Relax and let tech do the heavy lifting

Digital platforms such as Climate FieldView continue to offer integrated benefits and field prescriptions with increasing accuracy

Do you ever wish for a day when technology could just, well, do all the field analysis and planning work, and all you have to do is execute the plan? Jeff Cook does. At Mapleview Farms just southwest of London, ON, Cook farms with his wife Avalon, parents Don and Diane and brother Brett, growing soybean, corn, winter wheat and processing veggies. The farm has been in the family for over 100 years, a period marked by incredible changes in farm technology, from horses right up to digital data platforms. And this family has kept up.

With a passion for data and technology, Cook was an early adopter of the Climate FieldView platform, which is currently operational in all his equipment including the combine, sprayer, planter and spreader. Like many programs these days, Climate FieldView is user-driven, and that is key for Cook. “You get out of it what you put into it,” he says. “You can view it as a time saver, but if you want to maximize the potential of it, you do need to spend a bit of time to ensure your maps are correct. If there’s data that doesn’t seem that accurate, you either need to fix it, calibrate it or discard it.” To Cook, building that solid foundation of data today will make farming more sophisticated tomorrow.

EMBRACING THE DIGITAL FARM LIFE

The rapid ascent of digital platforms, which collect gigabyte after gigabyte of field data in order to produce intelligent field solutions, can be a bit daunting to some. But it shouldn’t be. Farmers already live in a digital world in almost every sense — from their smartphones to GPS on their combines — and this is simply another step in the advancement of agriculture.

Robert Makowsky, digital integration specialist with Bayer, say platforms like Climate FieldView are designed to give farmers unparalleled access to their data so they can design information-driven plans for a more productive, profitable farm.

“The application (gathers) all information into one spot,” he says. “It stores all satellite imagery of your farm; equipment use data such as seeding, spraying, spreading, tillage and harvest operations; as well as soil maps; weather information; crop scouting; and record keeping notes.”

If you’re worried about losing yourself in a sea of data, remember the data is there to serve you, not the other way around. For instance, for farmers increasingly interested in doing their own field-sized trials, Climate FieldView acts almost as a personal research scientist storing every little niblet of data along with previous notes about specific areas on the farm.

Rob Makowsky

That robust information bank makes it easy to compare variables year-over-year, or field-to-field, so you can make quick assessments of what works best, create variable rate prescriptions, and more. Farmers can parse the data almost any way they want, share it with whoever they want, and are limited only by their imagination and maybe headlands.

“This really allows farmers to find that right fit for their own farm,” says Makowsky. “If they are trying to determine the right seed product or adjust their fertility rates on a field, they can see if that is the right decision for their farm and, in future, make those decisions based on what fits, what makes sense.”

BUILDING SUSTAINABILITY ON THE FARM

This straightforward approach appealed to Jeff Cook. When he began farming about 15 years ago, he had to manually log field and production data. Today, he has reams of digital data he taps into to make decisions.

With all his machinery linked together, he runs comparative trials where he hopes to save money and be more efficient with his time. One of the biggest trials he ran recently was designed to assess nitrogen rates.

Cook Family

“Certainly, being able to analyze our rates, we are able to bring that total rate down — tighten up how much insurance nitrogen we put down,” he explains. “That saves money, no doubt. We are also able to analyze our timing and apply nitrogen later in the season. That’s something we certainly think shows some promise.

“When it comes to analyzing out management practices, as long as it’s mapped accurately, when we go to harvest in the fall it gives us a big test plot in which we can easily go through the data.”

In addition, Climate FieldView has helped Cook utilize prescription-based spot sprayed herbicides, as opposed to driving around the field and manually turning the sprayer on and off when a weed patch is discovered. This has allowed him to avoid post-emergent, full-field spray operations that are costly and time-consuming. As well, Cook has tried variable rate seeding that, in most cases, resulted in a yield increase.

“You can’t talk about sustainability without talking about economics,” he says. “Any time you can cut back on fertilizer rates or crop protection use, that’s better for the environment. If we can produce more and cut back on total rates, hopefully we are producing better yields with less inputs.”

It’s not always clear sailing though. Cook says the accuracy on Climate FieldView improves all the time, but there are still instances where cloud cover makes satellite imagery wonky and he needs to groundtruth the situation for himself.

Ultimately, Cook’s hope is that the technology will grow smart enough to take him out of the equation. For some farmers, that idea is downright ridiculous, but if results are verified, why not?

“This technology is just going to continue to evolve,” he says. “In time, my hope is that my brother and I don’t have to sit and go through it map by map in the winter. The more information we put in, the more information the software has to calculate and do its work in the background to give us solutions going forward.

“My hope is we don’t have to do much of anything and those (field prescriptions) are automatically made and waiting there in the planter for us in the spring,” says Cook. “Like any technology, once it proves itself, people can take comfort using it.