Kurt Lawton, Corn and Soybean Digest

In the world of precision ag, two technologies are the next big thing, says Matt Darr, Iowa State University ag engineer. They aren’t newly developed technologies, but they are the next big wave in agriculture.

Currently three players are involved in the active crop-sensor market: Ag Leader (OptRx), Topcon (CropSpec) and Trimble (GreenSeeker, developed by NTech). "These are not mainstream yet, and we're probably two to three years away from greater success,” Darr says. “Crop sensors definitely work for growers who are willing to put in the management time that they require," he says.

It takes a different mentality compared to auto-steer or auto clutches on planters, where growers can practically turn the system on and it works, Darr says. To make crop sensors work, dedicated fertilizer management is needed, as well as the right equipment and application timing. "If you use active crop sensors two weeks past the target date to put nitrogen on, then you've lost most of the benefit you can get from the sensor."

The next big thing is a very strong trend toward telematics, or data transmission to and from vehicles. "This isn't a new technology, as it's been used to track truck fleets and logistics for years," says Darr. "But all of a sudden in agriculture, as data has become more valuable, more companies are working to help growers transfer data. Every time they're doing a production operation, data can be recorded and delivered to a decision-maker or perhaps a consultant or retailer – anyone who provides decision support solutions," Darr adds.

Telematics opens up broad opportunities for increased data management. "You can remotely transfer files like prescription maps and A/B lines for fields, or even directions to sprayers and floaters to keep them moving," he says. "More importantly, the same telematics data link can be used to deliver RTK signals or service/software alerts from dealers – providing growers with support for these more challenging technologies."

Once growers buy into a data plan, it will open up really creative solutions, from tracking grain logistics and getting real-time weather information to all the apps and software that we're accustomed to seeing on smartphones.

"Growers have already adopted immediate payback technologies such as auto-steer and section control in a big way, so the low-hanging fruit has already been developed,” Darr says.

Granted, he says, the adoption curve of these initial products runs the gamut. "I still get calls asking what is RTK and WAAS, which is good because it means growers are looking to grow their adoption. But growers at the other end of the adoption spectrum are moving into crop sensors and telematics, which I see as the next big wave."