Stuart Meacham (left) and Dave Annis of Capstan Ag Systems Inc. work on setting up their display at the InfoAg Conference. More than 1,300 conferees descended on St. Louis to hear about and see the latest in high-tech solutions for agriculture.
Stuart Meacham (left) and Dave Annis of Capstan Ag Systems Inc. work on setting up their display at the InfoAg Conference. More than 1,300 conferees descended on St. Louis to hear about and see the latest in high-tech solutions for agriculture.
ST. LOUIS — The InfoAg Conference is a delight for farmers, tech-heads and all those in between. This year the annual event made its first appearance in St. Louis, at historic Union Station, once the world’s largest and busiest passenger rail terminal.

Dozens of companies touting the latest in high-tech ag innovations manned booths spread throughout the main area of the building. Following are brief snapshots of a few of the exhibitors.

Magictec

Akron, Mich.

In business since 2011, Magictec markets what the company boasts is the first and only electric soil-sampling machine. The vehicle-mounted device hooks directly to a 12-volt battery, producing an accurate soil sample up to 11 inches deep at the push of a button.

“Instead of walking around with a hand probe and trying to push it into the ground, this does it automatically,” said founder Ron Marker. “It stops automatically at the same depth every time. Stop your vehicle, push the button, it takes the sample. When you’re done with the samples, pour them into your box and they’re ready to go.”

The machine provides a combination of speed, accuracy and ease in what can sometimes be a taxing process.

“One advantage is battling fatigue,” Marker said. “When you’re grid sampling, you’re pulling seven cores about every 2½ acres. On a 40-acre field, if you do that for 12 or 14 hours a day, you get worn out and the quality of your samples can go down. This provides good quality of samples consistently.”

iCrop Trak

Tucson, Ariz.

For many farmers, their iPad is nearly as essential as their tractor. But the breadth of technology captured by them can sometimes be overwhelming. iCrop Trak is designed to pull all that data together.

“We’re taking tractor data, we’re zoning in, allowing you to do soil sampling and processing it on the iPad, then using the cloud more as a backup, or a collaboration environment,” said company President Aaron Hutchinson. “We’re getting the super power out of these things, and they’re not just dumb terminals that plug into something that’s sitting in the cloud.”

Hutchinson took his military experience and adapted it to agriculture.

“We were military (geographic information system) guys, but we were also a farming family,” Hutchinson said. “So we crossed over in 2009 to try to take advantage of the iPhone, which was a year before there was an iPad. We saw the potential of a farmer of any size being able to collect his data and manage his data in a mobile environment.”

Farmers Edge

Virden, Manitoba

This company, based in western Canada and in business since 2005, is an information-consulting firm that pulls data together for the farmer’s benefit, said Jay Kinnard, precision support specialist.

“We’re bringing modern technology directly to the farm,” he said. “We work with strategic partners throughout Canada and the States to get on the farm and help our growers be more profitable.

“We offer anything technology related. Satellite imagery is the basis for a lot of our work. We’re the agronomy behind the scenes. Any layer of information we can use, whether yield data, soil test data or electrical conductivity, we put it all together and use it to make the grower more efficient, and therefore, more profitable.”

Norac Spray Height Control Systems

Bloomington, Minn.

Manually adjusting boom sprayers as one drives across a field can be taxing on a farmer. Norac offers help with equipment that does it automatically.

The sprayer arm is powered either electrically or hydraulically and moves up or down to match the terrain. There are three settings: crop, soil or hybrid.

“As they’re going over their field, we’re going to keep their booms level so they get a nice, even pattern of spray,” said North American account manager Brian Brueske. “They can increase their speed. It keeps it level. When it hits a low spot the boom goes down. It follows the lay of the land. They get better spray pattern. We run parallel to what’s existing. So they’re not using their thumb to run the booms anymore. We’re doing the booms for them.”

The Canada-based company invented the product and has been offering it for about 17 years. Brueske said it is especially valuable on hilly farms.

“We come into most handy where the terrain is bad, where they have a lot of hills,” he said. “The operator can get fatigued. They want to go faster. They don’t have to slow down with us. With us, they can increase their speed.”

ZedX Inc.

Bellefonte, Pa.

ZedX is an old-timer in the farm information industry. The company has been doing precision data solutions for agriculture and energy for 27 years. It not only allows farmers to collect and process data, but to apply that data according to the latest in research.

“What separates us from other companies is the integration of science,” said product support manager Jeremy Zidek. “We interface with university research and are branching out internationally.”

Data compiled by various instruments on the farm is compiled by ZedX systems and matched with appropriate weather and agronomic information.

“We integrate all the different pieces — the machinery all the way to the desktop to the smart devices,” Zidek said. “We integrate it with the latest science and weather. Most of our senior research scientists come out of meteorology and agronomy.”

AutoCopter Corp.

Charlotte, N.C.

AutoCopter specializes in agriculture by equipping drone helicopters with tools designed to help farmers identify problems while they still can do something about them.

In business since 2011, the company’s main vehicle is a gas-powered copter that carries three cameras and is able to fly for up to two hours at a time.

“This vehicle has the unique ability to land and process imagery in the field,” said Donald Effren, president. “You can fly, collect, process and then act on it. People have found that if they look at it during various stages of the growing cycle, they are able to either anticipate or correct situations because the data tells you that there are some issues.”

The vehicle flies relatively low, providing high-quality imagery with great detail. All the imagery is geo-referenced.

“It tells the grower that there is stress in the field. It’s up to the grower to find out what type of stress,” Effren said. “It could be lack of tiles; it could be a nitrogen issue, rootworm or weeds. Because you’re taking three pictures at once, you’re able to see and identify areas in a more powerful measure flying at only 200 feet above the crops. The detail clarity is unique.”

Besides the cameras, the American-made vehicles can also carry various hardware and software. Effren believes copters have an advantage over airplane drones.

“It can hover and it can go backward,” he said. “It’s a very, very stable platform that will duel with the wind and not lose.”