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Repetition is the mother of all learning.

January 10, 2014

According to The Economist grain prices in 2014 will drop by 14%. At the same time the last report of European Commission says that the experts do not expect price increase on agriculture products in the next decade. So, these two organizations tell us that we should not expect the prices increase.  USA statistics shows the farmers sells their grain at approximately the same price.

This leaves the only option for farmers – find the ways to decrease the cost of production. We already discussed this possibility many times and maybe I’ll repeat myself, but like old Russian proverb says: “Repetition is the mother of all learning”.

Let’s assume that you already have optimized technology and all necessary supporting equipment.

Strategically, the biggest impact on cost reduction is the yield increase. Besides the mother nature, the most important factor here is a timelines of your operations and inputs. That is why it is extremely important to get a right advice first of on seeds:

  • Potential yield (not only average)
  • Potential/desired output content (protein, starch, fiber, oil, etc.)
  • Rate of planting (spacing in the field, XYZ) as a function of yield
  • Rate of fertilizing for each growth stage (spacing in the field, XYZ) as a function of yield, desired crop properties, soil properties and structure
  • Rate of irrigation for each growth stage (spacing in the field) as a function of irrigation type, yield, desired crop properties, soil
  • Rate of chemical control for each growth stage (spacing in the field) as a function of chemical type (systemic/contact), diseases (type, spread, stage), weeds (type, spread, stage), and insects (type, spread, stage)
  • Potential yield losses as a function of planting speed, harvesting speed, and deviations from the optimum planting rate.

Besides mentioned above data you need to have a capability to monitor soil properties, growth stages, diseases, weeds, insects  via remote sensing and timely interpret the acquired data.

The fertilization optimization has the equal impact on cost reduction and the yield increase. Majority of consultants will give recommendations for nutrients in terms of required acting matter per area. But actual type of fertilizer, equipment, placement is another story. And it requires rigorous optimization in terms of cost not only fertilizer, but application itself and delivery.

After that comes equipment. In spite that equipment usually presents only 5% out of all farmers expenses, it is an enabler of technology implementation and the cost reduction.

Correctly configured and reliable equipment allows:

  • Increase productivity and improve operations with path planning, autoguidance, performance optimization, 24-hour operation;
  • Lower operational cost (computerized mission planning and programs of applications preparation, automated optimized equipment work, improved monitoring, failure prediction and prevention);
  • Reduce workforce (automated equipment work, improved monitoring);
  • Lower clerical and professional cost (computerized farm and fleet management, access to out-sourced agricultural services via Internet);
  • Reduce facility management cost and improve asset utilization (optimized fleet size, storage size, and pre-scheduled delivery on time, improved monitoring of resources);
  • Improve decision making due to availability of information and possibility to play “what if’s;
  • Improve resource/inventory control;
  • Improve organizational planning for maintenance, delivery, work/operations schedule;
  • Improve organizational flexibility;
  • Utilize more timely information for computerized planning, monitoring, and updates;
  • Increased organizational learning using documented records of work, possibility to play “what if”;
  • Attain Legal requirements constantly updated via Internet.

I hope these tips will be useful for you to update your knowledge base and start preparation for a new planting season.

So, let’s stay connected and let us know what would like to discuss next.

Posted by Andrey Skotnikov at 11:37pm

Machinery Efficiency

October 7, 2013

I mentioned before that the use of farm equipment in the United States in most cases is very inefficient. In Brazil average hours per tractor is 4,000, in Europe around 2000, in the U.S., not more than 1,000. But even this load per tractor, power-wise, is as well very low. Do not take my word for it – just ask your equipment dealer to show you a data from your tractor load history monitor. You will be unpleasantly surprised.

So, how we can improve it? The sources of machinery efficiency (ME) are the machinery itself, technology and aggregation, and minimization of downtime. All these items are interconnected. As for equipment, we know that a compatitable and optimized set of equipment has more advantages, is more productive and easier to use as compared with a historically assembled system.

The optimization of implement lines for a given tractor and farm size is a huge separate topic. I will mentioned only major points. For instance soil preparation, fertilizer and chemicals applications, and planting can be combined in one, or it can be four different applications. The idea is to equalize the load for each operation based on an available time frame for it.

You need to look for highest power demanding operation and a time frame in which you are trying to complete it. Usually this is planting. On the rest of operations excess of power can be compensated by speed increase.

These considerations will lead you to desired productivity or speed and implement width for the most crucial operation.

The next step will be an optimization of tractor power for existing and planned implements. The general concept of matching tractor power and implement size is pretty well described here:http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a3-26.pdf

You can request more detailed power requirements from a particular implement dealer. After you determine a necessary tractor power, the next step is to choose the most fuel efficient tractor. Tractor fuel efficiency consists of

  • Engine efficiency
  • Fan and cooling package efficiency
  • Hydraulic system efficiency and
  • Transmission parasitic losses

Nebraska tests reports (http://tractortestlab.unl.edu/testreports ) have a combined fuel efficiency for normal weather. For hot weather, the deviation between equally rated tractors of different brands can be up to 15kW. You need to know fan RPM range and look for fan speed at normal conditions.

The difference in transmission oil level from minimum to maximum may create up to 20 kW power difference in transport.

Sometimes farmers are buying an extra powerful tractor just for little time reduction for critical operations. You also need to have in mind that the more powerful tractor consumes more fuel per hour at any partial regime and RPM than less powerful tractor with the same hardware.

Nebraska tests reports can help you to choose correct/suitable tractor for your applications by power and assess fuel efficiency for your applications.

This data also will allow you to calculate the volume of fuel needed for whole operations during a year. Most of the companies submit internally tested tractors for these tests with best expected results. That is why this data is useful for your control, and raise a concern for a service call in case of significant deviations of your records from a test report. Fuel efficiency data also may help you decide in favor of one brand or another. For instance, a tractor can be cheaper, but consume more fuel and that’s why it’s more expensive in long run to own.

Somebody may think that this is unimportant, but in Europe farmers in most cases during a year put more fuel in a tractor, than tractor cost itself.

 

During work you need also to monitor tires slippage. In most cases this can be controlled with correct tire pressure. Some tractors allow adjustments on-the-go.

And finally downtime – it consists of two major components: equipment reliability (including technical support) and fleet management.

Fleet management will allow you to complete more jobs per week, reduce fuel costs, track and schedule maintenance, view proof of work done and time in the field, optimize scheduling and routing, reduce administration, time sheets etc.

Write us to tell what you would like to discuss next.

Posted by Andrey Skotnikov at 9:09pm

Posted to: Uncategorized

Food Identity Preservation and Traceability

September 24, 2013

In my previous blog we discussed how to break a commodity price cycle and get premiums for produced locally required crops with requested properties. This is directly connected to a value chain and Food Identity Preservation and Traceability (IPT). Many managers consider IPT systems as a central component of value-chains.

So, what is Food Identity Preservation and Traceability and why it is important?

According to Wikipedia:

Identity preservation is the practice of tracking the details of agricultural shipments so that the specific characteristics of each shipment are known. Identity preserved (IP) is the designation given to such bulk commodities marketed in a manner that isolates and preserves the identity of a shipment, presumably because of unique characteristics that have value otherwise lost through comingling during normal storage, handling and shipping procedures. The concept of IP has been accorded greater importance with the introduction of genetically modified (GM) organisms into agriculture. Although the U.S. scientific community maintains that GM crops are safe, critics want them segregated from non-GM commodities out of concerns about their potential environmental and food safety implications.

Greg Bennet, in his book A Practical Roadmap to IPT Integration, said: “From baby formula and peanut butter, to E. coli-tainted peppers and salmonella-tainted pistachios, no food product or means of its production is immune to risks. And while these risks may never be fully eliminated, identity preservation and traceability (IPT) systems make it easier to determine the source and extent of contamination, thereby reducing the often deadly consequences”.

At IdeAg (http://www.ideaggroup.com/) events we are continuously discussing how precision ag technologies can help to get all necessary data like technology of crop growing, time, location, soil properties, rates, etc. to figure out how to achieve the desired results.

Implementing my proposal for comprehensive crop production management systems will enhance existing IPT. In this case IPT will be considerably deeper. It will tell the story of how this particular crop was grown and what components, in what portions (rates), when and where (soils and location) were used for it.

Documenting crop production process is an important part of IPT systems. I understand that this is double-edged sword.

From one side it will help farmers to be found by food manufacturing value-chains. From other side the usage of particular seeds or chemicals can bar them from selling their crop. But consumers are demanding IPT more and more. There is a huge lobby trying to make it a standard.

So, I recommend keeping a record of your crop production practices. It has another derivative benefit – it can significantly simplify obtaining certification for organic crop production.

Posted by Andrey Skotnikov at 9:21pm

How to Break a Commodity Price Cycle

August 27, 2013

Producing property-specific crops is an option; new technologies make it possible.

As I mentioned before, new interconnected technology can help farmers to break a commodity price cycle. By breaking the commodity price cycle I mean farmers can get premiums for produced locally required crops with requested properties. Requested properties could be protein in wheat and malting barley, vitamins in rice, sugar content in sugar beets, oil in sunflower seeds, starch in corn (BP is working on it), etc.

Using Precision Ag technologies we can get all necessary data like technology of crop growing, time, location, soil properties, rates, etc. to figure out how to achieve the desired results.

Let’s consider protein. Protein concentration is an important parameter of grain qualifying for price premiums. In 1996, I published a paper where I analyzed the variation of protein in malting barley depending on soil compaction and fertilizer application methods. It was a laboratory experiment and complicated laboratory equipment was used for grain analysis.

Since then a lot of research was conducted in this area. New remote sensing applications for creation of protein maps are emerging. New portable and in-line for harvesters devices for grain analysis are becoming available.

For instance, a ZX-50 is a portable whole grain analyzer specially designed for quick, accurate analysis of protein, moisture, and oil in small quantity. It provides an accurate measurement of multiple constituents within 45 seconds, and is simple to operate. Just pour the grain in the sample holder, insert the holder in the analyzer and analyze.

Dan Long of the USDA-ARS, Lars Thylen and Mikael Gilbertsson of the Swedish Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering, and James Taylor and Brett Whelan of the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture conducted a lot of research in this area. You can find their papers on-line.

As Dan Long stated: ” The results are sufficiently promising to suggest that on-combine spectroscopic sensing of grain protein concentration for mapping purposes is technically feasible”. But I think we can go further and use these devices for grain separation during harvest.

I suggest three strategies how to get a grain with higher protein content.

First, it is an open loop system or program. You can follow a strict regimen: Use existing research and/or recommendations (sometimes they may have over twenty parameters) and adjust your technology and prescriptions to achieve the desired yield and crop properties. The use of remote sensing for nitrogen applications may help to manage a protein content.

Second is a selective harvesting. One can generate field protein map using remote sensing. After that, this map can be used to develop a route for a selective harvesting. What to harvest first will depend on the composition of high of low protein content in the field.

The third is a separation of the grain on-the-go. The basis for grain separation can be the above-mentioned field protein map, or an on-combine spectroscopic sensor of grain protein concentration, or their combination.

For the grain separation on-the-go, the implementation of variable size bin compartments concept would be useful. You can arrange a movable wall inside of a harvester grain bin and/or inside of grain cart and adjust then accordingly the harvested volumes.

I can provide more details on how to do it if I will receive requests from you.

Major points here are:

  • We need more data to develop better technologies and prescriptions to achieve the desired combination of yield and crop properties.
  • We need a quicker introduction into the production of technical solutions to separate crop on properties on-the-go during harvest.
  • We need continue to share data to figure out how to do it.

I will try to find successful examples (services, manufacturers, and farmers) of getting premiums for produced locally required crops with requested properties.

I’m waiting for your comments.

Posted by Andrey Skotnikov at 3:25am

A call for standards and compatibility

August 13, 2013

During the last IDEAg Interconnectivity conference we were talking that economic practices operated more with a notion of “risk” rather than “probabilities.”  There is risk in our future – higher yield in Brazil, more efficient use of equipment in Europe.

These are risks that make improving yields and decreasing costs a priority. Here is some more evidence of this.

I just a week ago returned from the Ukraine, where I consulted with a customer growing wheat, corn and soybeans on 200,000 acres. The spread among fields is 200 miles. They read my blogs and want to create comprehensive crop production management systems like I have described during our previous conferences.

At the same time, the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club Association and AgriEvent Agency has organized on September 19, 2013 the 4th International conference, “Large Farm Management: Organization and Strategy.”

At this conference speakers of top agricultural companies from Brazil, Canada, USA, Russia, Kazakhstan, EU countries and Ukraine will take part. As you can see the competition is growing.

My Ukraine customer, for instance, has John Deere, Case IH, Massey, Fendt, and Deutz-Fahr tractors; four different brands of harvesters, and even more brands of implements. This is why they want to implement a better fleet management system. The key element here will be the development of mission planning software.

In order to implement the necessary solutions they need some kind of universal board computer to control tractor and its speed (and other parameters) , as well as to obtain seeding/fertilizer spreading/tillage prescriptions or tasks over the Internet. This computer should be able to obtain task and prescription changes over the Internet too. It also should be able to report the performance to a centralized database over the Internet.

Right now this is very difficult because of different interfaces for implements, cables and cab interface compatibilities, and other issues. But we are looking for a suitable kit.

For all field operations to support maximum productivity without compromising the operation quality, it is necessary to manage speed with simultaneous assessment of its quality. This would be very beneficial for American farmers as well. I know how to do it.

The automation of these functions requires access to CANBUS software for the tractor and other vehicle Electronic Control Units (ECU). Right now this is a major stumbling block – all OEM keep this information proprietary. Some companies name a safety concern as a reason for it. I think this problem should be resolved and it would be a good topic for our discussion at the next conference.

Another request is to support the required depth of cultivation or even vary it in VRT. Right now there are no systems to support the depth relative to a field surface. All  existing equipment control a depth relative to supporting wheels, which in turn do not keep consistent distance relative to the field surface in most fields.

I know several solutions to improve the precision of cultivation depth, but we need a standardized depth control interface. Last conference we talked about equipment ISOBUS and interoperability across ECU, across manufacturers with a single input/output terminal, or virtual terminal for all implements. But in reality it’s not here yet.

 

Posted by Andrey Skotnikov at 1:28am