Returning for a third time to the Agricultural Electronics Foundation’s (AEF) annual North American Plugfest event in Lincoln, Neb., I again marveled at the intensity of the dozens of engineers as they hustled from station to station in search of enhanced equipment compatibility.

Toting bundles of cables and laptops, attendees from North American and international manufacturers rotated around the room in 30-minute increments, sharing brief pleasantries before getting down to business. This speed-dating style of component testing has long been a staple of Plugfest events.

But is it effective? Taking an informal poll of attendees, the vast majority said the rapid testing format is an efficient process and allows companies to share and compare data code and component connectivity.

“We can learn a lot here, but it’s not like we leave with answers to all of our questions,” said one OEM engineer. “Often, these events will bring about more questions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Sitting in on several progress update sessions from AEF committee leaders, there is ongoing momentum toward broader ISOBUS implementation in North America. Perhaps most notably, future collaboration between the AEF and AgGateway, another independent organization working on improved standardization in precision ag, could accelerate progress and decrease overlap between the goals of the two entities.

But progress will ultimately depend on how committed stakeholders are to making plug-and-play more than a catchphrase. Taking a respite from the Plugfest activities, I visited several farm equipment dealerships in the Lincoln area and there was far less optimism that equipment compatibility issues could one day be nonexistent.

“It’s still the number one problem we face,” said a precision specialist with one dealership in Fremont, Neb. “I’m just not sure how the OEMs and the precision companies are all going to be able to work together to make ISOBUS a reality.”

Even AEM leadership admits that there are and will continue to be limitations to accessibility of proprietary information. “Companies know which walls exist without having to see them,” says one AEF member.

Still, Plugfest has broken down plenty of compatibility barriers since the first event in 2001. One anecdote shared by an AEF committee member illustrated how much had changed in 15 years.

“When we had about 20 companies, some would conceal their equipment in a cardboard box so nobody could see inside,” he says. “Today, we see nearly 200 companies willing to fix circuit board together and share code. That’s progress.”