Seeing precision farming technology in action is always a thrill — whether it’s sitting in the tractor cab getting hands-on experience with a new auto-steer system or observing a dealer demonstration for customers.
But attending the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF) Plugfest at the Univ. of Nebraska last month renewed my appreciation for how precision farming technology evolves from a dream to reality.
Engineers and software gurus from dozens of companies descended on the campus in Lincoln to test the compatibility of their farm technology with equipment components, with the objective of achieving industry certification as ISOBUS compliant.
As one attendee told me, “It’s chaos, but it’s an organized chaos.” With only 35 minute windows to test functionality of one product with another — before testers rotate to another station — the event plays out like a series of beat-the-clock challenges.
While Plugfest is only a “pre-testing” ground for AEF certification, companies certainly revel in the successes, but refuse to accept the defeats. There was plenty of head scratching and hand shaking among attendees.
“If it wasn’t for this event, I’d have to schedule trips to see every one of these companies,” one engineer from Case IH told me. “If you are going to find problems, this is a great place to find them because you have all of us here in one room to try and come up with a solution.”
It’s inspiring to see manufacturers working together toward a common goal of making technology more compatible for farm consumers. But they certainly have incentive to work together as more farmers want to run multiple brands of equipment together, without losing functionality.
One precision manufacturer at the event told me that compatibility hadn’t been a high priority several years ago, because there wasn’t enough market to sell into, especially in North America.
“It’s certainly a high priority for us now,” he says. “As we get everybody moving in the same direction it’s starting to pick up speed.”
With more companies invested in compatibility standards — the AEF has 140 members and counting — the ISOBUS market is growing and manufacturers don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. This year’s Plugfest drew a record crowd of more than 150 attendees during the three-day event.
Manufacturers acknowledge that the promise of “plug-and-play” technology is still unfulfilled and “selling ISOBUS” remains a challenge.
But based on the effort and optimism I saw at Plugfest, manufacturers are committed to solving compatibility problems, sooner rather than later.
As one precision manufacturer predicts, “In the next couple of years, we’ll get to the point of either you are in ISOBUS or you are out of business.”