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Published January 21, 2014, 09:38 AM

Precision Ag Summit draws large crowd for third year

Google Glass takes center stage at the event, demonstrating how farmers use can use the "smartphone on your face."

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The 3rd Annual Action Summit on Precision Agriculture in Jamestown, N.D., featured another large crowd and a wealth of information for farmers curious about what’s new in high-tech crop and livestock trends.

Several hundred people attending the first day of the event Jan. 20 saw a discussion and demonstration of Google Glass — essentially a smartphone in eyeglasses.

Bruce Rasa, vice president of development for Basecamp Networks of Atlanta, Ga., owns farmland with his family in western Missouri and was a designated demonstrator for the product at the show. He advises his family on precision agriculture solutions on a 3,500-acre operation that raises corn, beans, wheat, cattle and hay.

“I would allow people to see inside the cab of a tractor during tillage, planting and harvest to see how their food is grown in a safe and environmentally responsible way,” Rasa said of why he wanted to show Google Glass to the world. “The basic idea was continuing to build on that trust farmers have with consumers.”

Rasa and Jeff Caldwell, multimedia editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming Magazine, wore Google Glass prototypes that have been put in the hands of about 8,000 people throughout the country, as part of a public beta program. About 110,000 people applied to be part of the test group.

At work or play

Caldwell says he’s one of the few he knows of who is looking for specific agricultural applications, based on Twitter summaries.

“The device is anticipated to announce — just rumors — in the second half of this year, and roughly in the $500 to $700 street price,” he said.

Rasa said he’s seen interest in the product from about 500 people from 22 countries.

What users see is a small, translucent block layer in their field of vision, just right-of-center, high up in the field of vision. The device has a Plexiglas prism and a battery above the ear.

“Even when I’ve used it in the cab of a tractor, it doesn’t impede my vision,” Rasa said. It’s intended to give information when the user needs it, whether at work or play.

Rasa thinks agronomists and crop scouts will be the first in agriculture to use the device.

“It might be someone doing remote precision ag tech support,” Rasa said. “Those are all functions or roles in support of farmers.” He said a few larger farmers have tried using it on their operations.

“I don’t think it’s for everyone. You need to have a reason to put it on. For those doing crop scouts, they may do operations multiple times a day and if they’re already doing that with a smartphone or tablet, this is something that extends that existing device, but in a hands-free way.”

Rasa guessed that in five years, 10 to 15 percent of farmers will use Google Glass. The devices will look more like glasses, getting smaller and more natural looking. The prism is likely to go away, and will accommodate prescription lenses and sunglasses.

Most people are fascinated by the computer being “the first personal computer” — the optical display, with images over their ordinary field of vision. It’s seeing a “movie floating in the air and hearing the audio,” and knows your photos and messages you took and sent throughout a day in an even more personal way than a smartphone.

One of the chief limiting factors now is its battery life. It goes all day with light usage, but video-recording wears the battery down pretty quickly.

Precision economics

Farmers at the Precision Ag Summit also heard from several speakers about the economics of precision ag and its cost-effectiveness. Craig Smith, an assistant professor of agribusiness at Fort Hays State University, has studied the economics of guidance systems and section controllers, among other technology.

Most of the technologies prevent things such as machinery overlap and double-seeding. He said sprayers have auto boom section control, but many planters don’t. His analysis shows that the payback from these technologies is greatest on farms with smaller and irregular-shaped fields, and is greatest on higher-value crops when the crop prices are higher.

In a panel about making detailed crop prescription maps, Monsanto’s John Jansen and Dave Gebhardt, director of data and technology for WinField, elaborated on a recently announced cooperation. Monsanto had announced its new Climate Corp. is unifying the company’s integrated farming systems functions and that it is working with Winfield to deliver the products through the WinField network. Gebhardt said that in 2011, the company was rolling out its “R7” soil and yield information data services, but now has an opportunity to link with Monsanto’s weather and climate service.

“WinField is our largest distributor-partner at Monsanto,” he said. “We’re a basic supplier. WinField calls on and services the farmer. Think of us working on the science of our seed and what Climate Corporation can bring to market, and equipment technology, we’ll make the big investments in those platforms and then (WinField).”

New livestock topics

A new program at the summit focused on livestock. Daniel Buskirck, a Michigan State University animal scientist, talked about new technology to trace cattle to beef using radio frequency identification tags, transferring a unique number to two-dimensional bar codes on beef as it’s being processed.

“We’re putting information into a database on how those cattle are being raised,” Buskirck said. The university is working with small- and mid-sized processors.

Amanda Sterrett, a researcher at the University of Kentucky, talked about a project that uses internal thermometers and devices that count and describe neck movement in dairy cows to predict mastitis and other afflictions.

Agweek magazine is a sponsor of the Precision Ag Summit, which is organized by the Red River Valley Research Corridor and hosted at the North Dakota Farmers Union headquarters in Jamestown. The event continues Tuesday, Jan. 21, with sessions that include the use of unmanned aircraft systems in agriculture.

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