Where’s the driver?


See the latest technology at this year’s Farm Science Review.  Demonstrations, beginning at 12:30 daily, will showcase ag technology innovations including an autonomous tractor, drone spraying, high-clearance robotic irrigation system capable of applying animal nutrient sources to row crops, and wireless communications options for connecting these devices.

“We are beginning to see autonomy product offerings that solve challenging problems for farmers who want to stay ahead of the competition by increasing yields, better utilizing production inputs, and resolving skilled labor shortages during peak times for field operations which ultimately leads to increased profits,” said Scott Shearer, professor and chair of the CFAES Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE).

The self-driving autonomous farm tractor is one example and performs its duties without an operator in the cab. “They are internet connected to share computational loads with a web-based interface for mission planning, provide in-field high accuracy position information, track progress, and enable remote monitoring of machine performance. Increasingly, artificial intelligence is being utilized to avoid collisions by detecting obstacles including humans, animals, other vehicles, and other obstacles, said John Fulton, professor and Extension specialist in FABE. “Tractors without drivers are being deployed with varying levels of autonomy ranging from remote monitoring via tractor-mounted cameras to on-board artificial intelligence to carry out routine, repetitive, and labor-intensive procedures.”

Because they can record information automatically and store it in the cloud for easy access, automated tractors can also make it easier to create, keep, and transfer records of agricultural procedures. Self-driving and self-steering tractors can also significantly improve the accuracy of seeding, weeding, harvesting, and other procedures which can mean reduced use of seeds, pesticides, and other chemicals.

“There is no doubt that automation has already provided benefits to agriculture,” said Fulton, who specializes in developing technology and automated components related to application equipment to more accurately place and meet site-specific crop and soil needs. His research program also focuses on translational data analytics, developing telemetry solutions, and digital tools to improve the farm business and in-season decisions.

Shearer and Fulton have also conducted research on using drones in agriculture. The machines were initially used for non-spraying applications, such as scouting fields and collecting data on crop and field conditions. When humans scout a field, the professors explained, they typically only go to four or five locations within a field, but a drone can visit as many as 30 locations that are uniformly distributed over a field in less time.

Drones can capture important data such as soil characteristics, location of drainage tiles, crop nutrient stress level, crop emergence or stand counts, weed species and distribution levels across fields, and detection of insects and diseases.

But the most recent advancement related to drones and farming is using drones for spraying and applying to cover crops. Although spraying with a drone is still in its infancy in the United States, interest in the technology is high. “A rapid increase of easy-to-operate drones for spraying pesticides is underway. They are lightweight, but powerful enough to lift a 8–18-gallon tank,” said Fulton. A variety of drones will be on-site at FSR to illustrate how the technology works. Regulatory requirements of drone application in agriculture, as well as current challenges of the technology will also be discussed.

With drones becoming increasingly available to farmers and with the advances in analytical tools, weed detection and eradication can be accomplished with greater speed and accuracy. Research at Ohio State is being conducted to determine spray deposition, swath control, and coverage and drift from drone sprayers in comparison to other methods used for pesticide application.

Participants at FSR will also be able to see a robotic high-clearance irrigation system that can apply liquid animal nutrient sources at the base of actively growing corn plants. The uniqueness of this system is its ability to follow planter passes regardless of the shape and size of the field. The irrigator follows and applies whatever the crop needs right at the base of the plant throughout the growing season.

“A major benefit of robotic irrigation is the ability to apply both water and nutrients when the crop is most in need of these inputs,” said Andrew Klopfenstein, a senior research engineer in FABE. “Rather than overapplying at less optimal times, nutrients can be applied more frequently in smaller amounts and when crops can readily utilize nutrients, thus reducing nutrient loss and improving nutrient use efficiency.”

Manure application through robotic irrigation systems presents several advantages over traditional land application methods—namely reduced compaction, the ability to apply to growing crops, better application control, and lower costs. Additional advantages may include increased asset utilization through extended application periods, elimination of plugging concerns, reduced odor levels, and reduced surface water contamination.

Automating routine field activities in agriculture results in better input utilization, higher yields, and farming precision, which leads to greater yields and financial returns. One of the most significant impacts seen is gains in efficiency and accuracy. Additional benefits include more timely nutrient application and better distribution, decreased fuel use, and lower labor and production costs. Visit FSR where you can see the machines in action and talk with the Ohio State specialists who are researching the best ways to use them.

Benchmarking Crop Machinery Cost And Investment

by Michael Langemeier, Purdue University

The continued increase in size of tractors, combines, and other machinery has enabled farms to operate more acres and reduce labor use per acre. However, this increase in machinery size also makes it increasingly important to evaluate the efficient use of machinery. This article will discuss machinery cost and investment benchmarks, and illustrate the computation of crop machinery cost and investment for a case farm in west central Indiana.

Key Machinery Benchmarks
Crop machinery cost per acre is computed by summing depreciation, interest, property taxes, insurance, leasing, repairs, fuel and lubricants, and custom hire and rental expense; and dividing the resulting figure by crop acres or harvested acres. Interest should include both cash interest paid and an opportunity charge on machinery and equipment that is owned. In regions where double-cropping predominates, using harvested acres is preferable.

Crop machinery investment per acre is computed by dividing total crop machinery investment (i.e., investment in tractors, combines, and other machinery) by crop acres or harvested acres. Again, in regions where double-cropping is prevalent, using harvested acres gives a more accurate depiction of machinery investment.

Machinery investment per acre typically declines with farm size. Thus, it is important for farms to compare machinery investment per acre with similarly sized farms and to examine the trend in this benchmark for a particular farm. A farm with relatively high machinery investment per acre needs to determine whether this high value is a problem. If the farm faces serious labor or timeliness constraints, their machinery investment per acre may be relatively high. However, if their machinery investment per acre is high due to the purchase of assets used to mitigate income tax obligations or for some other reason, the farm needs to think about their long-term strategy with respect to purchasing machinery and equipment.

Click here to read the entire article.


Participate in a Study to Identify Major Barriers to Precision Agriculture Technology Adoption

The Ohio State University Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering (FABE) is looking for farmers, consultants, and other individuals who work alongside farmers to participate in a survey aimed at identifying major barriers that row crop farmers, consultants, and other personnel involved in crop production face when adopting precision agriculture technologies. Eligible participants must have row cropping operations in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas or preform consulting tasks or other tasks for famers who have row crop operations within the states stated above.

Participants who are interested in participating are required to take the survey found with the link here: https://osu.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_201lPMuZxRSESge. You will have six weeks from April 25, 2022 to June 15, 2022 to respond to the survey. Completing the survey will constitute your consent to participate in the study.

Inquires with questions about the survey or its use should be directed to John Fulton; fulton.20@osu.edu.


Central Ohio Agronomy School – Night #2

David Marrison, Coshocton County ANR Educator shares insights and options on retirement planning for you and your farm.

Night 3 Speakers – Monday March 21

Corn Disease Update

Dr. Pierce Paul, OSU Plant Pathology
Tar Spot – Do we have it, Can we control it? Aerial Applications of Fungicides … is 2 gallons really enough? Vomitoxin Research Results.

Carbon Credits – Is There Really A Market In Ohio?

Mike Estadt, ANR Educator Pickaway County
What is a carbon credit? What is a carbon credit worth? What do I have to do? Mike will answer these and many other questions about selling carbon credits.

Central Ohio Agronomy School – Night 2

John Linder, Chairman National Corn Growers Association and Tadd Nicholson, Executive Director Ohio Corn & Wheat share their insights on the “Big Picture” of Agriculture at night #2 of the Central Ohio Agronomy School.

Night 3 Speakers – Monday March 21

Corn Disease Update – Dr. Pierce Paul, OSU Plant Pathology
Tar Spot – Do we have it, Can we control it? Aerial Applications of Fungicides … is 2 gallons really enough? Vomitoxin Research Results.

Carbon Credits – Is There Really A Market In Ohio? – Mike Estadt, ANR Educator Pickaway County
What is a carbon credit? What is a carbon credit worth? What do I have to do? Mike will answer these and many other questions about selling carbon credits.


Fine-tuning Fertilizer

Quantifying soil spatial variability doesn’t do a farmer any good unless they are able to respond to that variability. Dr. John Fulton, Professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at The Ohio State University, joins the FarmBits Podcast to discuss variable rate application technology and effective input management methods for responding to spatial variability.

Does This Product Work?

Source:  Emerson Nafziger, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois

“Every agronomic decision is a good one for someone” is a quote that I saw recently that reminds us that being “entrepreneurial” is high valued in today’s business world, rewarded in some cases by large amounts of venture capital invested in startup companies. That’s as true in crop agriculture as in any other business, and it means that startups are under pressure to find or create niches and product(s) to fill them, and to demonstrate that these products are widely sellable. The “grand prize” can be sale of the startup to a larger company, yielding a large return for investors and a chance for the entrepreneur to get a large financial award and perhaps move on to bigger projects.

The result is an increasing number of novel crop inputs, accompanied by creative marketing campaigns. Such campaigns often employ the trappings of science to help build trust in such inputs and those who develop them. Photos of serious-looking people examining flasks or test tubes while dressed in white lab coats populate websites, especially for startups that are developing and selling novel inputs such as microbes, or the less specific terms “biologicals” or “biostimulants.” Companies tend to point to field trials they have in their database, and a selected set of such results may be available to potential customers. Testimonials are very common, and almost every such website includes mention of the positive ROI (return on investment) that buyers can expect from use of this product.

Unsurprisingly, company websites tend to highlight data selected for the purpose of supporting sales—it would make little sense from a marketing standpoint to show all of the data. A few decades ago, it was common for companies to engage university researchers to conduct trials on novel products, and for companies to use such results (at least the favorable ones) to help support sales. There may have been cases in which results from universities were insufficiently positive to support sales, and a product wasn’t taken to market as a result. But for the most part, university testing was used to demonstrate that the company had enough confidence in the product that it supported public research on it even without knowing what such research might show.

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Now is the Time to Fine Tune Your Sprayer

Source: Erdal Ozkan, OSU Extension

Pesticides need to be applied accurately and uniformly. Too little pesticide results in poor pest control and reduced yields, while too much injures the crop, wastes chemicals and money, and increases the risk of polluting the environment. Achieving satisfactory results from pesticides depends heavily on five major factors:

  1. Positive identification of the pest.
  2. Choosing the least persistent and lowest toxicity pesticide that will work.
  3. Selecting the right equipment, particularly the right type and size of nozzle for the job.
  4. Applying pesticides accurately at the right time.
  5. Calibrating and maintaining equipment to make sure the amount recommended on the chemical label is applied.

Inspection of sprayers

Higher pesticide costs and new chemicals designed to be used in lower doses make accurate application more important than ever. There is no better time than early spring to take a closer look at your sprayer. Here are some of the things I would recommend you do this week if you don’t want to unexpectantly halt your spraying later in the season when you cannot afford delaying spraying and missing that most critical time to control weeds:

  • First, if you need new or one other type of nozzles on the boom this year, do not delay purchasing new nozzles. Do it now.
  • Double-check your sprayer for mechanical problems before you start using it.  You won’t have time to do this when planting is in full swing.
  • Clean the sprayer tank thoroughly and make sure all filters on the sprayer, especially the nozzle filters are clean.
  • Clean spray nozzles to make sure they are not partially plugged. Check their flow rates, and replace the ones that are spraying more than 10 percent of the original output at a given spray pressure.
  • Check the agitator in the tank to make sure it’s working properly. This is extremely important if you will be applying dry chemicals. Run water through the spray system to make sure everything is working properly.
  • Always carry a spare, excellent quality pressure gage (glycerin filled) in your shop, and check the accuracy of the pressure gage on the sprayer compared to the reading you see on this spare pressure gage. Your rate controller will not know if your pressure gage is bad, and the flow rate of nozzles will be adjusted by the rate controller using the bad pressure gage.
  • Once you are convinced that all sprayer parts are functioning properly, it is time to calibrate the sprayer.

Calibrate the sprayer

One can determine if the chemicals are applied at the proper rate (gallons per acre) only by carefully calibrating the sprayer. Calibration, perhaps more than anything else, will have a direct impact on achieving effective pest control and the cost of crop production. While applying too little pesticide may result in ineffective pest control, too much pesticide wastes money, may damage the crop and increases the potential risk of contaminating ground water and environment. Results of “Sprayer Calibration Clinics” I participated in Ohio a while back, and data from several other States show that only one out of three to four applicators are applying chemicals at a rate that is within 5 % (plus or minus) of their intended rate (an accuracy level recommended by USDA and EPA). For example, if your intended rate is 20 gallons per acre, the 5% tolerable difference will be 1 gallon (5% of 20). So, your actual application rate should be as close to 20 gpa as possible, but not outside the range of 19 to 21 gpa.

How do you calibrate the sprayer?

There are several ways to calibrate a sprayer. Regardless of which method you choose, you will end up measuring the nozzle flow rate (in ounces), and the actual travel speed in miles per hour to determine the actual chemical applied in gallons per acre. Once you determine the actual application rate, you should find out if the difference between the actual rate and the intended rate is greater than 5% of the intended rate (plus or minus). If the error is greater than the 5% tolerable error margin, you will need to reduce the error below 5% by doing one of three things: 1) Change the spraying pressure, 2) change the travel speed, and 3) change nozzles (get a different size) if the error cannot be reduced below 5% by making adjustments in either the pressure or the travel speed, or both.

It usually doesn’t take more than 30 minutes to calibrate a sprayer, and only three things are needed: a watch or smart phone to record the time when measuring the nozzle flow rate or the travel speed, a measuring tape, and a jar graduated in ounces. Please take a look at the Ohio State University Extension publication FABE-520 for an easy method for calibrating a field crop (with boom) sprayer.  Here is the URL for this publication: http://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/fabe-520 

Time is now to purchase the right nozzles for your spraying needs

Source: Erdal Ozkan, OSU Extension

This is the time of the year you must complete shopping for nozzles because the spraying season is just around the corner. Each part of the application equipment plays a critical role in achieving maximum performance from the sprayer. Therefore, each component must be selected carefully and must perform successfully the tasks associated with it. Although nozzles are some of the least expensive components of a sprayer, they hold a high value in their ability to influence sprayer performance. They help determine the gallon per acre intended application rate. They also influence the droplet size, which plays a significant role in achieving improved penetration into crop canopy and better coverage on the target pest, both affect the efficacy we expect from pesticides applied. Wrong choice of nozzle may hurt us in several ways, but here are the three most obvious ones: We may end up with streaks of untreated areas causing non-uniform pest control; or simply complete failure or ineffective pest control which require repeat applications; and finally, we may end up losing a significant part of the pesticides applied in the form of spray drift. Sometimes, the choice of nozzle may be determined by the requirements given on the pesticide label.

Selecting the best nozzle requires careful consideration of many important factors including: sprayer operation parameters (such as application rate, spray pressure, travel speed); type of chemical sprayed (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides); mode of action of chemicals (systemic, contact); application type (broadcast, band, directed, air assisted); target crop (field crops, vegetables, vineyard, shrubs and trees, etc.); and spray drift risk. I will briefly cover some of these topics in this article. For detailed information on nozzle selection, I strongly recommend you read a new Ohio State University Extension Publication, entitled “Selecting the Best Nozzle for the Job”. In this publication, you will see step-by-step guidelines for selecting the most appropriate spray nozzle for a given application situation. The publication is available online at following web site: http://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/fabe-528

Which nozzle type is best for your situation? Continue reading

Using Zoom Well

By: Kristina Sullivan -Knox County Master Gardener

New ways to learn are in the air, for all of us.  You may have watched your kids or grandchildren go to school on their computers, but you are also invited to use new tools for educational credits in the Master Gardener program.  And your friends and relatives may be inviting you to be part of distanced “meetings.”  One of the most popular agents for these meetings is the Zoom software.  Information follows on what Zoom can do, and how to take advantage of it and communicate effectively.

Using Zoom from Home

Zoom is a software program now very popular, allowing users to communicate using computers, electronic tablets, or cell phones.  Zoom users can record sound and pictures or video, and share computer screens.  The company has invented some specialized terms that are likely to become part of our common language, such as “Zoom Meeting,” a conference using smart phones or computer cameras.  Another term we see in business settings is the “Zoom Room,” a room all wired, connected, and organized for Zoom Meetings, usually only possible for big companies.

Most of us are using Zoom from home.  Plan for good communication, for sound and sight.  Block your Zoom space from household noise as much as possible; it can interfere with your own effort to contribute to a meeting.  Close the room door, or ask housemates to keep it quiet until after you are finished.  Plan a light on your face, from the side if possible, so that others can recognize you.  Check your own background for your picture to be sure there is nothing showing that you would rather keep private.  Make a space for paper and pencil in case you want to keep notes or write down a name, title, phone number or Web address (URL).  If you are making a report or presentation, remember the visual lessons you learned from video taping:  have neat hair, dark clothing (bright white makes a glare on camera), and sit up straight.

If the meeting is expected to be a long one, more than 45 minutes, set up a glass of water or other beverage in a handy spot.  Keep tissues handy for sneezes. When you speak, speak up!  The microphones cannot fix whispers or mumbling.

Make a listening space in your mind, clearing out other thoughts and concerns.  Most of the OSU lecturers available to us have spent many years studying and developing their knowledge of a range of topics, and we will benefit most from them by listening well.


The person organizing the meeting or lecture sends you an invitation in the form of a URL in an email.  By clicking on the URL, you send a signal that you are ready to join the meeting, and you will be admitted.  Log on early and look at the screen.  You can participate by sound only by muting the microphone icon (click on it); it is actually a good idea to mute the microphone except when you are talking.  This blocks your dog barking noise, and helps others to hear better.  You can also block your picture.  You can record or tape the meeting.  There are several features Zoom can do, some of which are only for the organizer and some available to everyone on the call, such as screen sharing.

You can ask questions in real time, or type questions or comments on the “Chat” box on your screen.

At the end of the meeting or lecture, the organizer will log off, and you can click the “log off” box and end your participation.

More About Zoom

As a relatively new software product, Zoom is continuing to work on important issues like security.  One of the early problems with this software was “Zoom bombers,” uninvited participants who joined meetings and sent all participants graphic videos or pornography.  Meetings can be protected by “locking” the session after it begins, so no one can join late, and certainly not uninvited.  This is of great importance for companies concerned about trade secrets.  Organizers can now remove participants from meetings, mute them, and disable “private chats,” in which participants snarl the meeting by talking only to each other.  Objectionable participants can be reported to the Zoom company.

The company has several tiers of service involving different fee structures and intended for different sizes of audiences, participants, and time spans.  It is defined generically as “a cloud based video conferencing service for virtual meetings.”  Zoom can also be connected to a TV set.  Free of charge, Zoom will work on any device; it will automatically log out the user who logs into a second device at the same time.  A Zoom client, such as OSU, has paid the fees to make it possible for employees to connect Zoom to the email system and also to the computerized calendar system.

Additional services can be offered through special applications, or apps, designed to be used with Zoom, on desktop or Apple computers, and on phones using Ios or Android operating systems.  These are called Zapps.  Some are free, some cost fees.

The Google company has developed meeting software that competes with Zoom, but it appears at this writing that Zoom is the preferred software.

On Zoom

Zoom also supports a public platform for performances and the marketplace, involving payment (“marketization”).  For classes, concerts, dramatic performances, music lessons, or any other event online, this software brings access close to home.  They accept PayPal or major credit cards.