Although a relative newcomer to the Farm Progress Show experience — this year’s event being only my second — I have an appreciation for the stamina needed to navigate the grounds.
And this year’s show in Decatur, Ill., was a scorcher, a fact noted by almost every vendor, dealer and farmer I spoke with during the week. More than a few times I squinted into the sun, looking for an overcast sky to provide some relief.
But I ended up having far more success finding “clouds” on the ground as several precision farming manufacturers unveiled new wireless data transfer systems. Ag Leader, Trimble, Raven and Topcon were among the companies showcasing cloud-based solutions at Farm Progress, and touting the technology as the future of precision farming.
Cloud-based computing isn’t necessarily new to the industry, but it is still somewhat of a foreign concept for many growers and dealers who are used to, and perhaps even comfortable with, collecting and transporting precision data on storage devices like USB sticks.
After listening to a demonstration of a manufacturer’s cloud-based system at Farm Progress, I asked a farmer next to me what he thought about the technology.
“I’m still not sure where this cloud is and where my data goes,” he told me.
Certainly, he’s not the only one a little wary of the concept and data security seems to be a primary concern when it comes to storing information in cyberspace. Manufacturers acknowledge the need to educate and inform farmers and their dealers on the benefits of cloud-based farm management, but they say it’s a proven technology many are probably already using.
“Think about email,” says Brandy Greer, products manager with Topcon. “That information doesn’t just reside on a user’s computer.”
Still, storing valuable yield data or prescription maps in the abstract, rather than on a thumb drive that securely fits in a pocket may not be a move some farmers are willing to make.
But manufacturers say dealers can work with their customers to show them why this is a move worth making. The biggest benefit being that wireless management of farm data should improve efficiency and reduce the risk of information being lost in transit.
Dealers have shared horror stories about customers losing a USB stick in the field or forgetting to transfer yield data after harvest.
“Anytime you can eliminate something that can get lost or fail, it’s going to improve efficiency,” Greer says.
It’s going to take time for cloud-based computing to catch on in agriculture, and to what extent it becomes commonplace remains to be seen. However, there is clearly an ongoing push by precision manufacturers to bring this technology to the forefront.
Dealers will have an opportunity to deliver these services as an add-on feature to precision hardware. But in doing so, dealers need to make sure they first understand the technology, otherwise they run the risk of simply getting their head stuck in the clouds.