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These Technologies Are Changing the Future of Farming

Photo: Courtesy of Bec Ritchie

Abe Hughes

General Manager, Trimble

We spoke with Trimble general manager Abe Hughes about the biggest advancements in agriculture technologies and what’s on the horizon.

How has technology helped farmers improve productivity on the farm in the last 20 years?

The introduction of GPS to create vehicle guidance systems on agricultural vehicles in the late 1990’s provided the first wave of productivity through technology on the farm.  Trimble Autopilot® technology allowed farmers to use precision steering tools, like Autoguidance™, which instantly enabled longer hours of operation especially during time critical operations such as planting and harvesting. Yield monitors help farmers assess the variability that exists on acres planted so that corrective plans could be developed to improve yields. Soil sampling has enabled farmers to assess variability of soil conditions and develop corrective plans with specific inputs applied on certain zones as needed. The combination of these technologies lead to  variable rate application (VRA) technology, allowing  each part of the field to  be treated uniquely based on specific plans for that zone.  This reduces waste from duplicate applications and the management of inputs where unnecessary, thereby dramatically lowering the overall cost of production.  Most recently, farm automation tools are being introduced for monitoring and controlling made possible through sensor technologies for weed control, moisture and other farm conditions.  The next stages of technology development are focusing on machine automation and even some operations that can be done via innovations in driverless autonomy. The management of data available for a specific field is pulling in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and predictive analytics so that decision-making and production plans become more advanced and selective, enabling farmers to consistently improve productivity despite changing conditions throughout their operations. In summary, technology in agriculture over the past 20 years has provided farmers with improvements in productivity. New innovations on the horizon from companies such as Trimble promise to make technology even more prevalent and useful to farmers in the future, all geared to increase productivity and long-term sustainability on the farm.

How is Trimble reshaping the future of agriculture?

We are very excited about our Connected Farm® solution and how this connects modern technology throughout the farm. Connected Farm is our unified suite of precision solutions covering all aspects of modern agricultural management. From the office to the field, all year round, the Trimble Connected Farm® helps growers get critical farm work done smarter, faster and more efficiently. Through universal vehicle and implement integration, seamless data transfer and analysis, and the best GPS positioning and Autopilot® guidance products available, farmers can connect as much or as little of their operation as they choose, with easy options for expanding and upgrading as desired. To further explain how this works, let’s take our new AutoSync™ feature launched in April. Today we have many farmers who are struggling with data management, especially when more than one vehicle is operating in a field. The AutoSync™ feature automatically syncs guidance lines, field names, boundaries, materials, implements, vehicles, and operator information across all connected devices in your farm operation — including Trimble® TMX-2050™ and GFX-750™ displays, as well as the Trimble Ag Software that you can access from any computer, electronic notebook or mobile device. This way everyone that is part of your farm is working off the same set of data at all times, making a huge impact today and in the future. The Trimble Connected Farm® provides farmers ease-of-use and all the productivity they have yearned for with their farm technology.

What agricultural technology can help local farmers succeed?

Trimble’s GPS technology and Autopilot® guidance solutions have been around for 20 years as agricultural productivity tools. Having highly accurate and reliable GPS signals and best in class guidance have been the bedrock of precision agriculture since technology first appeared on the farm. Take our Autopilot® guidance and steering products for example — a farmer can easily add automated steering to help reduce driver fatigue, while making the perfect pass across the field. Because of this technology, farmers are able to accomplish more work in fewer hours, and due to lower fatigue, work longer hours during time critical functions such as planting, harvesting and spraying. Additionally, our onboard software and implement control technology, such as the variable rate application (VRA) of crop inputs, enables placing the right amount of product at the right spot, thus reducing total inputs necessary, dramatically lowering costs of production and also avoiding nutrient runoff that could end up in our water supply. Helping farmers become more economically sustainable is a big part of what Trimble can do through our award winning technology. Farmers win by producing greater yields that generate more revenue per acre with lower use of inputs, increasing their profitability. During these particularly challenging times experienced by American farmers affected by the trade tariffs, we are facilitating the purchase of technology through a variety of rebates and incentives so that every farmer can have access to modern productivity tools to improve profitability on the farm. Whether your tractor or implement are older or brand new, Trimble technology can improve the functionality of all equipment and raise the productivity and profitability on every farm. Please visit www.trimble.com for more ways to save and modernize.

What major problem areas are tech developers prioritizing when it comes to modern farming?

More consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it’s produced. When an E. coli outbreak was linked to romaine lettuce last fall, it illustrated the importance of traceability in agriculture. By the time the outbreak was over, 62 people from 17 states had contracted E. coli from contaminated lettuce. It also resulted in tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for the growers. Trimble developers are helping to avoid these devastating situations and the economic damage caused by recalls. HarvestMark®, a Division of Trimble, is the leading traceability solution that links the first and last mile of the supply chain — from field to fork.  Consumers, retailers and producers benefit by quickly seeing where a specific product was grown, offering compete food traceability.

Our developers are also prioritizing how to automate as many functions in production agriculture as possible. Here we are making it possible for everyone to deliver professional results with their tractor, combine, sprayer, and implements through the automation and simplification of machine control functions. Development work on autonomous vehicles is showing great promise that some common vehicle functions today may soon be completed without an operator or in close proximity to an operator running a series of vehicles and implements in a working field, helping to further bridge the labor shortage being experienced on nearly every production farm today. Other semi-autonomous tasks and innovations in automation are also in the works to help farmers improve the visualization of ongoing operations, coordination of activities among several workers and work crews and documentation of work completed for managerial and regulatory purposes. We’ve got some exciting technologies in the works which are sure to make farming more productive and sustainable in the future.

Staff, [email protected]

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