Posts Tagged ‘precision agriculture’

Tools of the Trade: What’s New In Agriculture

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Farming

It’s been more than 20 years since affordable geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) first came into widespread use, enabling the farm industry to plant and maintain crops with “precision.” Since then, numerous other innovations – automatic steering, seed and spray applications, and web-based technology, to name just a few – have made Precision Agriculture a standard way of doing business, with its efficient technologies and environmentally sound practices.

This week, World Ag Expo, “the world’s largest annual agriculture exposition celebrating 44 years of innovative agriculture” examines New Tools for Agri-Business. We looked at a few of the “Top 10 New Products of 2011” and how they further add to the “precision” of Precision Agriculture.

We’ll start with a decidedly low-tech innovation known as the AG Flag. As developer Mike Hansen explains on the World Ag Expo website, this “farmer-friendly” water-activated device helps farmers save money, water and effort by eliminating guesswork. “It’s an incredibly simple way to signal when your flood irrigation water reaches the pre-determined location in your field or crop and that it’s time to change or shut off the water.” Mounted at the end of a 5-foot long pole, the AG Flag springs up when irrigation water dissolves a strip of paper that secures the flag; once released and upright, the bright orange flag can be seen up to a mile away.

Meanwhile, World Ag Expo also tells us that a new software system called Connected Farm is helping increase farm management efficiency by combining precision farming information collected in the field with data management software and cell phone technology. According to a company spokesperson, the software provides users with an easy, secure wireless transfer of production records from the field to the office, and back to the field, enabling employees to work off the same set of data and simultaneously receive updates — no matter how far away from one another they may be.

And a new rugged tablet computer from Trimble Yuma is designed to work where farmers and ranchers work – in scorching summer heat and sub-zero winter cold, not to mention in driving rain and blinding snow and dusty, muddy conditions. So, as the World Ag Expo website explains, instead of using crop management or livestock monitoring software only in the office, this new portable device – weighing less than three pounds – lets farmers bring it into the field or barn, operating on two rechargeable batteries.

If you’d like to learn more about the educational opportunities available in the field of Precision Agriculture, check out the websites of Kirkwood Community College, or Agrowknowledge, the National Resource Center for Agriscience and Technical Education, where you’ll find plenty of information and resources, including educational and career opportunities available in the Agricultural Industry.

Agricultural Geospatial Technology

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

FarmerWhat is Geospatial Data?

In this week’s Episode of ATETV, we were re-introduced to Dan Miller, a student at Kirkwood Community College, studying Precision Agriculture and Agricultural Geospatial Technology.

According to the Kirkwood website, “Agricultural Geospatial Technology students prepare to work in the emerging geospatial technology industry…The two-year program includes courses in computers, GPS, ArcView and data collection, in addition to agronomy and agriculture economics.”

As part of this program, Dan is taking a class called Geospatial Data Collection, which introduces students to GPS and spatial data, and the many applications these technologies have in the field of agriculture.

GPS or Global Positioning Systems are an integral part of today’s farming industry. The technologies, which pinpoint locations via satellite-based remote sensors to within a meter of any given location, help farmers adjust for the fact that any area of land can contain wide variations in soil types, nutrient availability, erosion and soil moisture..

And as Dan and other Kirkwood students are learning through their own “real-world” projects, there are ample ways to apply these geospatial data collection processes. Here are some of their projects, described in students’ own words:

Produce Relocation. “Our family operates a vegetable farm for which we provide produce for many local grocery stores [as well as] for Wal-Mart. In the past, record-keeping has been through paper hand-drawn maps. But this paper method makes it difficult to manage fertilizer, yield and pest-control systems. [My project] will determine where the best place to plant is to plant our vegetables next year…through soil sampling, making boundaries and recording past plantings.”

Addressing the Iowa Flood. “I’m going to plot out corn crops in areas that were affected by the recent floods in Iowa. I hope to document the area lost to the flood and identify problems with areas that remain as crop ground.”

Creating a Map of Iowa Lake. “I am going to be working with the staff of Iowa Lake [to create] a detailed map for use by fishermen. I will walk around the lake and get a boundary layer and will use my boat to map and identify structures with the lake. I also will be laying a grid over the lake of 10-yard by 10-yard squares and taking the depth of the water.”

Dan Miller told ATETV that he’d like to take his GPS experience back to his own family’s farm. But as he also notes, his Geospatial Data Collection class has opened his eyes to other job options as well – for example, positions in the fields of construction or natural resources, or other positions in the agricultural industry.

To learn more about precision farming and GPS applications, check out this backgrounder from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Next Big Thing in Precision Agriculture

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Farming

Precision Agriculture Keeps Pace With Telematics Technology

Last winter, we wrote about Precision Agriculture, the use of technology to understand and manage variability in fields and crops. Precision Agriculture helps farmers save time and reduce costs, and also plays a key role in reducing the environmental impacts of farming by lowering chemical use, and reducing pollution and runoff.

This week’s Episode revisits the subject of Precision Agriculture, and so we decided to do the same. We learned that the specialty that some say could be “the next big thing” in Precision Agriculture is called Telemetry. Also known as Telematics, it’s a Communications Technology that relies on a central computer server to both capture and report information from a remote location, enabling users to monitor critical operating conditions from a location five miles away — or even on the other side of the world.

Telemetry systems are already being used in other industries – including transportation, construction and mining – making them ripe for adoption in the field of Agriculture. (Perhaps the best known telemetry system currently in use in the United States is OnStar, which makes use of cellular communications, GPS satellites and operations data to link automobiles to a central computer server and service center. It’s estimated that in an average month, the OnStar system unlocks more than 60,000 car doors and coordinates 2,000 automatic crash responses.)

Agricultural telemetry systems are based on the same basic technologies as OnStar, but instead of relaying information to a service center operator, information is delivered via Web sites.The information flow is supplemented by automated cell phone/e-mail and text alerts, which are made when preset alarms go off, alerting the farmer to engine error codes, required maintenance or low fuel tank levels, for example.

An article on PrecisionAg.com states that by incorporating advanced GPS Technology, wireless communication and Web-based equipment management software, growers gain instant access to key information about their farm equipment, including location, fuel consumption, speed and direction, and potential maintenance issues. Growers also gain the ability to manage their business from inside their homes, and to connect wirelessly via computer from a piece of farm equipment. And according to Farm Industry News, two-way telemetry systems that allow engine electronics to be automatically diagnosed and fixed remotely are already a reality.

Stay tuned – while farmers aren’t likely to be driving tractors by remote control in the immediate future, the rapidly evolving field of telematics technology could one day make this scenario a reality!

ATETV Episode 42- Community Colleges: A Launching Pad for New Careers

Monday, July 19th, 2010

This week, we look at some of the ways that community colleges can provide students with a career boost – whether they are just starting out in high school or getting a fresh start with a mid-career job transition.

In our first segment, we talk with Dennis Trenger of Stark State Community College, where the college’s Dual Enrollment Program provides students with the opportunity to take college-level classes and pursue an Associate’s degree while still in high school.

“[Stark State] is working a lot more with high school superintendants and curriculum directors,” Dennis explains. “[This way we ensure that] what they’re teaching in high school is in alignment with what students will need for college.”

Student Michael Bucklew took advantage of the Early College Program at Timken High School and recently graduated from Stark State with a degree in Electromechanical Engineering – while still in high school. “The Early College Program is designed so that…the inner city kid can go to college,” Michael explains. And with this educational boost, he adds, students can be well on their way to rewarding careers at an early age.

“[Our] collaborations with middle schools, high schools and colleges are extremely important,” explains Dennis Trenger. “[We provide building blocks] so that students can progress….they don’t have to start all over again [when they’ve finished high school.]

Similarly, as we learn in our second segment, community colleges can help individuals who are looking to make a career change. Steve Hardister is studying Simulation and Game Development at Wake Technical College with the aim of making a job transition from the printing industry to a career in 3D graphics.

“I’d reached a salary cap [working in the printing industry] so I decided to make a transition,” explains Steve. “The advantage of taking courses here at Wake Tech is that you are immersed in the actual modeling and hands-on gaming experience….you do learn some theory, but you also get involved in [hands-on] modeling and animation very quickly.”

While Steve hopes to transition into a career that will enable him to develop simulations for educational purposes or do 3D modeling and animation for the entertainment industry, the skills provided with a degree in Simulation and Game Development can also be applied to such diverse industries as the automotive industry or even NASA.

Finally, in the third segment, we visit Kirkwood Community College, where the Precision Agriculture program is getting a lot of support from industry in today’s rapidly growing marketplace.

“For many years, Precision Agriculture kind of plateaued and farmers didn’t really see the value of this technology,” explains Kirkwood’s Terry Brase. “But with the newest technologies, such as guidance systems, a lot of farmers are excited and it seems like we cannot graduate enough students to meet the field’s demands.”

Kirkwood graduate Dan Bosman agrees. “As technology progresses, there’s going to be a larger need for people with [Precision Agriculture] skills. You could find a job working for a cooperative chemical company, for seed dealers….anybody who uses or is involved in agriculture and uses technology [will need employees with these skills, which go well beyond traditional farming.]”

March 20th is National Agriculture Day!

Friday, March 19th, 2010
National Ag Day

National Ag Day

It’s been a long winter and for many of us, that’s meant snow and ice, and days that are too short and too dark.

But this week, we not only turned the clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time, but we also celebrate the first day of spring this coming Saturday, March 20. And in the agricultural industry, the first day of spring is AgDay, a national event created by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA) as part of National Agriculture Week. First introduced in 1973, Ag Day and National Agriculture Week were created to focus on the vitally important role that farming and agriculture play to our lives, including our health, our environment and our economy.

Consider:

*More than 22 million people in the U.S. are employed in farm or farm-related jobs, including production agriculture, farm inputs, processing and marketing and wholesale and retail sales.

*Forty-one percent of total U.S. land — 938.28 million acres — is farmland, and the average farm covers 441 acres, compared with 147 acres in 1900.

*U.S. farmers produce 46 percent of the world’s soybeans, 41 percent of the world’s corn, 20.5 percent of the world’s cotton and 13 percent of the world’s wheat.

Those are some impressive numbers!

But equally as impressive are the many ways that today’s farming techniques are keeping pace with our country’s changing needs and tastes, resulting in healthier crops and meat products and increased efficiencies and cost effectiveness. According to the ACA, the new technique known as “precision farming” boosts crop yields and reduces waste by using satellite maps and computers to match seed, fertilizer and crop protection applications to local soil conditions. At the same time, biotechnology advances are yielding tastier fruits and vegetables that stay fresher longer and are less vulnerable to damage by insects.

That’s great news for all of us as we work to maintain more nutritious diets. Today’s population, for example, eats a whopping 900 percent more broccoli than we did just 20 years ago! We also consume about 30 pounds of lettuce per person per year — five times more than our ancestors ate in the 1900s. And blueberries — another of the plant family’s nutritional powerhouses — have also gained tremendously in popularity, with over 200 million pounds grown in North America each year.

In addition to keeping us healthy, today’s farmers are safeguarding the health of our environment . Reduced tillage practices on more than 72 million acres help prevent erosion, and maintenance of more than 1.3 million acres of grass waterways allows water to flow naturally from crops without eroding soil. And, just as the households of America now routinely recycle glass, newspaper and aluminum, the farms of America continue their age-old recycling practice of applying manure to fields replace nutrients in the soil.

There’s no question that the farming industry has made the most of new technologies — expanding, adapting, and ultimately, improving the agricultural products that reach America’s homes. Today’s farmers work nearly three-and-one-half times more land than their predecessors from 1900, and each American farmer produces enough to feed 144 people — a dramatic increase from 25 people in the 1960s!

“There is an on-going consolidation in agriculture that results in fewer farmers farming more acres,” says Doug DeVries, Sr. Vice President Agricultural Marketing for North America, Australia and Asia at John Deere in Moline, Ill. “Their needs for equipment are changing. Their expectations for what the equipment will do for their farming operation are also changing.” The field of agriculture as a whole just continues to evolve.

So, on National Agriculture Day: this Saturday, March 20th, as well as the next time you help yourself to a serving of broccoli or toss a handful of blueberries on top of your cereal, consider where they came from — each farmer in America today is responsible for feeding you — and 143 others like you!

ATETV Episode 26: Growing a Competitive Workforce

Monday, March 15th, 2010

This week, we learn about an agriculture curriculum and an Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Center of Excellence that are helping to promote growth — literally and figuratively!

In our first segment, we meet Dan Miller, a student in the GPS and GIS program at Kirkwood Community College who is studying to be a “cutting-edge” farmer.

“I grew up on a farm with my father, and that’s what started my interest in the field of agriculture,” says Dan. And, through Kirkwood’s GPS/GIS program, Dan is preparing to work in in the emerging geospatial technology industry. As one of only a handful of precision agriculture programs in the nation, Kirkwood’s curriculum provides students with courses in computers, GPS (Global Positioning Systems), ArcView and data collection, in addition to agronomy and agriculture economics.

GPS technology has complemented Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for a number of years. “GPS is used in a lot of tractors, but also has a lot of other applications,” notes Dan. “There’s an infinite amount of options to use in the field of agriculture right now. This program has opened my eyes to all of the programs that are available to use in our family farm operation or to help me create my own business.”

Even if Dan decides not to pursue a career in farming, the skills he’s gaining through this program can translate into numerous other careers, including construction, natural resources or other agricultural careers. But for now, Dan says, “Once I graduate my passion is to go back home and farm with my Dad. That’s what I’ve always enjoyed and that’s what I really want to do.”

In our second segment, we visit the South Carolina ATE Center of Excellence at Florence-Darlington Technical College, which has developed proven models and successful practices to improve education — and ensure a competitive, technologically savvy workforce for the future.

“We have worked one-on-one with a number of educators and other organizations around the country to develop practices and strategies that we know will increase the quantity, quality and diversity of engineering technicians and support economic development,” explains Elaine Craft. And she adds, all of today’s education research is pointing to the value of hands-on, inquiry-based learning.

“Without a hands-on experience that puts things in context and forces students to grapple a bit, the information doesn’t stick and students don’t know how to use the information the next time they encounter it,” she notes. At Florence-Darlington, a series of changes that were initially implemented to meet the learning styles of a particular group of students,are now being used to make learning more meaningful for all students.

“We entirely changed the way we approach the first year of study, integrating mathematics, physics, technology and communications,” adds Elaine. “We also have an internship program, so we can now provide students with opportunities to work while they’re enrolled in school.” Known as a “Grow-Your-Own” approach, the internship enables students to “grow up” with an industry during their two years of school, ultimately producing a good match between the graduate and the job.

The South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center (SC ATE) is now working with community colleges and industry partners on improving Engineering Technology programs at two-year colleges not only in South Carolina, but across the country. As this week’s episode demonstrates, today’s technology students can grow and thrive in many different ways!

What exactly is Precision Agriculture?

Friday, February 26th, 2010
Working the Field

Working the Field

Image: vitasamb2001 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve been speaking a lot about Precision Agriculture on ATETV- who is using it, how they are using it, how it is vital to the efficiency and production efforts of farmers, etc. But what is it exactly? We thought it was an interesting enough topic to delve still further into and get greater insight into this new and exciting field.

Precision Agriculture is the use of technology to understand and manage varibility in fields and crops. Emerging technologies such as remotely sensed imagery, GPS, and GIS allow farmers to survey their land and collect information to create maps that identify crop specific variables like soil nutrients, management practices, soil characteristics, past yields, level of moisture, pest infestations, etc down to the specific meter. This data helps farmers manage their fields for economic or environmental benefits. The many benefits include: reduce costs for crop inputs like fertilizer that would have been spread in areas that don’t need it and can now be placed in areas that do, better time management for the farmer and reduction of agricultural impact by targeting the use of pesticides and other chemicals. It also allows the farmer to more specifically document a history of his or her practices and results to pass on to future workers.

The field of Precision Agriculture has been around for at least 10 years but the basics of it are nothing new. Collecting data and making decisions based on that data are central principles of farming and have been around for many years. When plots of land were smaller in size, this was obviously easier. But as they grew, this no longer was possible. New tools and techniques were waiting to be discovered. Created in the mid 1960s, the Geographic Information System (GIS) was probably the first precision farming tool developed. It provided tools for analysis.

Then came several different soil testers and other instruments designed to make the techniques of farming still easier and more accurate. What remained was how to streamline all of this information and translate it to a broader, all encompassing picture of the area that could be used to further improve practices.

Along came the Global Positioning System (GPS). With enough satellites available in late 1980s and early 1990s, it was possible to use GPS receivers to determine individual location for all of this data. What that meant for the farming industry then was that farmers would now be able to analyze all that data for smaller manageable “subfields” and program a computer to position application of nutrients and seed where they are needed spatially on the land. These subfields, which are hundreds of separately manageable units, allow the farmer to make decisions that are much more efficient than on a whole field basis.

As new and emerging technologies, they will continue to be applied to a wide number of industries including agriculture. The use of pneumatic systems now allow equipment to automatically shutoff the application of seed or nutrients on areas that have already been applied, eliminating double application. The use of identification tags along with GPS will allow farmers to accurately track and manage individual animals. Optic systems will allow the identification of specific pests and the automatic application of a pesticide only on that pest, reducing costs and the use of chemicals.

Where this goes from here then is anyone’s guess. Perhaps tools will be invented that collect data and make decisions in real-time? Maybe we will utilize small field robots one day? Anything is possible. Special thanks to Terry Brase at Kirkwood Community College for his input on this topic!

ATETV Episode 23: One Degree, Multiple Possibilities

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

This week, we explore some of the many different paths you can take with a degree in Information and Communications Technologies and learn more about the applications of Precision Agriculture.

First, we delve deeper into the fields of Information and Communications Technologies. “I think students are naturally drawn to careers in IT and ICT. They are immersed in it. Telecommunications, networking, security, wireless…. they live, eat and breathe this stuff, “says Mike Qaissaunee of Brookdale Community College, “and they assume they know everything about it, just because they do it every day.” But once these same students are in a class, the picture changes and it becomes more about the mechanics of how things work. With this new information and the hands-on experiences provided at local community colleges, students interested in Information and Communications Technologies graduate with many different options available to them.

The same is true for those students graduating from programs in Agriculture Technology. As farmers work to make their industries more productive and efficient, those with a background and experience in Precision Agriculture become more and more in demand. Precision Agriculture is the application of mapping technologies like GPS/GIS systems to better understand in-field variability. This allows farmers to adjust for localized differences relative to specific areas and crops. Students studying this can expect to find opportunites working with seed dealers, seed companies, farmers, cooperatives, chemical companies and many more.

One thing is certain, with a degree in advanced technology comes plenty of job security and many possible career choices! The only challenge maybe deciding on one! Thanks for watching.

ATETV Episode 19: On the Cutting Edge

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

When people think high-tech, they often think of laser beams and white lab coats. Well, we have both of those represented this week, but we start somewhere unexpected: out on the farm.

Joe Tarrence, a second-year student at Kirkwood Community College, is studying how to use GPS to help farmers increase their yields. Joe’s already out in the workforce, selling equipment to farmers and advising them on how to use it. “The sky’s the limit with this precision farming,” he says.

Next we meet Jazmine Murphy, a student in the lasers and photonics program at Central Carolina Community College. CCCC has made a concerted effort to recruit students, particularly young women with an interest in science and engineering. And with applications ranging from telephone lines to the military, Jazmine’s experience with lasers should serve her well after graduation.

Finally, we learn about biomanufacturing, which is the use of living organisms or parts of them to produce drugs like vaccines or insulin. It’s “using cells that you genetically modify to act as factories for your biomanufactured product,” explains Sonia Wallerman of the Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative.

Whether they involve lasers, living cells or tractors, ATE programs are helping students stay on the cutting-edge of technology. And that will help them find jobs in these high-tech industries coming out of school.

ATETV Episode 13: Technology in the Lab and on the Farm

Monday, December 14th, 2009

This week we’re exploring how ATE programs are preparing students for work not only in traditional high-tech settings like medical laboratories and electronics shops, but also out in the fields of American agriculture.
First, we meet Shain Eighmey, a graduate of the biotechnology program at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Shain has turned his childhood passion for science into a two-year degree, a paid apprenticeship at a pharmaceutical company, and now a four-year degree at the University of New Hampshire. You can read an update about him here. [LINK]
Next we head to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Kelsey Meyerhoff is working towards her own two-year degree in agricultural technology. Among other things, she’s learning to use GPS technology to track soil samples in the field, a skill she first learned in a workshop while still in high school. Her classes are predominantly male, but Kelsey says that doesn’t bother her. “It’s just a challenge you push through, and you don’t look at it as something that holds you back,” she says.
Finally this week, we meet a dedicated educator who is sharing what he learned during his long career. Richard LeBlanc is the head of the electronics department at Benjamin Franklin Technical Institute in Boston, where he teaches students to repair electronic equipment, including many of the advanced medical devices used in hospitals today. A graduate of the institute himself, LeBlanc knows the value of ATE programs firsthand. He also knows, from his industry contacts, that teaching students how to communicate effectively is just as important as teaching the technicaThis week we’re exploring how ATE programs are preparing students for work not only in traditional high-tech settings like medical laboratories and electronics shops, but also out in the fields of American agriculture.

First, we meet Shain Eighmey, a graduate of the biotechnology program at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Shain has turned his childhood passion for science into a two-year degree, a paid apprenticeship at a pharmaceutical company, and now a four-year degree at the University of New Hampshire.

Next we head to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Kelsey Meyerhoff is working towards her own two-year degree in agricultural technology. Among other things, she’s learning to use GPS technology to track soil samples in the field, a skill she first learned in a workshop while still in high school. Her classes are predominantly male, but Kelsey says that doesn’t bother her. “It’s just a challenge you push through, and you don’t look at it as something that holds you back,” she says.

Finally this week, we meet a dedicated educator who is sharing what he learned during his long career. Richard LeBlanc is the head of the electronics department at Benjamin Franklin Technical Institute in Boston, where he teaches students to repair electronic equipment, including many of the advanced medical devices used in hospitals today. A graduate of the institute himself, LeBlanc knows the value of ATE programs firsthand. He also knows, from his industry contacts, that teaching students how to communicate effectively is just as important as teaching the technical skills.