Podcast: 01. John Fulton - Precision Points Welcomes John Fulton
Precision Points is dedicated to providing unbiased ag tech information and ideas, so we have decided to team up with John Fulton, Ph.D. to get insights on what works on the farm, and what ideas hold up to field level, independent research.
John works for the Ohio State University as a faculty member and extension specialist focusing on precision technology, or what he describes as “Decision Ag.” He lives and farms in western Ohio and talks about the importance of staying grounded with his research.
“We want to be engaged with growers in our program, and we are operating in over 30 counties with research that is specifically on farms. Not only does that give us an opportunity to stay grounded but really gives us a chance to visit with growers and understand what questions they have,” said John. “Hopefully we transition those questions to projects to help not only us to learn, but more importantly for them to learn.”
Technology has to make sense at each individual farm, especially at the cost that comes with some technological advancements. He encourages growers to select and evaluate new technology with their specific operation in mind. In general, technology is going to pay for itself over time, as a general rule of thumb, John thinks that the payback period should be 1-5 years.
John has been a great asset to the team at precisionagreviews.com and joining me on the podcast is a definite highlight for this show. If you want to learn more about John and his work, click here.
Host: Morgan Seger
Guest: Dr. John Fulton, Professor at The Ohio State University
Morgan Seger (00:21):
Welcome to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host Morgan Seger. In every episode, we strive to bring you unbiased precision ag information and ideas. And on today's episode, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. John Fulton from the Ohio State University. John is a professor at Ohio State and has been a big advocate in helping precision ag reviews really get off the ground and get their entire system organized and started. So that way we're providing content that's relevant to growers.
Morgan Seger (00:53):
We plan on having John on the podcast several times to really leverage his expertise. But today I just wanted to give you a minute to get to know him, hear a little bit of his background and some of the visions he has not only for this podcast, but precision ag, or as he calls it digital ag in general. I hope you enjoy this episode.
Morgan Seger (01:11):
All right. Welcome to Precision Points. Today I have the opportunity to talk with Dr. John Fulton. So John, welcome to the show.
Dr John Fulton (01:18):
Yeah. Thanks, Morgan. Pleasure to be here today.
Morgan Seger (01:21):
Do you mind taking a couple of minutes to just introduce yourself and some of the things you've been working on?
Dr John Fulton (01:27):
Yeah, so I work for Ohio State University and I'm in the food ag and biological engineering department as a faculty member. And I also carry the title of extension specialists across the state, primarily working in precision agriculture. My responsibilities include teaching, doing extension work here in Ohio and across the country and then doing research primarily focused on crop production for Ohio farmers.
Morgan Seger (01:59):
Okay. How long have you been with Ohio State?
Dr John Fulton (02:02):
Five years I've been at Ohio state. So it's been exciting, Ohio State has a lot of opportunities and we've been able to really build a nice team at Ohio State that today we would call it digital ag, we used to call it precision ag. But with all the data topics and analytical things that are going on with cloud and wireless connections, digital ags become a popular term in how we describe what's happening in agriculture.
Morgan Seger (02:34):
Sure. And then you live on your family farm as well, is that correct?
Dr John Fulton (02:39):
I do live on our, I should say adjacent to our family farm and grew up there and then back here for five years and it's exciting to be back serving farmers of Ohio.
Morgan Seger (02:57):
Good. Well, and it's interesting how you're able to marry what you're doing as your career with things you get hands on experience on some of your own operation.
Dr John Fulton (03:07):
Yeah and keep grounded and humble too, because without getting out there... Agriculture is changing rapidly, especially with the introduction of all these new technologies that are being integrated in the machines and sensors and so it's exciting. And to a point, it gives an opportunity to get out in the field and kick the tires if we want to call it that and dig in the soil a little bit too.
Morgan Seger (03:37):
Sure. I think that what you just said is really important, staying grounded. I think, in my past career I got to help roll out some new products and launches. And when you're on the development side of things, the sky's the limit of things you think growers might want to do. So actually being hands on and seeing what would be practical, I'm sure influences your research a lot.
Dr John Fulton (04:02):
Yeah. And we want to be engaged with growers in our program and we are, I think we're operating in over 30 counties today with research that are specifically on farm and not only does that give us an opportunity to stay grounded. It really gives us a chance to visit with growers and understand what questions they have and hopefully transition those questions into projects to help not only us to learn, but more importantly help them to learn and figure out whether it's technology or practices or how they manage inputs or whatever. Making sure their being [inaudible 00:04:41] and giving them the information they need to make the right decision and remain profitable.
Morgan Seger (04:46):
So with that in mind, what are some of the things that you've seen really help growers move the mark? And is it in yield or is it in time savings? But if you had to look at a couple of like key precision ag advancements.
Dr John Fulton (05:04):
When I think back of what we've been working on in precision ag, there's also efficiencies for sure. When we think about guidance specifically like RTK guidance with section control today being so popular on sprayers and planters and fertilizer applicators today. Those things have made them more efficient and at the same time provided some savings too. We've reduced that overlap. So those things have really impacted, not only improved the bottom line, but we've been able to do research in the past to show that, hey you could even see a little bit of a yield bump in those areas that where you were maybe double planning or things like that, or double spraying.
Morgan Seger (05:51):
Yeah. So maybe a cost savings from a seed chemical perspective, but then also yield increase from not overpopulating, things like that.
Dr John Fulton (05:59):
Absolutely. Reducing competition, those kinds of things. Or in some cases, you come around and you harvest the end rows and if you got a double planted area, ultimately you're going to be pushing down some cornstalks and that's a loss. Ears are a loss. So when we think in terms of the statistics, when we see, and you think about guidance. Variable rate is another popular technology that a significant population is using out there. And then our auto section control or automatic section control has become almost a standard. When you buy this equipment, those things re already integrated into it today.
Morgan Seger (06:47):
Yeah. So you talked a lot about efficiency and for a long time the equipment was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. So it required more of that section control and things like that to manage the overlap that maybe wasn't as big when we were running smaller equipment. What do you see the future of smaller, more autonomous type vehicles?
Dr John Fulton (07:10):
Yeah. And we're doing research. Dr. Scheer's group and our group are really looking into... Autonomy's a big topic right now, but the future, when we think about it, we're thinking smaller equipment that works 24/7 and what may have been one large tractor, you may have four to six small robots doing equivalent type work. But I do see, as we advance 10 to 20 years and autonomy, robots become more accepted and available to growers. I think we'll eventually get smaller and they'll work as teams out in fields.
Morgan Seger (07:56):
This might be a little bit off the wall question, but is there any one thing that you wish growers would start doing or stop doing right now when it comes to precision ag?
Dr John Fulton (08:07):
Well like anything, technology has to make sense at each individual farm. And there's one thing that I've learned over the years. What may work at one grower farm because of the way they manage and the practices and equipment they have may not work at another grower's farm. So there's not this silver bullet that works. So I don't know if I'd say there's nothing, but I think the ultimate goal is, make sure that you're selecting some of this newer technology, evaluating it and that it's going to serve you well. And experiences over the years for my research to an extension, we've seen some technologies adopted probably a little too early by growers and it didn't work out. It really wasn't the farmer's fault or the technology's fault. It just didn't fit the application and their circumstance at the time.
Dr John Fulton (09:12):
So you got to make sure you're doing your homework and selecting technology that's going to work well on your farm. And in general, what we find is technology is going to pay for itself over time. Especially once you look at today and you're buying a newer, modern equipment. It's already there. It's upon you to take advantage of it if you want to.
Morgan Seger (09:36):
Do you have any rule of thumb in what that turnaround time should look like for it to pay for itself?
Dr John Fulton (09:44):
We've been able to show anywhere from one to five year, a lot of times on some of this. I think some of this is not cheap. Take planters for example, and I want to upgrade to the modern technology on a planter. You could be talking to a 1000 to 2000 a row unit, to add on something or to upgrade. It's not cheap, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly the payback period, but somewhere between one and five years a lot of times you'll see the technology pay for itself.
Morgan Seger (10:25):
So when I was just getting started on this podcast, the people at precisionagreviews.com told me that you had really been helping them out and contributing with ideas and data. Can you walk me through what that relationship looks like? And if you have any overarching vision for what you're trying to accomplish here?
Dr John Fulton (10:48):
Well when we've had an opportunity to talk and very actively trying to organize and make something that's usable I think by growers or practitioners that are using this and giving them the ability to provide quick feedback, they've done a really good job of that. It gets hard, a lot of times you think precision ag and there's all these different technologies. So just organizing it into topics and things that helps people say, oh yeah I understand when I hear the word guidance, for example, or section control. I think they've worked really hard to make sure that when you see topics that you're not... As a user, when you go on a site, at least from my viewpoint, that I'm overwhelmed immediately. Hey, this is where I'm using it. I can give quick feedback on it.
Dr John Fulton (11:49):
So they've done a good job of making sure all the technologies are there and ready to go for people to give feedback, better organized and that works very usable as an identifiable... For user to be able to navigate maybe what they're using, or if they're looking at buying or purchasing something they can navigate and see that feedback real quick on that particular product.
Morgan Seger (12:17):
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense especially if you're thinking about the cost investment. It makes sense not wanting to go into that blind.
Dr John Fulton (12:25):
Morgan Seger (12:29):
Well great. Well, I appreciate you happen on here today and walking through some of this with me and I really look forward to working with you in the future.
Dr John Fulton (12:38):
Yeah. Thank you.
Morgan Seger (12:40):
Thanks for tuning into today's episode, to hear more podcasts like this, please rate, review and subscribe to Precision Points. You can go to precisionagreviews.com for our show notes from this episode, also read expert advice from the blog and share your experiences with precision ag tools. Let's grow together.
Host: Morgan Seger
Morgan Seger spent ten years working with ag retail, specifically in ag tech. She lives and farms in western Ohio, where she has four children with her husband Ben. Morgan, has her own blog called Heart and Soil where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.
Guest: Dr. John Fulton
John is a Professor in the Food, Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department at the Ohio State University. His research and extension focuses on precision agriculture, machinery automation and use of spatial data to improve crop production and the farm business.