Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Civil 3D in Farming

I recently visited with a farmer who is using Civil 3D to assist  other farmers in mapping their farms for many uses. This post incorporates information provided by him in the form of an email and my visit out to the farm.

First off we need some background on some of the systems the farmer utilizes to maximize crop yield and ensure proper runoff. There are many GIS programs that map and keep track of data such as the amount of fertilizer and where pesticide needs to be or was applied. The GIS programs work well with databases from soil test reports toimage indicate low nutrient or high pest infestation areas which are uploaded to applicator rigs. The applicator rigs are equipped with onboard computers and machine controls called VRA (variable rate application) which increase or decrease fertilizer or pesticide rates according to the soil and field test reports. The VRA also shuts off sections of the spray boom to prevent overlap and double application. The VRA can even be set up to not turn on unless they are in the right field. The VRA utilizes GPS receivers to know where they are in the world.

These programs also track harvesting tonnage and can be used to apply more or less seed the following year. A color map showing the information may be created. They even allow field ticket entry so each harvested load can be tracked for location in case of ecoli outbreak or to find out where plant quality was questionable.

There are many agriculture grading programs that use direct data collection from the tractor via an RTK (real time kenemeticks), utilizing a GPS base station at the farm yard or portable base station. The agricultural systems have best fit plane generation that creates a balanced design plan for dual slope drainage to one corner of the field. You can force your own slopes and it will lift or lower the section until it balances. They even have easy break lines and hinges for smooth transitions. (This would be a cool feature to have in Civil 3D).

After importing the agricultural field information into the tractor’s GPS system you simply set the antenna height in a zero cut/fill area. The machine control, integrated into the tractor’s hydraulic systems, controls the tractor’s scraper bucket to hold the design grade and show you where you are on the onboard monitor. Cut areas are in yellow to red depending on depth of cut, and fill areas are in shades of blue depending on amounts of fill (looks like water retention areas). The driver simply drives into the red area until the bucket is full and drives to the closest blue area until the bucket is empty. The grade is updated until it turns green which indicates it is within 5 hundredths of a foot (.05 foot).

Most newer tractors have auto steering that use the same RTK system to guide them within an inch. They have patterns loaded for following same elevation (farming with the contour). Implement width and offset to calculate where the implement is at at all times to prevent overlap and save extra unneeded passes in the field or to miss underground lines, such as drip tape lines in row crops. The driver does have to turn the tractor around on row crop fields but hits the button and the tractor follows or makes the rows exactly as they were last season.

So how does Civil 3D fit into this process?

The programs functions above are for easy operation with limited functionality. Civil 3D has many functions that are adaptable to extend the functions available in the other programs, even though Civil 3D is relatively complicated program for use in farming.

Farmers are constantly being pushed into other areas and houses take over the old farmland because the farmer did most of the leveling.

Utilizing publically available DEM information basic elevation data from a property may be received and utilized to help farmers determine if another property is worth purchasing or leasing. A color coded map with a legend of how many acres are at different grades for farmable land may be developed to show how the property could be utilized. From this data an appropriate valuation may be derived to either consider an offer to purchase or rent or not pursue the opportunity.

After the customer obtains the land the RTK survey system is used to get the exact lay of the land and map the property as is, with drainage pipes, existing water lines, wells, etc. A map is created in Civil 3D and exported to an older file format for a local irrigation company to design the irrigation system. Parcels are used to delineate the fields to be farmed and show areas not farmable. With the customers input, the best row directions for least erosion and best sun and least wind exposure are found. A surface is created, shown with colors, indicating where the best rows are located.

Civil 3D is also utilized in work with the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) “The only useful agency left in America besides the police and fire dept” to draw catch basins and drainage canals with their design criteria and best practices manual. I use the excavated yardage calculations from Civil 3D to input into the agriculture grading programs as import to spread over the fields where needed.

Civil 3D may be used to import and export NEZ points from the agriculture programs andFarm Visit-IrrigationPipe data collectors and back to the agricultural programs. As an example the farmer received a DWG farm map previously made and saved as a previous file format for a local irrigation company. They designed an irrigation plan with their older software and emailed it back 1 pm. After opening the file in Civil 3D 2009 he created stakeout points at all the riser and mainline locations of the irrigation company's design plan. He then put them into a group and exported PNEZ in .CSV format to his data collector and staked the mainline and riser locations for the pipe crew to trench and install this week. He then printed size D sheets for the irrigation company to have on the job and labeled it the way they wanted. He had mapped it before but they just finished the irrigation plan and emailed it to him. He labeled the risers and mainline then printed the layout and staked the 30 acre jobsite with 40 stakes and finished by 5:30 pm. That’s even after he had trouble getting the labels to display.

The best thing he liked is the ability to get a call from a farmer who wants to know something over the phone about their property I mapped years ago and being able to tell them what the slope of a field will be and what direction the water will go if they run the rows the same direction as their barn is, or an adjacent road is. He can then tell them what that direction is in degrees and they input the value into the auto steering system and the tractor points itself in that direction. Or when he goes out to a farm he mapped some years ago to find an irrigation line and I mark out where it is and even exactly how deep.


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