In this latest episode of the podcast, host Tony Kramer is joined by RDO Agronomist Erin Hightower to discuss 10 very simple technologies that can be added to any operation - allowing for more profitability, more efficiency, and better stewardship of the land.
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Catch this episode’s complete transcript here:
Tony: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 114. Today, we are going to be talking about 10 technologies that can be added to your operation. Before we dive into the show, please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast if you haven't already. You can subscribe to the show on the many podcasting apps that we're streaming this out to, such as Apple's podcast app. We have it on Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud, as well as many others. While you're out there, drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show. Lastly, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on Twitter @RDOTonyK.
Now, with that, let's get back to the show. I am very excited to welcome back Erin Hightower. Erin Hightower is the agronomist with RDO Equipment Company in our Pacific Northwest region. We just had her on the show last episode talking about global gap certifications and everything that's entailed with that. Erin's come back again to fill us in on some technologies that cannot only help with global gap certification, but also for those of you out there that aren't seeking global gap certification, these 10 technologies can also make your farm more profitable, more efficient, and better utilize the resources that you have.
Welcome back to the show again, Erin. To get started, let's just get a brief background on yourself again, and how you got to where you are today.
Erin Hightower: I'm out here in the Pacific Northwest. I represent RDO Equipment Co. as the agronomist in Washington and Oregon. That's where I started my career. I've been in Washington and Oregon my entire life, and previously, I worked in the government agencies as an agronomist and that pivoted and started working here in 2017 as the agronomist for RDO Northwest. Because of that, I have this background where I know how the regulatory and these certifications are supposed to work, but also as I saw the technology that we were selling here at RDO, I just couldn't see how they're not supposed to be together, and how we cannot use these, or how we can use these products to make your life easier while still meeting the needs of whatever programs you're with, whether may be a checkoff or a certification.
Tony: Whether it's for a certification or what you're looking at dealing with GLOBALG.A.P. and what you've been involved with there, or if it's just a farm looking to increase the level of precision agriculture that they're doing, these are 10 very simple technologies that can be added into any operation, and like I said, make them more profitable, more efficient and just all around better stewards of the land. Let's dive into it, Erin. 10 technologies. Let's just start off with the first one, most basic, a farm management information software. Tell us a little bit about what that entails.
Erin: Farm management information systems is just that bread and butter, that basic or potatoes basic level of knowing what your farm is doing at all times. In some cases, this is a free technology. I know that John Deeres operation center is free. There are other parties that may cost a little more but give you more tools, but a lot of this is just about getting all of your items in one place. Sometimes you need to maybe be speaking with either your global gap auditor or your States pesticide licensing program, depending on what your end goal is, to make sure that the information is going in correctly so that you can spit it out correctly, spit it out the program with that tech with all the information there. That's just step one, is finding a central location for all of your information.
For instance, the operation center is not a viable option for reporting to, say, Washington and Oregon state, but it makes it that you don't have to wonder where did I put that one piece of paper from six weeks ago that had that spray record on it? Just being able to put it straight into a system where you can recall it later. I'm especially a big fan of putting it into a technological or into a cloud because life happens. We had horrible flooding in the last couple of weeks up here in the Pacific Northwest, and I know that there's guys field offices that are probably under two inches of water right now, and those are records that maybe aren't going to be readable. Whereas if it's in the cloud, if it's in a management operation system, it's going to be re-callable at any time, any place no matter what happens in your field.
The farm management operations systems is just one of those things where you could set it up correctly ahead of time knowing what information you need to be getting out of it. Then you're going to be able to make it faster and easier for you to recall that information. That's not a one time thing. You don't just set it up and forget it and you're good to go. That's something that maybe you need to be having that personal check with once a year in December and January when you're looking over your documentation like, "I did great, but if I just did this one thing, it would be even better." Even if it's just making sure that in the footnotes you put some sort of note about the weather. It's just making sure that you have that mindset that information that's going into that operations center or that farm operation system is going to be giving you what you need at the end of the day.
Tony: You brought up a couple of really good points going from paper to the digital world. This farm management information system essentially is a filing cabinet for the digital world. All the millennials out there, or the younger farmers, rather than that old school notebook and a pen in your front pocket, we can utilize things like these farm management systems. You did touch on that. There's a number of different ones out there. The John Deere operation center completely free of cost, but there are some other more advanced systems, if that's what you're looking for, and or other manufacturers.
Jumping into the next one, Erin, GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, tell us a little bit about the relevancy of GIS in agriculture.
Erin: Honestly, I feel that if you're not using a Geographical Information System, you're about 20 years behind the time at this point. We started with auto-track in the early 2000's, and by now we're just collecting so much information. It is a redundancy if you're not using a GIS system. Every major manufacturer has some satellite based system, and you can be doing your documentation in real time. You're putting it out there. I think it's almost a detriment if you're not doing some sort of GIS system.
Now, five years ago, you could have said, "Oh, I drive too small of a tractor. I'm a fruit operator. I'm a tree crop operator", but nowadays, with the new Gen4 systems and with the new GIS systems, we've put it on orchard vineyard tractors, and we've actually been able to do as applied maps using just a [unintelligible 00:08:15] air blast sprayer just by adding a couple of key GIS items to that. That's just real time technology that we need to start implementing at all levels of farming.
As example, in our orchard vineyard industry up here, we're sometimes spraying at night, and you need to know that at five o'clock in the morning when you walked in and you're setting up the spray schedule for the next day and the next night, that you can go, "Okay, I already sprayed that field. I don't need to spray it again." You missed a row, which is actually very easy to do in the dark, and being able to match that and make sure that you're not over applying or under applying, because that's where pesticide resistance comes to place, whenever you over or under apply any chemical. That is the key thing for me, is using GIS systems.
For the reporting of pesticides, whether you'll be doing it for the state or for global gap, that is a realtime record that you're able to keep. Again, it may not necessarily completely meet the needs of your reporting, but it's going to be easier to go back, open up operation center every night or every morning, and being able to go through and see what you sprayed at what time of day, and being able to fill out those reports are exponentially easier when you're collecting that information in real time.
Tony: Yes. That brings me right into my next one about collecting data, and you talk about spatially mapping everything. It goes into play. The next one, in cab displays. How do they in-cab displays connect with the GIS or the GPS receivers on those machines?
Erin: The GPS system may be telling you where you're at, but those in-cab displays were your opportunity to tell your operation what you were doing in the field at that moment. This is where you really need to have that annual audit about making sure what's going in that display and what's going to spit out of the display and how it's going to look. If you have an operator, or a fleet of operators, getting them comfortable with that display means that you're going to get all that information in. If you're filling out every single blank spot in that display, when it comes to spraying as an example, there's a spot in there for whether there's a spot in there for product. There's a spot in there for rate. What you're going to do is at least have something you can go back to when it comes to filling out audits reporting or any sort of system management that you need to do.
There's some great simulators online for John Deeres displays. I know that some of the other providers, or some of the other manufacturers do that as well. I'm a huge fan of take some time at the beginning of the year before your spraying, and everybody just goes through what it looks like once punch it into the system so you're comfortable and you know where to put everything in. In farm displays, if you spray field five and there's an inversion, but you can go do field seven, it's as simple as being able to punch all of that in, and you're going to have correct records, not the morning of this was our plan, this is how it actually happened in the field.
Tony: You talk about being able to input that information and being able to make sure that we get the right information at the right time, especially when we're out there applying those pesticides. One big thing that comes to mind is rate controllers. Tell us a little bit about those.
Erin: Brake controllers are the best way of making sure that what you want to come into the system, or whatever you put into the system is what you get out of the system. You can have the perfect pesticide management plan, a nutrient management plan, but if the machinery doesn't spit it out the way you planned it, it was just a wish, and that's where brake controllers are so key into making sure that what you want to have happen out there happens out there. That way, you can start doing the evaluation of, did that spray system work, did that product work? Being able to promise and guarantee in the regulatory world and in the global gap world that what I said I put on this day at this time is exactly what I put on because that system is capturing that data and making sure it's being done correctly.
We actually started putting rate controllers on blast sprayers this last couple of years, and it's great because the size of the droplet and the amount of product you put on per acre depends heavily on speed of the tractor, speed of the operator and the pressure of the system. If you've got a rate controller, it will automatically start making those changes so that if you've got an operator that's going slow because he's uncomfortable with the machinery or the terrain, or you've got a system where maybe the pressure's a little high, little low, you're still being guaranteed that rate that you wanted on there is the rate that's actually going on.
Tony: The next one that comes up, Erin, is the, it plays right into rate control, and it's actually taking a couple of ours, when we talk about application stewardship, but putting things in the right rate and the right place section control, how does that benefit us?
Erin: Section control works a lot in the same way. We're talking about making sure that what you put on stays on. I really love section control too because if you've got some sensitive area that you don't want to spray, especially true when you're talking about orchard vineyards, and you're talking about pest management plan, that may include a beetle thing. I don't know if you guys have ever heard of beetle banks, but they're basically set off sections where you're going to have native insect habitat so that they have a place to go, but then they can come out into your field and be the beneficial insect that we need. Well, you certainly don't want to be putting pesticides out on that beetle bank, and you can have an automatic turnoff system using section control, and also that automatic turnoff section control can be used in, I've already sprayed this row, but I didn't realize that'd already been down here. It'll automatically turn off because it knows it's already been there.
Tony: Let's take a step all the way back to the beginning, rounding out the features and functionality of these in-cab displays, guidance, one of the most basic ones of all of them. How is that benefiting us in precision agriculture?
Erin: Back in the good old days with a light bar, you're just helping to be in a straight line. Well, nowadays, that guidance system can also be helping with speed management and time management. This was especially true when you start talking about pesticide management again, where that speed plays a factoring in your efficacy, being able to control speeds, or slow somebody down when they go around a turd and making sure that everybody stays safe, is an important part of it. Guidance is also great because it allows some control over the environment of your operator. Your operator is going to end the day being a little bit more relaxed and they're not having to really worry about as many things when they're in the couch. They can be focusing on the job at hand instead of having to worry about driving a straight line, or did I already do this row or anything like that.
Even with speed, you can start focusing on, okay, is my pressure correct on that sprayer? Am I doing this part correct? Is the actual, correct? Because you're not focusing on something as almost simple as driving in a straight line. The guidance and the, going back to the rate controllers and all this, this all plays a factor too in that you need to be able to prove that you are doing everything in an agronomic rate. When you use section controlling, you use guidance and you use all these different tools together, what you're doing is really making sure that you're setting yourself up to be as agronomically sound as possible.
Tony: Now we're going to take a huge leap forward and talk about some technology that is more new, a lot younger in the industry. There's a lot of options out there, I know, but let's talk soil monitoring.
Erin: Soil monitoring is getting so advanced. There's now even neutron probes, telemetric systems that help monitor your soil nutrient management, as well as your soil moisture management. You need to find the right, this is one where you need to find the right fit for you, and there's so many different things on the market. You're going to have to almost do a lot of shopping with your provider to find the right fit. A lot of the future of the global gap, and a lot of what global gap wanted to do was a certain level of environmental management promises. I promise that by eating this item, whatever you're getting from this, whatever I'm buying to put in my grocery store, that it didn't completely wipe out the countryside on the process. We are getting into a situation where our consumers are getting more nuanced and more aware, and want to make sure that they are eating something that is done in the right way, and we're all environmentally aware.
We cannot not be and be in farming. We are environmentalists as in food production, but just making sure that we have a system that records that real time that you can be showing production records showing that you're not leeching nutrients, is an important part of that process as well, as moisture monitoring, especially in the next year or two. There's definitely some drought coming down the line in Southwest this year, it looks like. Northwest, we're setting ourselves up right about right, but in those years where you've got the little water right place, right time, it matters as much in water as it does in pesticide management. When you're running through situations like we do in the Northwest, where junior water rights might get turned off for four, six weeks, you got to make sure that what little water you are getting is getting to the right plant, and that you're not over-watering places and under-watering places.
This is just the monitoring in the future of management. We actually have been working a lot with a new product line for us. They've been on the market for a while called pestle where they even will alarm you if there's any deficit anywhere in the system. They'll just, if there's a text message alert that you get that your motion is off or your humidity's higher low. The more fun parts of the system is now we're watching humidity, which is important for certain types of decimates out here. We like a certain level of humidity in our dry environment to keep the decimates down. You can be getting that a real time alert so that you can be getting your system managed. It's about knowing that this is all based on climate, this whole farming situation that we have, and making sure that the climate is correct for the product that you're trying to raise.
Tony: Now, these last three technologies where they're going to be more on the simple side that a lot of people might not think about when it comes to precision agriculture and what they can do, first one being application batching or product batching. What are the capabilities there, Erin?
Erin: This is the product that I am so excited to see on the market. I think it needs to be, and in the next 20 years, we're going to find ourselves really drawn towards this, and this is called sprayer Tinder systems, or spray or bathroom systems. Basically, instead of putting on all your product, your PPE and mixing chemicals and having a hold on ship exposure, it is a closed system with jugging systems, and that way you're mixing in a closed system. Legally, this does not keep you from needing to put it on your PPE. You're still going to have to wear your PPE, but these sprayers systems make sure that your chances of spill is minimal, very minimal. Your chance of a worker exposure to chemicals is minimal to none. Even now we have what's called the chem blade, which is a system that even opens dry bags and jugs in a way that you don't have to be in exposure to the product.
This is becoming more and more prevalent every year. Those of you who do not know Paraquat just changed their label by the end of 2020 that you have to mix it in a closed system like this. While this is an expensive system, these chem blades, the surefire systems, what it does is the level of acknowledgement and understanding and promise that you're not getting yourself and your workers exposed over long periods of time to some of these products. A lot of global gap. I would say more of global gaps checklists had to do with worker safety, when it comes to pesticide mixing, and environmental safety when it comes to pesticide mixing than a lot of the other checklist items were. There was a lot to do with pesticide safety. When I introduced the system and I start talking about price, obviously, it's an expensive program and some of these guys are in some of these producers.
When I introduce it to them or just sitting there going, "I don't know if I can afford that.", but then they stop and they realize the first time I have a spill, the first time I have an issue, it's going to pay for itself compared to if I have this closed system. It's that guarantee that I'm not being exposed to this stuff prolonged. Along with that, these sprayer Tinder systems, a lot of them will do the math for you. There's nothing worse than getting to a point at the end of the day where you're have half a to full tankful of mix that you can't use because it's getting to the end of the day and maybe the spring environment isn't working anymore, or you run out a little early and you only have 10 acres left. Well, you can take your batch, your mix or your prescription or your recipe. Tell it, you only need 10 more acres of that, and it will do the math for you, and we'll pull only the product you need, which means that when it comes to reporting, when somebody says, yes, but did you over apply, you can hold up the list and go, no. I made sure to use this batching system, this sprayer tender system that did that for me and I know I didn't overplay on any products because it made sure that I was doing it at the correct ratio.
Tony: Next one up is telematics. How does that come into picture with all of this?
Erin: Telematics are one of those things that we've talked a lot about hoe telematics systems are putting it all together into basically making sure the machinery is hearing what you want it to have happen. Even if your machinery doesn't come with it factory installed, the telemetry systems can be post applied. It can help manage a lot of different things. Having a telematic system is how you know if there's a problem or not out there in the field. I really love the telematics systems too for geo-fencing, which is a different way of looking at it. For instance, if you are a farm that does organics and conventional farming, but that machinery isn't being used on both because there are a lot of guidelines about when you can use equipment and when you can't use equipment that's organic versus conventionally used.
If you've got a geo-fence and you know that this conventional sprayer sprayer that's used for conventional products all of a sudden went over the line into a organic field, it can alert you, it can even shut off the piece of equipment, in extreme examples. That's going along with being able to prove that you're doing your due diligence when it comes to management, and that again is a lot of global gap, is proving due diligence. One of the more creative ways I've seen MTGs used is in global gap and now in a lot of OSHA standards, there's the requirement that you have a bathroom station on site. You can be using those MTGs to monitor where the bathroom stations are and being able to get them moved over to where your workers are so that you don't have any lag time, and that you can prove that in a geo-location. way that you've given the due products that you need for both OSHA safety reasons and for global gap reasons that your workers had all the resources they needed to get through the day.
Tony: The last one that is very simple but I think a lot of people overlook when it comes to precision agriculture, is mobile apps. With the world of smart devices these days, we have numerous mobile apps at our fingertips. Talk about those a little bit.
Erin: John Deere is very serious about this. They do have a training every year called develop with Deere where it is come see every app that ties into a John operation center system. There is simple fix for a lot of data management problems. Whether the app be one that pulls in all your data and tells you where you've sprayed and where you haven't. There's an app for everything, but it's important that you do your due diligence when looking at these apps and making sure they are actually going to do what you say, that you're actually getting information based on your farm. I seen that a lot where some of these apps are very Midwest driven, which is fine, but we are not flat territory and we have 245 crops versus three or five major ones. You're going to have to interview each app individually about what your system and your region really needs.
Tony: Just to very briefly recap everything we went over here in this episode, we have 10 technologies. We've got farm management information systems, we have our geographic information systems or our GPS systems. We have in-cab displays, rate controllers, we have some sort of a section control, guidance, soil monitoring, application or tender batching, telematics and mobile apps. If anybody wants to learn more or talk to somebody about any of these technologies, Erin, where can they go and who can they talk to?
Erin: It really needs to be a very large table of conversations. First off, again, if you're reporting to anybody, whether it be global gap organics or for pesticide management, you need to be in contact with whoever your auditor or checklist person is for that and be having that open conversation with them. You also talking with your dealership, our RDO Equipment Company, and we can help align what you need with what's available out there. There's a plethora of products and we'll just need to make the combination that is right for you.
Tony: Erin, I just want to thank you again for taking the time to sit down and not only tie this into our last conversation about global gap, but also bring it full circle when it comes to any operation out there looking to adopt a little more technology on their farms. Thanks again for sharing these thoughts, Erin,
Erin: Great to be here.