Share Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Yield monitors, variable rate applications and auto-steer have changed row-crop agriculture in many positive ways. What’s next?“There are two big categories,” said John Jansen, North America commercial lead for The Climate Corporation. “One is scripting and the other is managing crop health in the season by getting insights in real time.”On-farm prescriptions for seeding rates, nutrient application and other inputs are making rapid progress and can now be calculated with a few clicks on an IPad.“We have some new tools where, with a click, farmers can create seeding scripts in corn. There are over 59 seed brands and over 3,000 corn hybrids that farmers can choose from. They can create zones in a field automatically and assign seeding rates in those zones based on their yield targets,” Jansen said. “We have really simplified the steps to create variable rate seeding prescriptions. We will also be working with some fertility scripting tools focused on corn that will allow farmers to create scripts for nitrogen and well as P and K. They can create prescriptions in under 10 minutes.”In terms of managing crop health, the use of drones and/or satellite imagery is also becoming much more accessible to more farmers as valuable tools.“Satellite imagery has come a long way with high resolution satellite images that help you see variability in the field. We deliver between eight and 12 in-season satellite images right on the IPad that can be used by farmers as they scout their fields in season. They can see the field variability in the field and know where to pinpoint doing some specific scouting,” Jansen said. “Maybe it is disease in corn where they need to apply fungicide or an insect problem that needs insecticide. That type of scouting is getting more advanced and giving farmers insights of where to scout and protect yield. It is limited only by the cloud cover and our ability to capture a good image for that field.”As field imagery is more commonly used, more potential applications are being realized.“I was with a farmer the other day who showed me side-by-side maps of satellite images in June and his yield map at the end of the season. It was incredible how well they matched up. You could see the areas of high yield and the area of lower yield in that satellite image months before the combines rolled. It really provided a picture of the field variability and he was able to spot some crop health problems and respond to them sooner in season. That is really where a picture becomes worth a lot,” Jansen said. “In these early days of digital ag, helping farmers monitor real time weather and crop growth to boost bushels is the biggest benefit. The biggest success stories are cases of where they learned they could add some supplemental nitrogen or add a crop protection product that helped the bushels add up pretty quickly. Farmers are looking to be more efficient and get more out of every acre. That is where these efforts are really focused.”Beyond satellite and drone imagery, the future could also include field-level sensors that monitor additional layers of information for decision-making.“The next big wave will be sensors and getting more measurements within the fields. We need to get below the soil surface and analyze the profile for moisture, available nitrates, soil temperatures, and then form models around fertility and seeding based on those in-field measurements. We are doing a lot of research to keep making these models more accurate and deliver more insights,” Jansen said. “I think this sensors phase is going to be really exciting over the next few growing seasons. People think of these tools as precision agriculture, but when we talk about digital ag, it doesn’t have to be complex. It is all about getting each step of the farming operation with data and visualizing it. This sets you up to do much deeper things. It starts with just getting the farm online digitally.”More information can also help improve record keeping in a variety of ways, said John Fulton, a precision agriculture specialist and associate professor in agricultural engineering at Ohio State. This step could be important in terms of farm profitability and also adhering to the increasingly stringent record-keeping requirements.“Especially in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, good records around nutrient management are going to be key,” Fulton said. “There is the potential for audits of your fertility application and I believe that precision ag technology can help collect required information efficiently and be available for an audit versus writing it down in a notebook. That is a key opportunity I think growers need to be thinking about to improve record keeping and the efficiency around nutrient application.”And when those single farm observations can be combined with others on a larger scale, the long-term possibilities are tremendous.“I think you are starting to see agronomic benchmarking services becoming more prevalent,” Fulton said. “Once we start to aggregate customer data together to see how practices, hybrids and inputs respond over a larger footprint rather than just one farm, learning will be accelerated while improving farm profitability.”Though it seems like much has developed very quickly in terms of precision and technology in recent years, in many ways this is just the beginning of the possibilities.