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Crop planning the digital way

It may be time to ditch the old notebook in favour of a new way of doing business in the spring

Producers of the past relied on written records, the Farmer’s Almanac and a good pair of workboots to check their fields as they planned their spring planting operations.

Today’s producers can reach for the smartphone or tablet in their tractors to access a digital platform with all the information they need to make crop decisions tailored to specific sectors of their land.

One such platform is called the “Climate FieldView,” which allows farmers to expand on the crop-monitoring tools already in their equipment by pooling the data in a new, comprehensive system allowing crop comparisons, weather histories, and field health patterns.

Jenna Metzger, Canadian business operations manager for Climate Corporation, said April 1 one of the main benefits of Climate FieldView is it allows the producer to centralize their current and past crop information in one place, rather than having that data spread over notes and binders from years past.

With that information gathered in one framework, Metzger said, the farmer can make operating decisions that focus on potentially problematic parts of their fields they might otherwise overlook.

“We want farmers to optimize their inputs,” she said. “The seed and fertilizer and all the inputs you are putting into your farm are expensive, so make sure you are putting them where they count most, and at the right time of year.”

The equipment making up the FieldView system includes a window mount for a tablet, a charging board, and the FieldView drive, which resembles a small hockey puck.

The drive is installed in the diagnostic port of the tractor cab. Once in place, it communicates crop information by Bluetooth to the farmer’s smartphone or tablet, which he or she can access during operations.

Once in range of a wireless network connection, the information gathered on the device can be uploaded into the platform cloud, where it is saved and available for further analysis.

Older information from past crops can also be loaded into the FieldView drive. For example, a USB stick containing data from a tractor, sprayer or combine monitor can be entered into the drive for use in current operations.

“You can do a lot of prep work beforehand,” Metzger said. “You can enter in the hybrids, seed treatments and spray applications, including what rates you will apply, so when you pull into a field, you have a quick list of varieties that you are going to seed this year, and you are going to seed variety A in this (field).

“You don’t have to type all the information in. It is all there at your fingertips. With a couple of taps, you are ready to start mapping.”

Metzger said one of the many diagnostic tools the drive provides is zone-by-zone management of crops for yield analysis. Using GPS technology, this function provides a field management report, she added, allowing the user to select specific areas of a field and track seed varieties or hybrids and other factors affecting yields.

“We tried to make it super user friendly,” she said, adding a specialist was available to help the producer set up the platform, enter in their data and provide a tutorial on how to use the system.

“Once (farmers) start using it with their own data in the platform,” she said, “they start to get the hang of it and it seems very easy to use.”

Metzger added farmers become familiar with the system often by starting with one tool in particular, such as the weather tool, and learning more and more functions after that.

“The weather tool can actually dive down and give you patch weather data information within the last 24 hours… on a field-by-field basis,” she said. “We can dive down and (discover) what has been happening on your field.”

The Climate FieldView system is available to farmers free for the first year, with no obligations. For more information, go to climate.ca.

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