Forgive Illinois corn farmer Dave Sasse for getting on his soapbox at InfoAg 2005, held in July in Sasse's hometown of Springfield. His tractor cab suffers from “monitoritis” — an affliction in which a new monitor erupts in his field of vision every time he adds a new piece of hardware or equipment.
Sasse, asked to address the pitfalls of precision agriculture at the conference on site specific crop and soil management, wonders why precision agriculture manufacturers can't do as Microsoft founder Bill Gates did — figure out how to run every conceivable combination of software and hardware through one easy-to-read monitor.
Sasse, who also teaches at Lincoln Land Community College in the AgriComp Program for farmers in Springfield, Ill., has used precision agriculture techniques since 1994, including variable-rate fertilizer, seeding, nitrogen and automatic steering.
“The progress of precision agriculture over the last 10 years has been amazing,” Sasse said. “All these companies have done a great job of bringing it forward. But it's time to take another step forward. We have to make this easier.”
Sasse said that automatic steering technology is creating more free time for operators and turning the tractor cab into a personal office. “That's why I want one monitor that is Windows-based so I can run all my applications, for my planter, my Auto-Steer, combine, variable-rate spraying and GPS.
“Multiple monitors are almost dangerous,” Sasse said. “They are obstructing our view. We have too many things to look at. We have one monitor for our GPS lying on the floor. We don't need all that stuff. We should be able to run it through one monitor.
“High-tech farming is not a bunch of monitors in the cab. But everybody has them. Why? I think that's what we need ask. We have one computer at home. It's run on Windows.”
Sasse would also like Internet access in his tractor cab. “I want to be able to access markets and e-mail people.”
Other areas where streamlining would help precision agriculture:
Compatibility — “Why do I have so much trouble hooking up an International planter to a John Deere tractor? Why can't we standardize everything, have one plug for all implements?
“I want a ‘plug and work’ concept, where you plug it in, it's recognized, and you go to work. I have to spend an immense amount of time getting everything to talk to each other. With ‘plug and play’ on our home computers, we hook a couple of drives in, the computer recognizes them, loads the software and we take off.”
Smart software — “I want to spend time analyzing my information, not putting it in the computer. One thing that irritates is when I pull into the field with a GPS, it asks me to select the farm. Why? That thing knows where it is. It should know that this is the field. Make it smart software and make it easier to use.”
Record-keeping — “There is some talk in the industry about having a scanner on board which scans labels for products as they are loaded into a tank. That would put the product information in automatically. That's great. It makes it easier to keep track of all the information. The less I have to write down and the fewer selections I have to make, the better.
“I may be getting greedy, but I also want the information to transmit back to the computer in the office. The time I spend at night putting the information on my desktop program is too much. I'd also like to be able to edit information out in the field.
“Also, when I hook up a piece of machinery, I'd like to see the activity automatically download into my office desktop.”
Walk the walk, easy on the talk — “I think manufacturers have been doing a good job getting us to where we are now. But it's time to take that next step and bring in other farmers who are not as technology-minded. But manufacturers should be careful about being too technical around farmers. Sometimes we kind of blank out when some of these new terms are mentioned.
“We need to bring in the next generation of adopters. Right now, it's too difficult. People get frustrated. We're farmers. Many of us don't have the college degree to understand a lot of this. So I think this is the next step we need to take. Let the manufacturers and the local implement dealers know what you want. Tell them to make precision agriculture easier.”