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Digital tools making inroads on farms

  • Jul 26, 2018

Veteran Saskatchewan grain producer Kleven MacDougall says it’s both physically and mentally exhausting to manually control switches on booms when spraying for disease control. 

“It’s a real pain,” says MacDougall, who farms 3,800 acres of wheat and canola with his brother Larry in Langbank, 180 kilometres east of Regina. “You can never relax. By the end of the day you’re played out.” 

All changed two years ago when the brothers switched to spraying canola fungicide using a new digital farming tool. 

Zone Spray, a feature of Bayer’s Field Manager suite of digital or precision farming tools, uses satellite imagery and other data to provide producers with field-level control over when, where and how much fungicide to apply using technology that is already available in their equipment cabs. 

“It makes spraying so much easier,” MacDougall says, one of roughly 300 canola producers in Western Canada who began using the tool as part of a pilot project in 2016. 

Growing use of precision ag tools 

The MacDougall are not alone.  Across Canada and around the world, producers are turning increasingly to the many networked precision agricultural tools being researched and developed to make farms more efficient, productive and sustainable. FCC Express recently reported that in its second annual survey of field data management software on Canadian farms, Stratus Ag Research found just over 34 per cent of the 700 farms surveyed are using one or more of the 20 field data management software solutions available in Canada.

Many of those ideas and products were on display in recent weeks at two major international digital farming events, including the International Conference on Precision Agriculture in Montreal, Que. and the InfoAg Conference in St. Louis, Mo. 

“There are so many data points and variables in agricultural production," says Chris Paterson of Bayer Canada’s CropScience digital farming arm. "Everything from time of planting, variety and the type and time and amount of fertilizer or fungicides to apply to weather patterns and rainfall.” 

Paterson says precision agriculture helps correlate information with soil test results, drainage and other factors that influence yield to help producers make the right decisions at the right times. He says digital farming will continue to make inroads into the everyday reality of modern farming. 

Hicham Bencharki agrees – to a point. 

“The technology of precision farming is moving well, but I think the adaption by producers is still a little slow,” says Bencharki, director of digital products and innovation at La Coop fédérée.

The Coop fédérée has three main precision agriculture products: digital field record keeping, scouting, an in-season pest monitoring mobile app, and the Portal, a new interface that easily connects growers with the company.

According to Bencharki, producers with a half-million acres of crops in production in Eastern Canada have already signed on the new tool since it went live in February.

He says the Coop fédérée’s goal now is to continue developing and integrating precision agriculture tools in an effort to create a single “end to end” digital solution. 

“Growers need user-friendly solutions and help to manage all the data they get,” Bencharki says, pointing to an in-house survey that found 45 per cent of growers who use precision agriculture do so profitability. 

“The need and desire are there, but it’s up to companies like ours to provide the user-friendly tools growers need to take full advantage of PA.” 

Bottom line

Digital farming continues to make inroads into the everyday reality of modern farming, while ag tech companies are working to create user-friendly solutions to increase uptake.

Ag tech experts predict digital farming will continue to make inroads into the everyday reality of modern farming. 

Article by: Mark Cardwell