremental investment and integrated fleet management – such as implementing longer working hours, increased working rates and intelligent response to weather. For example, he says robots can work through the night. Or, he adds, they can be programmed to stop working during rainfall or high wind, simply waiting to resume work on-site once weather conditions become optimal again.

UnibotsSimon isn’t dreaming all this up. His company has already developed robots that can intelligently work through the field, such as a cycloid weed hoe with retracting legs to avoid crop damage, notched disc weeding machines, autonomous tractors, remote controlled tractors, autonomous crop scouting with weed recognizing microsprayers and more.

The agriculturist says he is convinced that equipment will continue to become “smarter.” The industry, in his opinion, will continue improving the automatic control of well-defined tasks and automated data gathering. This, he says, will lead to improved data processing into real information. Simon says the possibility for fully autonomous vehicles with sensible behavior is entirely real and the opportunity for development is now. It’s time, he says, to begin designing and building a new, small and smart mechanization system.

You can listen to Simon give an overview of his extensive work here. I have also spoken with Simon on each topic in two separate interviews that will be posted in the near future.
Dr. Simon Blackmore speaks about FutureFarm and Unibots.

Audio, Equipment, Events, International, Research, Standards, University

Precision Tech Versus Precision Science

Laura McNamara

Dr. Joseph Berry speaks about the science behind precision agriculture.The technology of precision and the science behind it are two very distinct things you ask Dr. Joseph Berry. Joseph is a leading consultant and educator in the application of Geographic Information Systems, or GIS technology. He possesses more than 40 years of experience in GIS. As far as how GIS applies to precision agriculture, well, Joseph’s work and research spans more than 15 years. When it comes to precision agriculture today, Joseph considers one specific question in particular:

“Is the technical cart in front of the scientific horse?”

Joseph says he believes the science of precision agriculture is at significantly different stage of development than the technology and application of precision agriculture. His focus is on the science.

The concept of precision agriculture encompasses several roles for Joseph. He says it is a technique that’s applied when “doing right thing at the right place at the right time”. He adds that it also identifies and responds to field variability. That, he says, is where and when it applies to science. One thing Joseph says precision agriculture doesn’t do is “replace indigenous knowledge.” Rather, “it’s a mechanism to extend it.”

Joseph spoke at this month’s 9th International Conference on Precision Agriculture in Denver, CO. He gave listeners a brief overview of how GIS, specifically, transformed from a technology not necessarily related to precision agriculture into a science that specifically supplements the technologies driving precision agriculture. He says GIS in particular is a big deal:

“The U.S. department of Labor has said geotechnology is one of three mega technologies for the 21st century,” Joseph said. “We identified only three that are radically going to change society. The other two are biotechnology and and nanotechnology. So the field [precision agriculture] you’re tinkering in is thought to be a mega technology.”

Precision agriculture is also a technology that Joseph says is rapidly changing the entire agriculture industry. Joseph says the application he works with, fully integrated multimedia mapping analysis, is no different. For him, advances in GIS and mapping are enabling farmers to switch from what he calls a “whole field” approach to farming to a “site-specific” method.

The “whole field” approach is one that Joseph says assumes and relies on the fact that “average” conditions are the same everywhere within the field. A field is uniform and homogeneous. He points out though, that this is rarely the case. Thus, he concludes that applying such an approach leaves room for a tremendous amount of error when trying to maximize both procedural input and output.

Joseph’s solution is the “site-specific” method, where a field is broken into small consistent pieces, or cells. Specific conditions are then tracked at each unique location. Joseph says this method scientifically demonstrates the nature of significant variation in the field. He adds that, accordingly, as the variation is measured in such detail, the management action can be constructed to continuously respond to such variation.

The science, Joseph says, moves from whole field applications to site-specific measurement. The technology is then developed and adjusted to accommodate the science.

Joseph says the agriculture industry has “a long way to go with the precision farming process.” But, he says that’s exciting. The future of agriculture is just beginning.

You can listen to Joseph’s incredibly detailed explanation here:
Dr. Joseph Berry speaks about his ideas on the science behind precision agriculture.

Audio, Education, Events, GPS, Satellite

Ideas Behind Precision: A Global Perspective

Laura McNamara

Dr. Rajiv Khosla, Chairman of the 9th International Conference on Precision AgricultureThere is no one idea or definition of precision agriculture if you ask Dr. Rajiv Khosla. Raj chaired the 9th annual International Conference on Precision Agriculture earlier this month in Denver, CO. I attended the conference and, while there, I managed to gather more information on precision than I know what to do with… and there was still an immeasurable amount of information I didn’t even get to touch. Everything I did manage to gather though will be parceled out and posted here, on precision.agwired.com. So, in the coming weeks, look forward to a wealth of ideas on precision ag science, innovations and applications from experts around the globe.

The first you will hear from is Raj. Raj opened the conference, challenging presenters and attendees alike to think about what, exactly, is precision agriculture. Raj challenged listeners to consider whether precision techniques are only related to technology, innovation, developed countries and large acreages or if they can also include the intercultivation techniques of a single farmer with just a half acre field, who walks through every row using a single wheel and single hoe, his optical sensors amounting an instrument no more complex than his own two eyes.

Raj estimated there were between 450 and 500 participants in this year’s conference, with 250 oral and poster presentations, 34 concurrent sessions on a plethora of precision topics and representatives from 43 distinct countries.

“I think that’s really amazing and very impressive to be able to attract so many people from diverse backgrounds with unique and rich experiences related to precision agriculture,” Raj said.

The precision expert and educator suggests that precision agriculture consists of ideas, technologies and solutions that depend upon where in the globe they’re practiced. He says precision “technology” can, in fact, be quite different from one country to another.

Simply put, precision ag is “the right input at the right time in the right place in the right manner.”

Raj urged listeners to think of precision ag as “something that’s not relative to one place but something that has a place everywhere on this planet.”

“What could be a better time than now to take advantage of precision agricultural technologies when the world is witnessing the largest rise in food prices, energy prices, input prices and the demand and supply of food to the hungry mouth,” Raj said. “Something to think about. I think it is an opportune time for us to take advantage of precision agriculture here and everywhere else.”

You can listen to Raj’s remarks here:
Dr. Rajiv Khosla speaks about his idea of what is precision agriculture.

Audio, Education, Events, International, Standards

Ag Expo to Debut in Orlando 2010

Laura McNamara

agconnect.jpgThe Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) has announced its plans to host a new international agricultural exposition. The AEM says event will showcase leading innovation and technology within the ag sector and provide a forum for interaction with industry experts. Mark your calendars for the first-ever Ag CONNECT Expo January 12-15, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.

Manufacturers, dealers, distributors and producers from almost every sector of agriculture want to be globally competitive. At AG CONNECT Expo, they will have knowledge-sharing opportunities to better evaluate their position in the world marketplace while networking in a global environment and learning how to gain a competitive advantage.

AG CONNECT Expo will provide industry professionals with insights into U.S. and international ag policies as well as management best practices that producers are using around the world. “Our goal is for AG CONNECT Expo to become the forum for sharing global agricultural ideas and management trends,” O’Brien noted.

Education is a key focus of the show. In addition to showcasing a wide variety of new equipment, technology and services, AG CONNECT Expo will offer information on some of agriculture’s most important business management issues. Internationally recognized speakers will address topics such as high-tech farming, safe equipment operation, alternative fuels, alternative energy sources, general management issues for efficiency and issues pertinent to family-run businesses.

Charlie O’Brien (OQ – into the future.)

Charlie O’Brien (OQ – agriculture comes together.)

Charlie O’Brien (OQ – within their operations.)

Dennis Slater (OQ – bring the industry together.)

Dennis Slater (OQ – other industry professionals.)

Audio, Events, International

Hand-Harvested is now Precision Harvested with John Deere

Laura McNamara

rjohnson01a.jpgTracking labor performance and product quality now comes at the touch of a button… or the flash of a scan rather. The all-in-one Labor Performance and Product Quality Management Systems, one of the newest products from John Deere Agri Services, boasts unmatched data collection for hand-harvested crops. The hand-held device measures crew output and productivity, harvest performance, and crop quality, quantity, location, attributes and more through the use of barcodes on worker IDs, RFID tags and GPS field location. All information and data is then instantly uploaded to a specialized website accessed through unique user and password information. John Deere says the bottom line is, the device allows farmers to, well, increase their bottom lines by giving them more control and manageability over production and workers alike.

I spoke with Richard Johnson (pictured left), the National Account Manager of Production and John Deere Agri Services about the Labor Performance and Product Quality Management Systems. You can listen to my interview with Richard here:
Listen to MP3 file Richard Johnson Interview Interview (7 min. mp3)

Audio, Equipment, Resources, Software

Global Discussion on Precision in Denver

Laura McNamara

preag.JPGExperts from around the world are gathering in Denver, CO this week. The 9th annual Precision Ag Conference officially kicked off today with it’s welcoming reception. The conference will continue through Wednesday, July 23rd. Experts from around the globe will be presenting the latest techniques in precision farming technology. During the reception this evening, I spoke with precision experts from South Africa, India and Egypt. So far, the general idea seems to be that the U.S. is the leader in developing precision technology while the rest of the world puts it to use. We’ll see if that’s really the case.

I’ll be covering the conference in Denver this week. Updates will be posted on precision.agwired.com, and most of the content will be used for continued posting on the precision ag Website.

I must say, the reception on the 12th floor of the Hyatt Regency boasted spectacular views of the Rockies. A few of us couldn’t tear ourselves away from the stunning sunset over the mountains and foothills.

Events, International

Precision comes to Denver

Laura McNamara

preag.JPGDenver, Colorado is the place to be to learn more about Precision Ag this weekend. I’ll be attending the conference to learn the latest in precision technology. The 9th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) is being held at the Hyatt Regency Tech Center in Denver, Colorado July 20–23, 2008.

The ICPA has embarked on a new journey. After about 16 years in Minnesota, the Conference is moving to a new location. The mile-high city of Denver is excited to host the next ICPA Conference in its technological hub “The Denver Tech Center.”

The 9th International Conference on Precision Agriculture is envisaged to be the largest ever; with more than 500 attendees from all over the United States and 35 countries. The summer month of July is a gorgeous time of the year to be in beautiful Colorado. Surrounded by the Rocky Mountain National Park on the West to the Great Plains on the East, Denver is nestled in the heart of the USA.

Check back here throughout the weekend for updates. I will also be gathering information to use for later posts.

Events