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Technical support and interoperability

A summary of the technical support available and the systems providing interoperability between technology providers.
© EIT Food

In this Step we’ll explore some of the support available to farmers in getting started and using precision farming techniques and technologies. Three of the partners involved in developing this course provide support to those using various precision farming technologies (either directly or through dealers). This Step gives an insight into this support and the skills needed to use the technology. We’ll also look at how these technologies can be used in combination with each other.

Farmer support networks

The most useful support comes from peer-to-peer interaction, talking to others at trade fairs, and the support available from dealers [1,2]. Information from a range of sources helps with getting started so you benefit from a combination of the experiences of those who’ve used the technology, what happens when you combine technologies and how to troubleshoot problems.

Agricolus

Agricolus provides a cloud platform which supports farmers with various aspects of precision agriculture including:

  • Decision support in carrying out custom actions for the specific needs of each crop
  • Satellite imagery for vegetation and water stress indices
  • Alerts for crop pests and diseases
  • Support with the agronomic management of farms, which can include collecting and analysing data.

The Agricolus Academy offers training in precision farming techniques, innovative technologies (eg forecast models, remote sensing, sampling methods), and optimising yields through the Agricolus platform.

Photo of 5 men involved in setting up two different instruments in a field overlooking a city

The Agricolous Academy. ©Agricolus

John Deere

John Deere highlights the support available to farmers ‘on the ground’ from dealers and the specific tools available to farmers. In addition to the physical checks of equipment/machinery they also provide:

  • Remote Machine Monitoring – where the operating condition of machinery can be remotely monitored by dealer specialists through tools such as Expert Alerts and Machine Dashboard.
  • Expert Alerts – uses software algorithms that can predict certain issues before they have a negative impact or cause damage. As diagnostic and repair information is generated automatically, service technicians can react more quickly reducing downtime.

Two men in a field discussing something on a hand-held tablet with a large item of agricultural machinery behind them

John Deere support. ©John Deere

SatAgro

The SatAgro platform brings together satellite data and imagery for crop monitoring. Data for individual fields is processed and presented in the app to enable close monitoring of crop development and the impact of crop treatments. This could result in custom-built variable-rate prescription maps to enable VRA of seeds, fertiliser and pesticides, automated alarms to warn about sudden changes in crop condition and weather, and optimising the use of agrochemicals.

Satellite photo of a patchwork of green fields with an area in the centre highlighted in red, yellow and green. Two photos indicated the condition of the plants in different coloured zones - healthy looking in the green zone, sparse with lower ground cover in the yellow zone.

An example of satellite index compared photos from the field from one of SatAgro’s users. The yellow/red strip is where the seeder malfunctioned and oilseed rape was sown too deeply. The lower plant density is visible in the satellite image and fertiliser doses can be adjusted to support crop growth. ©SatAgro

Skills and training

In Step 3.4 we listed the specific skills that might be required in the workforce to make the most of precision agriculture. More general skills are also relevant, the most important being problem solving, critical thinking, working with others (eg external partners and developers) and decision making. Gathering and analysing all the data won’t improve the sustainability of the system until management practices are changed [3,4].

Various studies have shown the need for formal (college, university and CPD (Continuous Professional Development) courses) and informal opportunities (peer-to-peer sharing of information and discussions with tech specialists and dealers) for farmers and farm workers to develop and maintain skills [2,4].

Public bodies and governments can support skills development through, for example, regulatory frameworks and infrastructure – such as increased availability of rural broadband [4]. However, there are some institutional and technological barriers to overcome. Until recently, systems from different providers were incompatible. This led to significant difficulties getting multiple systems running and working efficiently together [5].

Interoperability

Farmers have, for years, been hampered by the multitude of software and hardware standards developed by each manufacturer. Transferring data between different sources, software and machinery could involve multiple conversions, mismatched cables and blank screens, which made the task of planning a variable rate application a full time job. Implementing precision agriculture was the domain of specialised agronomy consulting companies that could handle this complexity.

Thankfully this is now becoming a thing of the past as major manufacturers and software providers now aim for interoperability. An important step in this direction was the development (and gradual adoption) of standards such as the ISOBUS connection and ISOXML file type. ISOBUS (an international communication protocol that facilitates communication between machinery) allows the operator to use one display for an entire fleet of implements instead of having to manage numerous different control boxes in the cab.

Similarly, a recent Data Exchange Initiative, ‘DataConnect’, has brought together Case IH, New Holland Agriculture, STEYR, CLAAS, 365FarmNet and John Deere. This cloud-to-cloud project brings farm equipment and telematics platforms from all these brands together to enable data exchange within a single platform.

4 different coloured tractors in a field with a graphic of interconnected clouds above them. The words in the clouds are, MyPLMCONNECT, 365FarmNet, CLAAS TELEMATICS, John Deere Operations Center, AFS Connect

2 pictures side by side showing 2 combine harvesters in different fields. A graphic of clouds above them are connected by the words 'DataConnect'. The clouds contain the words, John Deere Operations Center, 365FarmNet and ClaasTelematics

Which, if any, of these examples might supply you with the support you need to get started with or make more use of precision farming technologies?

© EIT Food
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