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    The Climate Corporation announced a new deal with CNH for two-way data sharing, and a marketing partnership

    Collecting data with today's modern farm equipment is frankly easy. You fire up the monitor, the machine, check to make sure implements are properly hooked up and work. The technology grabs and stores the data. And there's the rub, that word 'store.' Monitors are holding that information for you to get to later, but then what?

    The Climate Corporation has been working on agreements for the past few years lining up data sharing deals with John Deere, Agco and the most recent, CNH, which provides data sharing capability to the Climate FieldView system through the FieldView Drive. This new partnership goes farther with CNH brand dealers marketing the FieldView Drive and App for farmer use.

    "First, and foremost, we have connectivity with the FieldView Drive and the application with some CNH equipment," said John Raines, senior vice president, global commercial, The Climate Corporation. "This greatly enhances the overall compatibility standpoint across all CNH machinery including harvesters, tractors pulling planters, sprayers and spreaders. It opens up those implements as well as the global markets."

    Beyond the basics

    The FieldView Drive is an ISOBUS connection device that links into a machine's systems and captures information. The company reverse-engineers the data stream from a machine to make sense of it for the FieldView software, if there's no agreement. With this deal, CNH will unlock their proprietary data stream for Climate access from both the AFS and PLM systems supported by the company.

    Raines is quick to note that "as always, the farmer will own his data." He noted that farmers must opt-in to share information into the system and that when they do, they continue to manage the information. "And once they opt in, it will be available for them to do something with in the FieldView system."

    Essentially there are two data streams - machine data showing operational information like speed, operating hours, speed, and other basic information that CNH uses now to enhance product design; the second is an agronomic stream of information such as as-applied map data, or yield map data.

    Added David Larson, head of precision solutions and telematics systems and service, CNH Industrial: "This partnership comprises opt-in two-way data sharing through the Climate FieldView platform and offers one of the highest levels of integration and interaction in the market today."

    This is a real-time stream - provided the farm has the cellular bandwidth during operation. This allows a FieldView customer to check in on how machines are at work. Raines has used the system on his own farm, noting he makes a request while sitting in a meeting to a tractor in the field and the operator gets a pop-up on the screen requesting access. "He hits OK and I can see his machine at work with only seconds of delay," he said.

    Making connections

    Raines noted that Climate has 20-plus platform partners and this CNH agreement - which is a multi-year deal - links the company to all major brands - John Deere, Agco, Case IH and New Holland. In addition to the data linkage, the CNH deal goes a little farther.

    "CNH dealers are going to be global partners selling the FieldView Drive and the FieldView app, which broadens our market tremendously," Raines said. "This enhances the support and the ability for farmers to receive value from the data and insights they get as these implements move across the field."

    For Raines, the key is getting that data into a platform where a farmer can make in-season decisions. "My big deal is this, I've been with the data science program of Monsanto since 2011 and we've been looking prospectively at the crop in real time, in-season, while you can still impact the crop this year," he said.

    Climate is also expanding into new markets including South America and Europe, and this new agreement will give the company easier access to data collection through the CNH brands.

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    For 2018, Farm Futures will sponsor key seminars during the National Farm Machinery Show. Check out the schedule

    Keeping informed these days is no easy matter. One productive way is to attend a major farm show and capture all the information you can in a short amount of time. A key tool for that at some shows is the seminar, and for the National Farm Machinery Show, Farm Futures is sponsoring four during three days of the show.

    The aim of the seminars is to put you in touch with hot ideas, advancements and technology you'll learn more about on the show floor. From combines to data dashboards, from tillage to in-season fertilizer application, the team has rounded up a wide-ranging group of speakers. Planning on taking in the big Louisville event? Besides marking your calendar for these seminars, you'll also want to download the show app.

    Just search the Apple Store or Google Play for "National Farm Machinery Show 2018" and be sure you find the 2018 version. You'll have a range of handy information right on your phone, so make plans to download that today.

    As for the seminars? Check out this list. All seminars are in South Wing B 104.

    Feb. 14, 1 p.m. - What's new with combines?

    Innovation in the combine market is ramping up. New sensors, onboard systems for calibration and enhanced harvest efficiency designs have come to market and more is planned for 2018. Experts from all the major combine makers will be on hand for this informative session.

    Feb. 15, 1 p.m. - Tillage trends for 2018 and beyond?

    The rise of vertical tillage, shallow tillage and other seedbed prep approaches has farmers scratching their heads about what's coming next. Stop by this seminar and get the latest information on ways farmers are approaching tillage in their operations.

    Feb. 15, 4 p.m. - Bringing tech together

    There's a growing pile of data being captured on your farm, so how do you put that all to work? This panel will address that from a range of different perspectives, and offer you some real-world answers to the big data questions; along with a look at some new tools for making better decisions on the farm.

    Feb. 16, 1 p.m. - In-season crop fertility - options for your farm

    Farmers are learning that spreading out fertilizer applications can make a difference, so how do you do that? And what are the options for you to consider. This panel will address a range of issues to consider for your farm.

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    Failing to pay attention to online security can lead to frustration and real losses.

    Most small businesses, including farm offices, regularly use the internet to engage in selling or purchasing products or services. Failing to pay attention to online security can lead to frustration and real losses. Businesses today are more vulnerable than ever to hacking, viruses, and disruption of services, and that's why you should take cybersecurity in your smart office seriously.

    To help keep the information of your business safe and protected, here are some cybersecurity tips that will minimize your chances of falling prey to hackers.

    1) Use latest security software

    You should always update your security software that covers all computers, operating systems, and even web browsers to minimize the threat posed by malware, viruses, and hackers. You can set the software to run a new scan after updates and automatically install updates. Maintaining updates and scheduling scans is the best way to avoid security issues, but it is not always foolproof.

    2) Educate employees on security protocols

    Your employees need to know the basic security protocols and practices from creating strong passwords to following the guidelines on internet usage. By having everyone follow the same guidelines, you minimize the chances of viruses or hacking to occur from sloppy or lazy security practices. Also, you should instruct all employees to change their passwords every three months to help maximize protection, as well as to avoid using the same password for all of their logins.

    3) Backup all important data

    You should back up vital information and data to a cloud system or separate storage devices that are both on and off your property. Vital information and data can include spreadsheets, documents, databases, files for financial and human resources, accounts both receivable and payable, and more. By backing up your files regularly, you can minimize the damage caused by a major systems failure, such as a virus or natural disaster.

    4) Have firewalls in place

    A firewall is a series of programs that prevent those on the outside from accessing your data. There are free firewall software systems online that are quite good at keeping out intruders, and you should extend that protection to employees who work from home.

    5) Secure wi-fi networks

    Often overlooked in many security plans is the Wi-Fi network that allows for access to your computer system. Be sure to place an encrypted, secure code into the network so that only personnel with the proper access can use it. You will also need to protect the router with a password so that access to that is limited as well. And, don't forget that you’ll need to change the passwords regularly to enhance security.

    6) Protect mobile devices

    In addition to Wi-Fi networks, you’ll need to protect all mobile devices that have access to your data. One way you can do this is to require that all devices that your company or employees own have the latest in security protection so that it minimizes the chance of hacking, malware, or viruses will manage to get inside.

    By performing all these security tips, you can minimize the threat from outside sources and protect your data. While there is no perfect solution, keep in mind that intrusions are most likely to occur in systems that do not take the necessary steps to protect the systems.                                                                                       

    Have recommendations or questions? Tell us about it in the comments below, on Twitter via @nerdsquawk or send me an email at

    The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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    Farmers Edge announces new partnership that aims to enhance insurance products and services in North America and beyond

    What would happen if an insurance company could have access to precision ag data from your farm in the process of helping write policies for crop coverage? That question is about to be answered with the announcement today (Feb. 13) that FarmersEdge is entering a four-year, exclusive agreement with PartnerRe, a key reinsurance firm in agriculture and crop insurance. The tech company and the reinsurance company will work with partner insurance firms to help enhance private crop insurance products in 2018 and beyond.

    In the insurance industry, farmers work with Approved Insurance Providers for crop insurance and even private products. But those insurers insure their own product with reinsurance firms, and PartnerRe is an $8 billion firm that serves insurance companies around the globe.

    Ron Osborne, chief strategy officer, FarmersEdge, explained that his firm has been looking for ways to help customers around the world. "We have found some big opportunities in crop insurance," he noted. "Crop insurance is a broad term and there are regulatory differences in each market."

    He explained that products and services North American farmers take for granted do not exist in a lot of other parts of the world including Latin America Eastern Europe. "How do you rate a policy with no historical soil data, no field imagery or even the ability to send data wirelessly over a cellular infrastructure?"

    FarmersEdge is offering information on several fronts that have value to those insurance firms. And for the first time, many will have access to crop insurance for the first time through this new relationship.

    The deal aims to bring FarmersEdge technology to at least 20 million acres of new farmland within four years. The key is combining digital agronomy with customized insurance products based on real-time data at a hyperlocal level. And for those more remote markets, there are new opportunities. In Brazil, for example, only 10% of the farms are insurance today.

    In North America, though farmers have access to crop insurance through several AIPs, most of those companies work in the reinsurance market with PartnerRe. This new relationship will mean those companies can have access to the data gathering tools available from FarmersEdge.

    Innovations ahead

    "We are the exclusive distributor of Planet imagery," Osborne said. "We have access to daily, global satellite imagery."

    Combine that with the telemetry product from the company along with the network of local weather stations, and farmers may someday be able to better negotiate their coverage based on real-time data. But Osborne noted it could go farther:

    "We're excited, though this is not live today, but we are working with insurance groups and there are some really neat things coming for the farmer with these technologies," he said. "For example, if a hail event comes through on Monday, the farmer could be paid on Tuesday."

    That kind of coverage would be based on algorithms that would look at the satellite and weather data and determine the true crop damage from a hail event. "Think what that could mean to a farmer in making a decision to replant," Osborne added. "They don't have to wait for weeks for a payment, they could move forward right away."

    This new relationship is the start of innovation for the two companies. With real-time data, there could be other information that might better fine-tune insurance products and help farmers get coverage for the long term, perhaps at a better price, or more coverage for the same money. The development has just begun.

    In addition, innovation could move up the chain for public products cleared by USDA's Risk Management Agency. Osborne noted that FarmersEdge and PartnerRe are working with insurance companies to develop the dialogue with RMA on future products. "RMA has strict guidelines. Right now, we're working on the private products side of the business. We're working with PartnerRe and AIPs so they can have integrated systems of data gathering so they don't have to cobble things together," Osborne said.

    He added that the companies are working with insurance carriers to develop strategies for speaking to RMA about innovations designed to move the industry forward.

    Bringing real-time ag data to crop insurance offers interesting potential for the future. That hail - quick payment - program is no on the market. But shows the potential for innovation that exists. To learn more about this program, visit

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    Winners convert corn into bio-renewable chemicals. Winners are from California, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota.

    More than 30 scientists and start-up companies answered the global call to bring forth their best ideas focused on the conversion of corn into bio-renewable chemicals for the inaugural Consider Corn Challenge, an open innovation contest hosted by the National Corn Growers Association.

    Six new technologies were highlighted at Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Calif., as winners of the Consider Corn Challenge. Each winner will receive a $25,000 cash prize. NCGA will also explore additional opportunities to support contest entries throughout their development and/or commercialization. The contest generated 33 submissions from eight countries along with nearly 4,500 website visits from 82 countries.   

    The winners of the competition:  

    1. Lygos – The Berkley, Calif., company is producing Bio-Malonic acid (Bio-MA) from renewable sugars using cutting edge biotechnology. It is used today in diverse markets, including high-tech composites and coatings, electronics, flavors & fragrances, and pharmaceuticals. Traditionally, Malonic Acid is made in China from petroleum, through an expensive process that employs hazardous chemicals.  Lygos’ system uses non-toxic chemicals and mild conditions resulting in an environmentally friendly process with superior economics.
    2. Annikki - Technology to produce FDCA (furandicarboxylic acid), a replacement for petroleum derived terephthalic acid for plastic bottles, fibers, and nylons was the winning entry from the Chicago, Ill., company. FDCA is a versatile bio-advantaged molecule with the potential to replace 100 million tons of petrochemicals. FDCA is not only 100% renewable, it also provides superior performance properties.  This allows plastic soda bottles to be lighter, use less energy in manufacturing and extend the shelf life for carbonated products.
    3. Iowa Corn Promotion Board – This technology developed by Iowa corn farmers, is for the production of MEG (monoethylene glycol). MEG has a range of diverse applications from coolants and heat transfer fluid to packaging material. Today, many major consumer products groups are searching for ways to reduce their packaging’s environmental footprint and Iowa Corn’s bio-renewable MEG may be the answer.
    4. Vertimass – Vertimass of Irvine, Calif., is seeking to produce aromatic chemicals using renewable corn ethanol to replace petrochemicals. This process represents a potentially very large new market, diversifying opportunities for ethanol plants and increasing corn utilization.
    5. Sasya – Sasya, of Maple Grove, Minn., is producing methylmalonic acid which can compete in methyl methacrylate markets for making acrylic glass, and adhesives.
    6. South Dakotas State University – SDSU’s efforts are focused using renewable precursors such as glycerol and lactic acid to make unsaturated polyester resins (UPRs).  Today, UPRs are used to make large plastic tanks, as a binder in fiber glass sheets and other reinforced plastics. 

    “The renewables industry is already an important driver for the U.S. economy generating billions of dollars in revenue but the additional potential in the emerging bio-economy remains largely untapped,” said Bruce Peterson, chairman of NCGA’s Feed Food and Industrial Action Team. “NCGA is proud to showcase these great technologies. Continued improvements in sustainable corn production underscore corn’s ability to significantly improve the environmental footprint of many common household products.” 

    “According to a USDA study from 2016, the U.S. bio-based products industry currently creates 4.2 million jobs and generates $393 billion in value added contributions to our economy, but there are many exciting market segments yet to be explored,” NCGA Director of Market Development Jim Bauman said. 

    “Today’s winners exemplify the potential for corn to play an ever-expanding role within the bio-economy.  The ability to produce economically competitive, bio-advantaged molecules, compared to traditional petrochemicals, is driving many companies to review how corn can play a larger role in their future procurement strategy.”

    Being immersed in the latest ideas and technology related to machinery, crop inputs and agronomic practices is expected at the annual Commodity Classic, Peterson noted, but it is especially meaningful to make this announcement of new, high potential corn uses at a time when farmers are facing another year of low prices. 

    “This challenge is geared to inspire new concepts, approaches and technologies that will help drive innovation and corn’s value. The growing productive capacity of corn farmers makes it essential that we continue to find innovative new ways to use this versatile crop,” said Peterson. “The Consider Corn Challenge will bring positive attention to our winners and help them move closer to commercialization. Likewise, our expectation is this Open Innovation competition will raise awareness of the capabilities and benefits of corn throughout the scientific community.” 

    Source: National Corn Growers Association

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  • 03/05/18--12:57: Starting a farm data journey

  • Moving all that information stored on machines becomes family’s next obstacle to tackle

    Sometimes you don’t know what you have until you ask. In the case of Doug Scott Farms, Sikeston, Mo., it’s asking what kind of data is available.

    For Scott, collecting data was easy; the machines do all the work in their John Deere 2630 monitors. But desktop software only accessible from one office made working with the information cumbersome.

    “We just didn’t do it,” Scott says. “And it can be a challenge to work with.”

    For Scott, and his sons Jerod and Taylor, better access to a range of information has value. This installment of Tech@Work spent time digging into the data the Scotts have. It was an eye-opener for the three.

    Moving data

    First step was to get the information from machines. Long a chore, this time it was even more complicated. When Farm Futures visited the farm, Sikeston had just been hit with 10 inches of snow. That meant slogging through snow to get into a machine shed to get to the data. The cotton picker was not in a shop near the house; it was a few miles away.

    And that’s what keeps a lot of farmers from getting their data. It’s locked into the machine when you park it, and you forget it until later. Making the trip in winter to gather the information is less desirable. But this was Scott’s last trip to pull a stick from a monitor to collect information.

    The family is stepping up to the John Deere Operations Center, combined with JDLink telemetry, to pull information automatically into the cloud. For 2018, the Scotts and their advisers will have nearly immediate access to information throughout the growing season.

    What’s available?

    When the Scotts sat down to start looking at their data, Taylor took the lead in exploring what information was available. “There’s a lot of information here we’re going to have to get through,” Scott says. “My sons will be more adept at using the tools.”

    Yet Scott is aware that mobile access to key information will help during the season. “We can see how operators are using machines and understand what’s happening in the field,” he says. “And we’ll be able to make better decisions with this information.”

    As he looked at his field data collected from one picker, Scott was already seeing patterns that would need further investigation. He likened the information — from yield to machine data — as a kind of “fingerprint of my fields,” Scott says. “We’ll want to make sure we’ve collected better information going forward.”

    After the trip through the snow to gather the last data stick, the next step is to sit down with Matt Johnson, precision ag specialist for Greenway Equipment in Sikeston, to sort through the information. And first up?

    “We’re going to have to manage field names for the future,” Johnson says. “That’s something we see a lot —that field names are not set up consistently in the data. It’s easy to fix, though it takes time.”

    Lining up proper field names is important. Scott jokes around in saying, “I see a lot of ‘norths’ in there, but we’ll fix those.” That task only has to be done once, and going forward, data will be properly matched to the proper location.

    It’s the start of a journey for 2018. When Farm Futures visits again, it will be during planting time, where we’ll learn how the Scotts are already putting their data to use.

    Digging in: Doug (left), Jerod and Taylor Scott get a good look at their data using a new cloud-based service — John Deere Operations Center. When the 2018 season starts, the family will have full access to their information on any device over the web.

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    A chemical application expert says your best chance at reducing herbicide drift is with the nozzle. But here’s where the label gets confusing.

    Keeping in-season dicamba herbicide on target this season may be the only way to save the technology beyond 2018. That’s not an easy task, says chemical application expert Bob Wolf, and the best way to reduce drift potential is to start with the right nozzle.

    Picking a nozzle from an approved list may sound simple, but Wolf says the EPA-approved list wasn’t created with optimum weed control in mind (see end of story: EPA’s dicamba label approval process). When low-drift goals merge with proper coverage, it causes some red flags.

    Wolf shares five concerns about nozzles, pressure and spray volume, and how they relate to speed and boom height:

    1. Some approved nozzles don’t match the 24-inch boom height requirement. Two of TeeJet’s air-induction nozzles are on the XtendiMax and FeXapan approved nozzle list, but the manufacturer-recommended 30-inch boom height for the 80-degree fan angle would be off-label. Applicators should cross-check their nozzle choice with all label requirements, including boom height and spray pressures, even if the nozzle is on the approved list.

    2. The nozzles listed on the XtendiMax, Engenia and FeXapan requirement websites were selected based on drift reduction capabilities, not efficacy potential. Wolf says not every chemical, adjuvant and drift reduction agent (DRA) combination was field-tested for approval (see below). Some approved nozzles have corresponding low pressures that may result in weaker spray patterns, larger droplets and poor coverage. Use the pressure gauge as your speedometer, and maintain a pressure between 40 psi and 65 psi to create uniform patterns with nondrifting spray droplets and adequate coverage for weed control.

    Wolf crafted these guidelines for 15-inch and 20-inch boom spacing to help applicators find the right on-label nozzle, orifice size, speed and operating pressure combination.

    REDUCE DRIFT: “The best chance you have at drift reduction is the nozzle,” Bob Wolf explains.

    3. Restricting sprayer speeds around field edges is virtually impossible. The labels recommend running sprayers at 5 mph along the treatment area edge, but Wolf says when conventional rate-controlled sprayers calibrated at 15 gallons per acre at 15 mph drop to 5 mph, the low pressure will result in larger droplets or cause nozzles to stop altogether. Certain DRAs can “confound the problem” (see No. 5). Wolf says slowing down is good, but be aware of the spray pattern implications.

    4. Labels require two DRAs in some cases. The XtendiMax, FeXapan and Engenia labels require an approved DRA if certain chemicals or adjuvants, including drift reduction adjuvants, are added to the tankmix. “It doesn’t make agronomic sense to me that some of the things on the list have to be combined with a DRA,” Wolf says. And it costs more. “Why add two DRAs when one can do the job?”

    5. Choose your nozzle and DRA wisely. “Not all nozzles will perform the same with all tankmix products,” Wolf says. The updated 2018 XtendiMax and FeXapan online application requirements carry this new warning: “Nozzle selection is one of the most important parameters for drift control. Not all drift reduction additives are compatible with every nozzle type and pesticide/adjuvant combination.”

    Check with your DRA or additive manufacturer to ensure nozzle compatibility prior to application season.

    Wolf understands the challenge of applying in-season dicamba according to label requirements, but he reminds all applicators that the label is the law. “Not following the label can lead to consequences that neither applicators nor the application industry wants.”

    EPA’s dicamba label approval process
    Wolf says the complicated XtendiMax, FeXapan and Engenia label requirements stem from EPA’s approval process and priorities. “During my conversations with the EPA last summer, I learned they had no concerns over weed kill,” he explains. “Their No. 1 goal was to protect endangered species.”

    EPA views low particle drift, not weed control, as the top priority for the label requirements and nozzle, chemistry, adjuvant and DRA approval.

    Every nozzle and potential chemical, adjuvant and DRA included in the tankmix has a drift profile based on wind tunnel testing data. EPA uses that data in the USDA’s drift-predicting Agricultural Dispersal, or AGDISP, Model. Any nozzle and tankmix combination with a drift profile equal to or less than the first-approved TTI11004 nozzle at 63 psi, which has low drift potential, makes the cut. Registrants (Monsanto, BASF and DuPont) manage the expanding approved nozzle and tankmix lists on websites that are considered an extension of the labels and the law.

    “My concern is that the approved items are based on wind tunnel testing and modeling to meet the ‘low drift’ concerns and not necessarily something that has been field-tested,” Wolf says. “It is my opinion that not all the ‘approved’ combinations make sound agronomic sense from an application perspective.”

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  • 04/12/18--23:00: What satellites can't see

  • USDA says satellite images can't be relied upon to predict annual corn, wheat or soybean harvests.

    by Jeff Wilson

    For decades, government satellites have been taking detailed photographs of crops around the world that are now being tapped by traders like Cargill Inc. to gain an edge in global grain markets.

    But the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- the benchmark in forecasting domestic crops -- says the images by themselves still can’t be relied upon to predict annual corn, wheat or soybean harvests. Instead, the government’s main source of information remains farmer surveys and random field samples.

    “Satellites are not advanced enough to differentiate crop acres yet, so there is a loss of precision,” said Seth Meyer, the chairman of the World Outlook Board, the USDA agency responsible for world crop forecasts. “This technology is going to get better, but right now it’s just one tool in our forecasting toolbox.” 

    Getting accurate assessments of major U.S. crops valued at more than $100 billion last year is a recurring challenge for traders, consumers and farmers. Crop conditions can change with the weather over the long growing season, so any early forecasts may be far off the mark when harvest rolls around. 

    Some scientists expected satellite images to eventually make the job easier. The U.S. has been taking pictures from space since the 1970s to track everything from the weather to troop movements. But it wasn’t until the last few years that advances in digital technology and computing power made those billions of images more useful in crop forecasting.

    Making Switch

    Statistics Canada, the government agency that produces the country’s monthly crop forecasts, already is using the technology in key crop assessments. In 2016, StatsCan switched to using only satellite- and weather-based models for the monthly production report published in September, saving about C$150,000 ($95,000) in farm and field surveys for that month. Other reports during the year still rely on the surveys.

    “There’s been a lot research put into this model to verify its robustness,” said Gordon Reichert, head of remote sensing analysis at Statistics Canada. “Feedback from the grain companies in Canada has been favorable.”

    Satellites scan thousands of square miles of agricultural land and record daily changes in areas as small as two dining tables, mostly by analyzing how green the fields are from planting to harvest. Machine-learning algorithms then match those characteristics with historical data and production results to make forecasts.

    Computer Models 

    In 2008, the U.S. began offering its satellite data and three decades of history for free, and the European Union made all its space-based observations public in 2013. Companies like Descartes Labs Inc., TellusLabs Inc. and Planalytics Inc. used the information to develop computer models to make all kinds of predictions, including for grain production. Other companies even sent their own monitoring devices into orbit and market the data to farmers looking to catch nutrient deficiencies or diseases soon enough to be treated.

    It’s an effective early-warning tool, said Bruno Basso, an environmental scientist at Michigan State University and co-founder of CiBO Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

    For example, the world was caught off-guard in 1972 when harsh weather led to a big drop in wheat harvests in the former Soviet Union. The country kept the damage secret and filled the shortage with 440 million bushels of U.S. wheat, or 28% of what American farmers produced that season using subsidies provided by the U.S. government. Prices tripled, and the Soviet purchases were dubbed the “great grain robbery” by traders.

    How Green? 

    The key to today’s satellites determining crop health is sensors that measure different light bands reflected or absorbed by plants. At their healthiest, the leaves tend to soak up more red and blue light and reflect more green, which indicates good growth potential. That real-time information is combined with other variables including weather, temperature and soil conditions, and then compared with historical data and crop results for the area.

    Traders are beefing up their satellite capability. Minneapolis-based Cargill invested in Descartes Labs in August. Last year, Descartes got a $1 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advance Research Projects Agency to develop ways of using satellite imagery to predict crop performance and avert food insecurity in the Middle East and North Africa.

    But the USDA is in no rush to rely more heavily on satellite imagery. For one thing, while images from space can identify corn or soybean fields in big growing regions like the Midwest, they are less reliable for areas with diverse crops or smaller fields. Still, the agency cites assessments of vegetation health from satellite imagery in its monthly reports. 

    Based on two decades of data through 2016, the USDA’s track record remains good -- especially for the August report that tracks a key point in the growth cycle through the end of July. There’s a two-in-three chance that the government estimate that month won’t deviate by more than 3.5% from the final tally in December, long after the harvest, according to Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois and part owner of crop forecaster YieldCast. 

    “It’s going to be a long time before there is a system from the big data forecasters that is as accurate as USDA,” Irwin said. Companies selling analysis of satellite imagery “will have to prove they can beat USDA in real time, not based on historical simulations of model performance,” he said. 

    To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Wilson in Chicago at

    To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Casey at

    Steve Stroth 

    © 2018 Bloomberg L.P

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    Getting effective coverage with just one ounce active ingredient per acre is, well, amazing.

    Last week dad and I were sitting down with Ryan, one of the local chemical dealers. During the conversation we got off task and the dealer mentioned something about being an ambassador for ag. We know as farmers we often fall short at communicating truths about agriculture and putting a positive light on our business.

    Here is the gist of what Ryan said: When I come in contact with someone who chooses to criticize agriculture for spraying chemicals all over and polluting the earth, I often try to ask them this one question: Do you realize that a farmer has the capability of taking quantities as small as one ounce and spreading that evenly over an entire acre?

    A week later, it appears the weather is about to change, and sprayers will soon be in the field. His question has gone through my mind more than once. So I’d like to go one step further and break it down.

    First off, how big is an acre? I can give you the simple answer of 43,560 square feet, but let me give some perspective. That is approximately 210 feet x 210 feet --a common size for a rural house lot. A football field (including the end zones) is about 1.3 acres.

    Now, let’s look at an ounce. It’s not very much. Google says an ounce is about 532 drops. The bottle of sports drink on the desk beside me is 16.9 ounces. Can you imagine trying to evenly distribute that over one football field let alone a dozen of them? It would be like trying to take one drop from an eyedropper and spreading that over an area the size of your car!

    So, what is it that you see when someone is out spraying a field? Well, most of it is water or a liquid fertilizer carrier used to distribute product. Not all chemical products are measured in ounces. Pints and quarts are common. Even so, most of the time a ground application is over 95% carrier. Most of the time surfactants (to improve absorption by vegetation) and anti-drift agents are also in the solution.

    I haven’t even gone into the machine calibration, nozzle selection, or automatic GPS coverage controls. We want to be precise in our applications. We don’t want to purchase extra product, or put on too little and risk resistant weeds. Remember, a farmer’s future comes from the land.

    The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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  • 04/24/18--23:00: Planting a seed of faith

  • For farmers Mike and Pam Clemens, taking a chance on a city guy turned out to be one of their best decisions.

    Farming is all about taking a leap of faith, especially this time of year. Plant a seed and something wonderful happens — like the time Mike and Pam Clemens took a chance on their city-slicker son-in-law, Joe.

    Joe Ericson was a pharmacist technician. A good one, in fact. And while he had worked on some farms growing up, he was no farm boy. He married a farm girl named Rachael, one of Mike and Pam’s four daughters. Rachael, an accountant, planned to live out life in Fargo with her husband.

    Then life stepped in and threw everyone a curve. Mike and Pam’s Wimbledon, N.D., farm operation was growing. They needed help. “My employees were getting older and couldn’t work as many hours, so we were thinking about having family coming back,” Mike says. “I had four daughters and a son who was way too young yet. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we give Joe and Rachael a call?’”

    The first call yielded no results. “Sorry Mom and Dad, we’re happy here,” said the Ericsons.

    The second call — same answer. But something clicked on the third call.

    “Rachael told us she was ready to come back to the farm,” Pam recalls, “but we were very surprised when she said, ‘Joe would like to try his hand at farming.’”

    Cue the record-scratch sound effect here.

    “Until then he hadn’t shown any interest,” Mike says. “We were nervous, but we said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’”

    The next question was simple: “How’s this town guy going to fit into our farm operation?” Mike says. “We had to be upfront from the start, and told him if we didn’t think it was working out, we would tell him. And they were fine with that.”

    Learning curve

    “I knew going in it would be a big learning curve,” says Joe of his first try at farming. “’But we were excited to come up, because Rachael grew up there and we knew raising a family would be better there than in the city.”

    Joe’s first job was driving a tractor with a grain cart during harvest. Whatever Mike would show him, he would do. “And the best part was, there were no bad habits,” Mike says. “It was a fresh start.”

    That winter of 2010 a key employee left the farm, so Joe had to step up. He began driving semi-trucks. By spring, he had become the farm’s “planter guy.”

    It turns out that Joe, the pharmacist tech, had taken computer programming classes in college. “He had a knack for technology — a gift for it,” Mike says. “And that was good because technology was a real challenge for Pam and me.”

    Joe began managing all monitors and ramping up GPS and yield mapping. He would go to farm shows to pick out the high-tech tools needed for efficiency.

    “Suddenly we started adopting technology at a fast pace,” Mike recalls. “He picked up the baton and ran with it. He stepped up to run a 24-row, 60-foot planter with on-screen data — color-coding varieties going into the field, mapping acres. That went so well, I could not believe it. He made it look effortless.”

    Joe streamlined the farm’s harvest information coming off monitors by naming fields, organizing and maintaining data, and generating maps. He and Mike’s son, Brad, brought in variable-rate seeding and fertility, saving input costs on the farm’s bottom line.

    “The latest thing he did was upgrade our grain handling with a wireless system between grain cart and combine with seamless data transfer, so all our production is categorized by field and number of pounds,” Mike says. “We would have had to go back to college to learn how to do that.”

    Adopting technology is tough for many farmers. But for the Clemens, taking a chance on a city guy turned out to be one of their best decisions.

    As for the job change, Joe says, “I’m glad we did it. As a farmer, for the most part you’re your own boss and you can spend more time with family. It was a very good decision on our part, too.”

    The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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