Precision ag data to go wireless
Use of global positioning systems for variable-rate and yield-mapping applications really boomed with the arrival of autosteering tools on tractor, sprayer and combine cabs. But no matter how new or sophisticated your setup, someone still has to slog a flash drive or compact flash card from office to machine and back to transfer the latest A-B lines for guidance, prescription information or other data. But those days may be ending as new networking technologies come on stream.
Farm Progress recently got a look at one system — Trimble’s Connected Farm — at work on two farms. Both farmers like what they see.
Whenever Doug Chaffer finished planting an Illinois field, the FmX terminal mounted in his tractor cab packaged up the data and sent it into a queue to be uploaded to his home office. Once the tractor pulled within range of the office’s wireless network, the FmX automatically uploaded the data to Trimble’s server.
From there, he could access it via his office computer. For Chaffer, a wireless hot spot made more sense than purchasing a 3G wireless Internet network card and a monthly plan to go with it.
• Linking farm office to field machine boosts operating efficiency.
• Communications technology makes it easy to use the system.
• Time savings can cover the cost for larger or complex operations.
Don Bennett, general manager of Hartung Brothers Farms, a Wisconsin seed corn producer uses the system to automatically handle field data from three planting tractors and a sprayer. This farm uses an RTK network tower system to port massive data — without shuffling memory sticks and compact flash cards (see sidebar).
How it works
The wireless data transfer concept being launched this year by Trimble will become common in the future. Raven Industries (with its Slingshot Field Hub) and other companies are also developing it. We’ll use the Trimble approach to describe the basic principles.
“The key advantage of these systems is the seamless deliver of data,” says Ian Harley, Trimble business unit manager for information management. The company is leveraging its Farm Works acquisition as the tech backbone for a system that links office to field machines.
The system harnesses data transfer via either a cellular modem or a Wi-Fi connection to move data back and forth between office and machine. However, you’re not sending the information directly to either point. Instead, the information moves over the Web to a server in the “middle,” and from the server to the end point.
Say you want to send an A-B line to an operator’s tractor 20 miles away that’s ready to plant. You simply select the guidance data for that field and tell the software to send it to the designated machine (each tractor, sprayer or combine is individually identified in the software).
Once the operators see the information is available to the cab’s terminal, they download it and go. The process takes only seconds.
When the field’s planted, that data can move back through the Web connection back to the main office. Raw data is preserved in the server. But any processing or map-making you do on your end resides in your office system.
“We’re able to leverage the Farm Works system with this program. All we’re talking about adding is an additional module to the software. The farmer already knows how to use the tool,” Harley says.
Paying the bills
The system’s cost comes in three parts. One is the Connected Farm, including Farm Works, which is $500 per user per year for all data storage and transfer, software support, upgrades and service.
The FmX terminal costs $50 per month, or $600 per year. Then there’s the communication tool.
For those using existing Wi-Fi Web hookups to transfer data, there’d be no charge for the service. If you use a cellular modem, that has a monthly service charge per modem. But this data transfer system will save time and offer instant access.
To learn more about the system, visit www.trimble.com/agriculture.
COMMAND CENTER: Joe Hartung helps manage planting and harvesting data for Hartung Brothers’ seed corn business via data flowing from the fields right into his office over a Connected Farm system.
This article published in the September, 2010 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.