Get into a conversation about GPS-based RTK auto-steering systems and I've heard more than a few farmers say "well I really don't know the savings on that technology..." yet they follow it up with phrases like "less fatigue" or "longer hours in the cab with no trouble." And I'm not talking about the known savings of those row-shut-off systems for planters and sprayers we all know add up to savings fast. I'm focused simply on the use of precision auto-steering and what it might mean for your farm.
I think this challenges you because for years farmers didn't put a cost on their time or the "opportunity cost" in the season. Talk to anyone in the construction business and they can tell you about time and productivity to the penny - they have to since a job has been bid on using specific cost figures. Yet in agriculture, having the ability to spend 15-hours in the cab and come out without being dog tired may be difficult to quantify. Until you consider that if you could only have spent 12 hours in that cab, you would have lost three hours planting - at a critical time.
Howard Doster, retired ag economist at Purdue University, and I used to discuss this topic whether at the Top Crop Farmer Workshop (going on this week) or at industry events. He believed that farmers needed a better understanding of the value of that extra hour in the cab at a key time. For example, say you farmed with no added labor and could work productively for an extra few hours a day. How valuable would that be at planting time?
In the ag journalism biz, we used to say you would have to put a sharp pencil to that discussion, now we use Excel or at least a calculator. But if you can plant 40 acres an hour (I'm just picking a number from the air here) and capture an extra 120 acres per day because that auto-steering system allows you more productive planting time; that's 120 acres planted in proper weather, earlier with the greater potential of a longer growing season - which usually means more bushels whether you're talking corn, soybeans, wheat or cotton.
But let's add the other variable. You plant when the weather is right, what if you could only productively plant 12 hours per day and the next day came the rains. That 120 acres you missed in one day would be set back a few days in planting and we know later planting can mean fewer bushels. Now you see why a pencil won't be enough, but you can start to put a value on technologies that make farmers more productive in any given day - especially at critical points in the season like planting or spraying (let's talk timely application value).
So when you're sitting in the air-conditioned cab - a feature I would value a lot on these super hot summer days - with your hands off the wheel paying more attention to the implement you're pulling. Consider that you're more productive than ever before and incremental differences throughout the season add up at the end of the year.
This is not an advertisement for the latest in auto-steering systems from any manufacturer. It is, however, a look at new ways to understand how technology can make farms more efficient at a time when labor resources may be difficult to find. And farmers need a better understanding of the value of their own time. Your seat-time in the tractor, sprayer, combine and other equipment is valuable - and maximizing that time whether through the ability to put in longer hours, or making each hour more productive is critical these days.
I'm just working to help you see that value in different ways. Hope it helps.
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