COLUMBUS, Ohio — Successful farmers in the future will be utilizing integrated data solutions.

“Technology is going to be the critical aspect that drives us to meet demand in the future,” said John Fulton, associate professor and Extension specialist in the Biosystems Engineering Department at Auburn University.

Fulton highlighted a Global Agricultural Productivity report during a John Deere product introduction media event.

“This report looks at population growth, food production, how countries are developing and what demand will be in the future,” he said.

“Precision agricultural technology will at least contribute 30 percent of the production growth,” he noted.

“Genetics and yield will be a significant role in terms of growth,” he added. “But it’s going to be the practices and how we utilize data to determine what variety suits my growing conditions on my farm and how I utilize inputs.”

Increasing productivity of crop production will be driven by three components, Fulton said.

“Those components are efficient use of machinery, input stewardship and data management,” he explained.

“Precision agriculture has been around for 20 years,” he noted. “We’ve spent that time getting technology in farmers’ hands, and now we’re getting that data in a form that we can start to analyze and best serve farmers so they can be profitable.”

Work is in progress to look at individual corn plants in fields.

“We’re looking at how that seed is oriented when it’s placed in the ground, how accurately the depth is controlled and marking that seed where it gets planted so we can follow that individual plant,” Fulton said. “We’re not at that point today, but that’s how we’re thinking — looking at each individual seed.”

And, he said, it’s not just the corn plant, but the attributes of the plant.

“There’s a tremendous amount of research about what’s going on under the ground, how the root structure develops and what that means to yield,” he said.

In addition to knowing everything about the plant itself, the specialist said, “I want to add in the soil conditions through the growing season, what the weather was like and what water was applied if it was irrigated.”

Ultimately, he said, farmers are asking questions about how they can change their farm management to maximize profits.

“The No. 1 important operation to farmers is planting — that establishes potentially where we’ll end up on yield,” he said. “Farmers have several monitors in their tractor cab, and they need help capturing all that data.”

Data from Auburn University suggests on a 12-row planter, there can be an 8-percent to 20-percent difference in populations across the planter.

“In some cases that will be significant from a yield perspective,” Fulton said.

“If I have turn compensation on the planter where each row has compensation and maintains population and I can get that down to 3 percent, that’s significant, especially when you consider the size of the machines today,” he said.

This past winter, the university conducted a poll with farmers from across the Midwest, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Alabama.

“We asked them to list the top five hurdles for data management at the farm level,” Fulton said.

“The No. 1 hurdle was automatic data transfer,” he reported. “Because the data remains on the machine, it’s not downloaded, and they don’t have a storage device where they can start to do analysis.”

The second hurdle identified was farmers need help with the data, and the need for software with preferences on web-based viewing or web-based uploading and downloading was the third hurdle noted by the farmers.

“No one ever wrote back in their responses and asked about data privacy,” Fulton said.

“Farmers have to visualize data,” he said. “When they can visualize data, they understand it better and they can address issues more easily.”

According to Fulton, wireless data transfer needs to be automatic, simple and include a service component.

“That will allow us to get over the hurdle of getting data off machines so we can have discussion about what that data means and how we can add value,” he said.

“Finally and most importantly, we have to have personalized solutions for farmers to be engaged,” he added. “Because we know neighbors don’t farm the same so they want something personalized.”