The Power of Precision Farming
Precision farming is a term used to encompass technologies that leverage accurate global positioning systems to reduce farming inputs (seeds, fertilizer, etc.) by applying them only where they are needed and in the exact right amounts. These technologies have evolved since being introduced in the 1990s and include commonly known applications, such as auto-steer, variable rate application, section control, and prescription planting. Precision farming technology greatly reduces over application of inputs and results in lower costs for farmers as well as greater gains (increased yields).
While these technologies have resulted in great value for many farmers, the high cost of the technology has resulted in only a few select companies that provide precision technologies, limiting the options for farmers, and the creativity of implement manufacturers wanting to take advantage of these technologies. This is about to change because of new disruptive technologies that are leveraged by JCAs FlightPath.
Disruptive Technologies: The Shifting of Power
Precision farming technologies up to this point have been guided primarily by the large tractor OEMs and GPS-based companies. Implement manufacturers of seeding, planting, and spraying systems have had to choose a control system for their machine from one of the few GPS-based precision farming companies, or partner closely with one of the major tractor OEMs. This has limited the options of implement manufacturers in determining how to control their machines, and on the operator interface to the system. Limiting these options means that implement manufacturers have not had the power to determine the complete operator experience for their equipment.
Two major technology revolutions have occurred in recent history that will cause a shift of tectonic proportions in the precision farming landscape. These are: (1) the proliferation of high-end displays and connectivity technology in the form of the tablet and (2) the release of RTK GPS systems based on open-source technology.
Tablets (along with smartphones) have changed almost every major industry because they can be used as highly capable user interfaces that can be adopted to many applications. In the world of agriculture, they are quickly overtaking the in-cab display as the preferred operator interface for the control of implements because they are higher resolution displays, enable connectivity, are portable, and all of this for a fraction of the cost of traditional displays. A major additional benefit of the use of tablets for displays in agriculture applications is that these are an open platform that many companies can develop applications on, rather than the closed-platform tractor displays. This means that many more companies can use these displays to provide solutions to the farmer, giving the farmer more innovative solutions for lower cost.
RTK (Real-Time Kinetic) GPS solutions provide sub-inch accuracy for positioning systems with the use of a base and a rover module to provide corrections for GPS signals that improve the accuracy of the positioning data. These systems have been around for many years, but have often been prohibitively expensive for the farmer, and often only have made sense for limited applications on very large farms. The high-cost of these systems was due to the complex technologies being in the hands of a few manufacturers, who could then leverage the limited choice of supply to demand high prices for these systems, often over $25,000. Very recently this has changed with the release of open-source technology that has broken the hold of the GPS companies through a new class of RTK GPS modules that have similar capability to the traditional system but at a tenth of the price. This not only makes this technology accessible to many farmers that could not afford it before, but it also opens up this technology to new applications that did not previously make economic sense.
With these new technologies, there now exists an opportunity for manufacturers of agricultural equipment to take control of the operator experience for their machines and no longer be reliant on a few select precision agriculture companies. However, to fully take advantage of this shift in technology many of the complex precision agriculture capabilities and functions performed by traditional systems must be performed using tablets and new RTK GPS technologies. JCA FlightPath serves as the missing puzzle piece to finally allow implement manufacturers to create their own customized precision agriculture solutions by tying together tablet and RTK technology with implement control.
JCA FlightPath: Unleashing the Power
JCA FlightPath is a set of software libraries that can be integrated into customized solutions for implement manufacturers, but provide many of the complex functions needed in precision farming applications. These libraries utilize tablet and RTK GPS systems and with the decreasing costs of these technologies, there is a growing possibility of applying precision farming to new applications, and introduce an alternative to traditional solutions. The FlightPath libraries include:
- Map coverage – Mapping libraries that show areas covered by an implement over top of satellite images of the field. This is functionality that is commonly needed in seeding, spraying, and planting applications where visual feedback of the areas covered is needed. The use of tablet technologies provides a major improvement over traditional displays in that the actual satellite imagery of farms can be shown, so that the areas covered have immediate geographical context.
- Variable rate application – FlightPath includes variable rate functionality that allows application rates of inputs for an implement to be automatically adjusted based on implement speed and location.
- Section control – FlightPath implements section control to automatically turn off sections of an application implement so that areas that have already been covered do not have inputs (seeds or fertilizer) re-applied.
- Prescription application – FlightPath allows for prescriptions to be set to vary the application targets based on area. These prescriptions can take into consideration the soil and ground conditions to apply the ideal amount of inputs in each different area.
- Job management – FlightPath can store application statistics by area, saved in user defined jobs. This allows farmers to evaluate application rates achieved on a per field basis, to compare with yields determined at the end of the season, so adjustments can be made to optimize inputs the following year.
These are just some of the many functions available in the JCA FlightPath libraries. JCA integrates these software libraries into custom implement control applications allowing agricultural implement manufacturers to differentiate their applications and customize the user experience to their machine.. FlightPath allows implement manufacturers needing precision farming capabilities to take full control of their machine experience.