Tech Tuesday

Zeroing in on Precision Ag

Is your precision ag data doing all it can for your farm?

We know that Farm Futures readers are ahead of the curve when it comes to investing in precision ag technology. Many have been making maps since the idea got started in the 1990s; more of you are turning to auto-steering (beyond aided guidance) to improve efficiency. And a bunch of you who've made that investment are asking a great question: Where do I go from here?

Recently, I got the opportunity to moderate a precision ag panel with a great group of experts - Bruce Erickson, Purdue University; Terry Griffin, University of Arkansas; and David Waits, founder and creator of SST software. That's a ton of experience sitting at one table. Thanks to our friends at FS Services for making that possible.

A key part of the discussion involved the parallel road the industry has found itself on. Farmers are heading down one road, dealers and service providers are heading down another - hopefully in the same direction. The key is that at times those two roads have to converge so you have the data you need for best decision-making.

Yet the software you use and the way it captures data off the combine or planter can be very different than the software your applicator uses when applying variable-rate products and making as-applied maps. How do you bring the two together?

Waits notes that creating ways to standardize the data input will be critical for the future. He explains that the industry is close to next-level decision-making with the technology, however, you can't properly evaluate a multi-layer map if you can't pull all the layers into one place.

Your service provider is aware of the issue, but you want to be too. Knowing how specific corn hybrids performed on specific soil types with key management practices - whether variable rate lime or changing populations - can help you maximize your investment.

Erickson notes that farmers have picked the ripe fruit from the tree to maximize costs so far including auto-steering, boom shut-off and planter row cut-offs to make sure you place what you want where you want it. However, he notes the next step is evaluating data to see if management zones really do pay off; or if soil grid sampling on a different level makes sense.

For 2011, if you're considering some investments in this area of your business, auto-steering and row shut-offs make sense (for sprayers and planters). If you're already gone that far, it's time to sit with your agronomist or service provider to see how you can match your data to theirs to improve the information you have. If you've always had a low-producing spot in your field and you can't figure out why, chances are you're missing a piece of the puzzle.

We're entering that lovely time when the Midwest starts to see some signs of a thaw, hopeful for a great new season and you're getting ready for corn planting, or soybeans, cotton, spring wheat, and more. We know far enough north that another blast of cold could still be headed our way, yet we are ever optimistic. Investing in the right tech, or software "communication" could be just the next-step you need.

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