COVID-19 forces farmers to go digital

COVID-19 has interrupted the face-to-face contact farmers traditionally enjoyed with their agronomists, suppliers and equipment dealers. | File photo

COVID-19 has interrupted the face-to-face contact farmers traditionally enjoyed with their agronomists, suppliers and equipment dealers. Although not as efficient, all parties have come to rely on digital communications daily.

Five months ago, communications tools such as live chat and video conferencing for the farm would have been considered silly by most. Not so silly in July 2020.

One school of thought has it that farmers are not impacted by COVID-19. They order their seed, fertilizer and diesel via smartphone. They book machine maintenance via smartphone. Their crop adviser texts with photos what he finds in the fields. Farmers no longer need to talk face-to-face with their support network. And when harvest is complete, grain sales are made with the smartphone. The farmer never sees an end user even once, nor does he need to deal directly with his production network.

But the quality of communication must be extremely high to avoid frustration and to avoid having producers jump off the wagon and drive in to town to see their dealer.

One of the companies specializing in agricultural digital information flow is California-based Climate Corp., owned by Bayer. Moving to digital communication with farmers has not caused a drop in the quality of information exchange, in the opinion of company spokesperson Jenna Metzger.

“We deliver the digital tools our Bayer team uses working with our customers. FieldView is our farmer focused platform that emphasizes ease of use. It lets them gather all their data into one place, so they can extract the most value from their investment,” Metzger said.

“We’re not just data collection. Customers already have a full slate of agronomic tools they can use to make decisions. FieldView uses all those factors — satellite imagery, weather information, analysis tools — to look at what they did the previous season, crop variety comparisons, plant populations. Field View can show you virtually all the information you need to make informed decisions.

“Because we are a platform, we have a number of unique partners we work with. For example, if you call for drone images, we bring those images directly into your FieldView ap.”

There are lots of field data management systems on the market, and more are showing up every month. Metzger said FieldView has features that set it apart from the competition. One of those features is the FieldView drive, a small device also known as the puck. This small piece of hardware plugs into the CAN bus port of your equipment. Bluetooth sends data from the equipment into your iPad.

“When you’re in the cab, you plug in your FieldView drive. We have different setups depending on the equipment and what the farmer needs. It sends information from the central nervous system of the equipment over to the iPad where you collect information on varieties, planting dates, population counts, soil conditions, application rates and dates, what you sprayed and anything else that’s relevant. FieldView collects data from the seeding equipment, sprayer, combines and tillage operations.

“We’re on 90 million acres worldwide. The Climate Corp. platform is brand- agnostic, so you’re not tied to a relationship with Bayer. We try to make it compatible with as many brands as possible. Any farmer anywhere can sign up for a subscription. We have a Try-It-Before-You-Buy- It program going right now, so you can get FieldView free for one full year.

“And you can import all your files from another company. Anything you have on your computer or your USB can be uploaded through our website and moved to FieldView as well. FieldView has quickly become the most broadly connected platform in the industry.”

Metzger said FieldView can be live in real time with the tender trucks at seeding, the water truck at spraying time and the grain haulers at harvest. This level of co-ordinated strategy helps keep all the machines working to capacity with a minimum of idle time, she added. FieldView can also be shared with a crop adviser to show you trouble spots on your screen while you’re at the other end of the farm, making for more timely decisions.

Climate Corp. was formed in 2006 and bought by Bayer in 2013. FieldView is Bayer’s digital farming platform. In 2017, Climate Corp. and Claas initiated efforts to connect Claas combines and forage harvesters to the FieldView drive device.

Late in 2019 Claas announced a partnership with Climate Corp. FieldView customers using Claas telematics will have secure cloud-to-cloud access to machine-generated insights.

“Farmers have been collecting data from their equipment for decades. The same is true for weather data, soil data, crop performance data, the list goes on and on,” said Mike Stern, chief executive officer of Climate Corp. and head of digital farming for Bayer.

“These data sets become even more valuable when they can be combined with the advanced AI tools we are developing to help reduce risk. This partnership with Claas simplifies that process, helping farmers around the world use digital tools to sustainably increase their productivity.”

Added Metzger: “Once your free trial year is up and you want to continue subscribing to FieldView, the rate for 1,000 acres or less is a dollar per acre. The maximum fee per farm is $3,000 for 10,000 acres or more.

“Knowing this year has been a tough one, every farmer who already had a FieldView account leading up to June 1 will receive an additional one-year free subscription.”

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