High-tech data collection has become a large part of farming production and autonomous vehicles are likely on their way as the agricultural sector ramps up its technological investments in a competitive global marketplace.
“Suffice it to say, it’s not your grandfather’s farm anymore and hasn’t been for a long time,” said Jamie McGrail, integrated solutions manager for McGrail Farm Equipment, based in Chatham and Comber.
Farmers are becoming more and more sophisticated in the use of data collection to increase crop yields as a way to offset increasing production costs, ever-changing crop prices and consumer-driven demands for healthier produce.
Using this approach, dubbed Precision Farming, farmers are able to utilize data collected by a variety of software programs, including one developed by Coulter Software of Windsor as well as industry giant John Deere.
When collated and analyzed, the data collected by John Deere software allows farmers to make informed decisions relating to water analysis, fertilizer usage, soil conditions, optimum yield potential across a large field and drainage among other conditions.
“It allows farmers to determine which parts of their farm are high-yield and which parts are low-yield so they can manage their plantings more efficiently,” said McGrail. “In the past, most farmers used a blanket planting approach but now it can be more targeted based on whether the soil is clay, sand or loam and whether or not topographical or nutritional differences across a field make a difference in yield potential.”
For autonomous farm vehicles, the race is on
John Deere’s data is collected and utilized by cloud-based software which brings it altogether in one spot for easy access, explains McGrail.
As for autonomous farm vehicles, the race is on, according to McGrail.
“Tractors can already be programmed through GPS technology to turn at the end of a field but they still need an operator,” McGrail said. “For full autonomy, which means no operator at all, the research and development is ongoing but we’re not there yet.”
Coulter Software, meanwhile, is providing data support to Hazelnut Farms, a newly-established orchard near London.
“Hazelnut’s trees are three years old at best and not yet bearing any fruit,” explains Jay Coulter, company founder. “They are still in the nurturing stage and it is essential they get sufficient water for long-term survival.”
Coulter’s software, which features a series of connected sensors, gathers data relating to soil moisture, soil saturation, water and light. The data is pushed to the cloud which enables farmers to keep track of their water usage, where it is most needed and whether or not the trees are receiving sufficient water.
While a shortage of water is not generally an issue in Essex County, Coulter sees a wider market for the technology.
“There are plenty of places, such as California, where water is an issue and targeting your watering for peak efficiency and effectiveness is something this technology allows a farmer to do,” said Coulter. “Automating irrigation systems is extremely important.”
And in today’s competitive global marketplace, optimizing a farm or orchard’s crop yield is critical to ongoing success, says Coulter.
“Our portfolio is swelling with companies creating agricultural technology, and when you look at where we are, it’s easy to see why.”
All of which explains why technology is now as important as weather for the agricultural sector across Southwestern Ontario and beyond.
“Our portfolio is swelling with companies creating agricultural technology, and when you look at where we are, it’s easy to see why.” says Adam Castle, Director of Venture Services for WEtech Alliance. “We have some of the richest soil in the world, and have more greenhouse acres than any other place on the planet outside of Holland”.
Castle says that while traditionally the local agriculture sector has imported much of its greenhouse tech from Europe, the uptick in local firms specializing in the sector indicates that new innovation is happening much closer to home. “It just makes sense to see this kind of growth. For centuries the Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent region has been home to some of the top experts in manufacturing, creating, and growing goods, what we’re seeing is the natural evolution and collision of these core competencies.”
DON’T MISS IT! More than 130 local exhibiting companies will be showcasing the latest in farm equipment, communications and technology on 35,000+ square feet of show space at the 7th Annual Chatham-Kent Farm Show on Wednesday, January, 29th.