As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Data on track for greater compatibility
by Arable Farming Nov/Dec 2020 issue
Technology to help farmers share and use data continues to advance, with two emerging platforms in particular leading the way. Jane Carley reports.
The increasing amount of data available to farmers to help manage machines and operations only underlines the need to be able to process and utilise it.
Until recently, sharing data between competing equipment brands has been a frustrating and costly experience.
However, thanks to a greater degree of co-operation between manufacturers, there is now light at the end of the tunnel for those operating mixed fleets of machinery and technology.
This said, there are limitations to the emerging technology, not least because it seems there are two schools of thought as to how this data exchange should be achieved.
Claas and John Deere, with software specialist 265FarmNet, announced the launch of manufacturer-independent cloud-to-cloud data transfer system DataConnect at Agritechnica last year, allowing users of both brands to exchange data via a common interface and control and monitor their machinery fleet using their preferred system.
Claas UK Easy product manager Ed Miller says: “Operators can view data from their John Deere machines in Claas Telematics and similarly Claas machines via John Deere’s Operations Center.” Limited data is available at present and Claas customers in the UK have been trialling the system for logistics management.
“For example, when driving a Claas Lexion combine, the operator can view data from John Deere tractors used for corn carting and vice versa.” Mr Miller says DataConnect has the advantage of being able to join ‘clouds’ (or as Claas prefers, ‘buckets’) from each machine together without the need for additional hardware to enable the machines to ‘talk’ and decide whether to join their data.
“All that is needed is a licensed DataConnect machine,” he says.
DataConnect can also run alongside Claas’ Telematics on Implement system which exchanges data between a Claas tractor and an IsoBus-connected implement.
“With DataConnect there is the advantage of connection to any brand of machine which has signed up, so the user can have data from all their machines on the one platform of their choice.” DataConnect is now fully available at no extra cost as part of the telematics package, which has been part of Claas’ offering for more than a decade, so users of existing as well as new machines can benefit.
Claas already has some experience of this type of machine management via its Fleet View software, which uses the mobile phone network to connect harvesting equipment with the haulage fleet.
However, Mr Miller sees the greatest benefit of DataConnect being in the exchange of agronomic data.
“While Fleet View simply fine-tunes operation of the harvest chain, DataConnect will be more of a farm management tool, allowing improved utilisation of data across a mixed machinery fleet.”
Reaching the masses
Agrirouter’s web-based platform, also launched last year, enables data exchange between machines and agricultural software from different brands and systems, via a direct connection or the respective manufacturer’s own cloud.
Numbers of manufacturers signing up as shareholders to Agrirouter continue to increase, with 16 companies representing 27 brands, notably including CNH Industrial brands Case IH, New Holland and Steyr, who are also partners in DataConnect.
Parent company DKE-Data’s directors Dr Jens Moller and Dr Johannes Sonnen are also in discussion with some 275 software and hardware providers, many of whom are preparing to programme Agrirouter as part of ongoing upgrades.
Dr Sonnen says: “It is appealing to software developers as a single connection can link multiple brands, but also as it uses Iso-XML language which is becoming increasingly important for machine control.” There is also a wider range of application equipment with Zunhammer and Bergmann offering Agrirouter capability through their CCI 800 or CCI 1200 terminals.
Dr Moller says: “Application maps for organic fertiliser can now be used easily and the operation can be digitally documented.
“Using live telemetry data, telemetric tracking and optimisation of the application process is also possible.” Telemetry is one of the lesser-appreciated features of Agrirouter, transferring up to 600 different values from both tractor and implement, says Dr Sonnen.
“The farmer can build up a full picture of his potato harvest, from tractor position and fuel consumption to the belt speed and yield measurement on the harvester, for example.
“This is transferred automatically to the FMIS in the office, where he can make a quick check for headline data before using the information at the end of the season, in conjunction with other reports, such as irrigation maps, to help plan next year’s cropping.” After initial feedback from the shareholders, set-up has been simplified with the individual Agrirouter ‘ECO system’ (machines + agrirouter + agricultural software) put into operation in three steps by using ‘standard groups’ for machines and agricultural software solutions.
Dr Sonnen explains: “The customer simply has to set up the account, connect the machine and connect the software.
“After the initial set-up the Agrirouter runs in the background and customers only need its user interface to adjust a route or connect a new machine or agricultural software solution.”
Data service opens up new opportunities
Data specialist Agrimetrics is one of four centres for agricultural innovation founded with an initial investment from Innovate UK and founding partners are NIAB, SRUC, Rothamsted Research and The University of Reading.
It has strategic partnerships with Airbus and Microsoft and is a participant in Microsoft’s AI for Earth programme.
Prof Richard Tiffin, chief scientific officer, explains: “Agrimetrics has built a data market place that allows organisations to connect, share and monetise their data safely and equitably, while innovative search tools make it easier for analysts to find the information they need.
“The basis for the market place is data will only be shared transactionally with value received in return for making data available.
“It uses the latest linked-data technologies, which makes connecting disparate data simpler and enables clients to create bespoke data sets from multiple sources to meet their specific needs.” This data market place has already helped organisations to develop a number of farm management tools, such as BASF’s wHen2Go tool, which provides field-specific guidance on whether to apply quinmerac and metazachlor to oilseed rape.
Agritech company Glas Data uses Agrimetrics’ Field Boundaries combining satellite imagery with advanced machinelearning algorithms to map more than 2.8 million fields across the UK.
Glas Data can add many other datasets to form a complete picture of each field with just a few clicks.
Then, by pulling in data such as historical weather patterns and predictive models, they can make accurate and intelligent decisions about each field.
Fresh produce specialist Barfoots has worked with Agrimetrics to use artificial intelligence and data to improve the efficiency of their international product supply chains, as head of agronomy Harry Wilder explains.
He says: “We are able to achieve 94% accuracy on harvest date prediction for our sweetcorn crop in Senegal, four weeks ahead of harvest, which is six weeks ahead of delivery to the UK.
This advanced forecasting gives us time to make proactive supply-chain decisions that enable us to reduce crop waste and increase sales to customers.” Our previous system was not digitised, but having proven the concept we are looking at rolling this out to other countries and eventually to other crops and our UK cropping.” Agrimetrics used Barfoots’ existing growth cycle data and combined it with weather and satellite data to create models for harvest prediction and Mr Wilder says that while the company has plenty of its own data sources, it has historically been difficult to bring it together.
He says: “As fresh produce is a small sector, we have to drive innovation ourselves.
We know data science is as important as bioscience, and being able to use a data service such as Agrimetrics avoids exposing our business to the high costs of developing bespoke data management technology ourselves.” Prof Tiffin acknowledges the challenges for farmers include the need to trust those who seek to collect their data, the technology must be accessible and produce actionable insights, and growers must receive fair and realistic reward for their input.
He says: “We are hoping to create a safe and fair space for data sharing through our data market place.
“The market place is Iso27001 and Cyber Essentials accredited, we are a Microsoft Partner and our platform includes powerful permissioning function so data providers know their data is safe and retain control over exactly who uses it and how it is used.”
Which solution is best?
While there is the possibility Data Connect and Agrirouter may find themselves in a mutually exclusive Apple/Android situation where customers have to choose one or the other, DKE-Data hopes this will not be the case.
Dr Moller says: “Both parties support the EU commission’s Atlas research project which looks to the standardisation of cloud-to-cloud, which could drive manufacturer developments.” Interestingly, CNH Industrial customers will be able to connect to either system, depending on whether their other machines are from Agrirouter or DataConnect partners.
CNH Industrial’s John Downes explains: “We’ve been trialling DataConnect in Europe and the USA and one objective is to establish what data can be shared and via which pathways.
“It should certainly be possible to integrate agri-services products such as farm management software with equipment, allowing the data to flow together seamlessly.
“The question is whether machinery manufacturers wish to share detailed information on their products with each other.
We are also exploring which is the best format to allow transfer of agronomic and application data.” He adds that Agrirouter has focused more on sharing agronomic data, using many established standards.