Digital Technology Is Transforming Ag Production Practices

As the “internet of things” grows within the agriculture industry, digital technologies are revolutionizing ag production practices.

Digital Technology Is Transforming Ag Production Practices
After a dry, underwhelming 2017 season, Joe Farmer took a very conservative approach this year, making risk-averse decisions, especially in terms of drought. His growing season was fine, but far from optimal.
Joe is hypothetical, but his plight is relatable. Had Joe been able to review data from the past 15 years or so, he would have seen that last year was an anomaly and may have taken more profitable risks.

“As humans, we make decisions based on our own biases and experiences—consciously or not,” says Marcos Castro, global digital ag business development manager at Syngenta. “With digital agriculture tools, growers can look at historical data, specific to their fields. That can help them have a broader view and make better decisions regarding overall operations, inputs, variability within a field, timing of applications and overall results.”

Technology for Farmers by Farmers

Even before digital agriculture was a hot topic in the industry, Syngenta established AgriEdge Excelsior®, the Syngenta whole-farm management program that helps growers enhance productivity in an unbiased way. For more than a decade, growers enrolled in the program have had access to Land.db®, the cloud-based data and record-keeping software developed by Ag Connections, a wholly owned subsidiary of Syngenta. AgriEdge Excelsior, powered by Land.db, is the foundation for the Syngenta Digital Agriculture Solutions suite of tools in the U.S.

“Before using Land.db, we would spend rainy days writing in legal pads, noting what we’d done so far,” says Heath Adkisson, owner of Farmers Farms in Osceola, Arkansas. “Now, each day my wife inputs data into Land.db, and it’s easy for us to stay on top of it.”

Growers are already seeing improved record-keeping tools through advances in farm equipment. But as the industry becomes more competitive, growers need a further edge that farm-management software can offer.

As digital ag grows, #agtech from @SyngentaUS is revolutionizing production practices.

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“It’s all about potential profitability—controlling expenses and outputting high yields,” Adkisson says. “Land.db allows me to know what I’ve spent on a field-by-field basis, or even by crop zone, so it helps me know what’s profitable and what’s not. I love the tools that help me control my inventory, by seeing what we’ve purchased and what we’ve applied.”

Building Connectivity

Despite the clear advantages that digital agriculture tools like farm-management software provide, the pace of adoption of new tools and technology has not always been as quick among growers.

“Technology is coming into the market at an extremely fast pace,” Castro says. “But agriculture has long cycles for evaluating products. It takes a full growing season or more to test out a certain technology. There are so many options and so much noise in the marketplace that it’s actually leading to decision paralysis.”

Even once growers select digital tools to incorporate into their operations, a lack of communication among the tools can lead to fragmented analyses and lower data quality.

“Data entry can be time consuming and take growers away from other things that they want or need to do,” says Jeremy York, training lead at Ag Connections. “So, we’re focusing on developing automation tools that will lead to improved accuracy and will give the grower more time to make decisions from the data. We want to make it easier for these more advanced pieces of farm equipment to ‘talk’ directly to our software.”

Ag Connections’ goal is to build this connectivity beyond equipment and Land.db. York notes that the team is working with retailers and resellers to integrate existing technologies these partners are already using for a free flow of data.

“The integrations we’re working on over the next year or two will be big,” says Allen Besand, technical lead at Ag Connections. “We’re focused on continuing to work with other companies and growing our list of integrations to offer tools with high business impact for growers, but also for their advisers. We want to make it easier for resellers and other partners to help their customers.”

Start to Finish

By implementing and integrating the right applications, the Syngenta Digital Agriculture Solutions team aims to build a digital agronomy toolbox that provides a seamless experience from planning to harvest.

AgriEdge Excelsior already incorporates several elements to help the grower throughout the season:

  • During planning, growers can analyze the previous year’s data at a subfield level to determine how they can be more sustainable and profitable, with the benefit of custom-crop forecasts based on historical data. Growers can share plans directly with their advisers, who, in turn, can provide product recommendations.
  • Once the crop is in the field, growers can use digital tools to stay ahead of potential threats. Using the recently acquired FarmShots satellite imagery, growers can locate potential problems. Robust software analytics identify the specific cause, and the grower’s adviser can send a recommended agronomic solution.
  • When a plan of action is put into place, purchases or applications are recorded into Land.db for record keeping, data analytics and regulatory reporting.
  • At harvest, growers see historical data at a field-level. By looking at live local prices, along with the historical data, growers can measure the overall potential profitability. The data can be instantly sent to Land.db to be used in next season’s planning.
“Retailers, resellers and agronomists will play a critical role in the future of digital agriculture,” says Aaron Deardorff, head of digital agriculture solutions at Syngenta. “Digital agriculture is revolutionizing and will continue to revolutionize the way they scout, recommend products and communicate with their customers. Growers’ confidence in their advisers will continue to increase, as they see the results backed up by data evidence.”

The Next Big Thing

According to Castro, Syngenta is already looking to bring the next tool to market that will bolster advisers’ digital experiences with their grower customers. “In the coming months and years, our customers and partners have a lot to look forward to that will build on our farm-management system,” he says. “We’re not introducing super futuristic technology. Rather, we’re taking pragmatic steps in selecting projects that will help growers have a comprehensive digital experience and deliver high value to them.”

“With digital agriculture tools, growers can look at historical data, specific to their fields. That can help them have a broader view and make better decisions regarding operations, inputs, variability within a field, timing of applications and overall results.”

Marcos Castro
One existing project is focused on codifying agronomy. According to Castro, this in-development tool will help growers and their advisers identify, quantify and mitigate problems discovered during scouting. Using artificial intelligence for imagery recognition, this tool could increase the ability of agronomists to assist more customers in a shorter period of time, by reducing the need for in-field visits.

A recently introduced tool helps better place the strong genetics of Syngenta seeds in fields. This software evaluates soil types, weather patterns and grower practices to help seed dealers give recommendations for the best seeds to plant, using a scientific approach that avoids biases.

Deardorff emphasizes the Syngenta team is focused on building integrations into the Digital Agriculture Solutions suite of tools that will add connectivity and make sense for a U.S. audience.

“We’re looking at all solutions through a retailer lens,” Deardorff says. “We want to build value for our retailers and their growers. In addition to our industry-leading products, we want to provide tools that will help their businesses be more productive and successful.”