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  • Writer's picturePrecision Ag Reviews

10 Tips for Harvesting Real ROI from Your Precision Products

Yield is often cited as the benchmark for success. But production without precision doesn’t necessarily translate to profit. Your ability to minimize variables by maximizing the performance of ag technology before, during and after harvest can limit or lift your economic expectations on every acre.

Since 2017, Precision Ag Reviews (PAR) has been a trusted resource for North American growers to compare and capitalize on harvest technology, with on-farm peer reviews of yield monitors, farm data software, advanced guidance systems and telematic solutions.

Our editorial team has compiled 10 tips, anecdotes and nuggets of experience-based advice from tech-savvy farmers, experienced precision ag dealers, leading manufacturers and academic authorities on how to maximize your return on investment in harvest technology.

We hope this handy checklist serves as an annual resource to increase productivity and profitability on your farm - well before you harvest your first bushel.

1. Don’t Hesitate, Calibrate. A properly calibrated yield monitor is still the foundation on which to build the accuracy of your precision harvest plan. While farm-wide averages may not always reveal glaring errors, as you invest in more site-specific field management tools, detailed yield monitor calibration is critical to capturing the value of decision-making analytical software, says Ohio State University Precision Ag Professor John Fulton.

“If you simply perform some basic calibration checks and believe you’ll be within a couple percentage error points from the prior year, your yield map may have errors that you did not realize,” he says. “We’ve seen farmers who didn’t account for low or high grain flow conditions during calibration have errors of 24-27% in calculated yield even though the average for the whole field was only about 2% off,” he says. “It’s risky to make economic decisions for targeted nutrient applications or variable-rate seeding with yield errors this high for specific areas of your field.”

2. Hybrid Conscious. While technology influences how you harvest, it also impacts what you harvest. It’s important to account for evolving seed technology when calibrating your yield monitors. Today’s hybrids tend to have variations in grain weight (i.e. test weight), shape and moisture, all of which can impact yield data. Accuracy is crucial, especially if you utilize multi-hybrid planting technology or seed test plots to compare the performance of different seed varieties.

3. Data Basics. While component compatibility has come a long way in recent years, it’s worth knowing in advance which file formats your yield monitor supports when transferring or sharing data. This handy reference assembled by Ohio State University Extension outlines supported file formats for various yield monitors.

Courtesy of Ohio State University Extension

4. Consistency is Critical. If you have multiple combines, make sure your settings are consistent across all machines. “One of the biggest issues I see contributing to inconsistent data is when growers have two combines calibrated to within a percentage point of each other, but a third might have a flow sensor issue and the data is 8-10% off from the others,” says Lance Larsen, Innovation Center Operations Manager for Agtegra. “While there might not be an immediate economic impact, skewing the overall yield data makes analysis and decision-making more difficult. That’s why post-calibration of yield data is just as critical as pre-harvest to ensure consistency, especially if you are running multiple combines in the field.”

5. Note to Self: While the volume of field data collected by ag technology continues to increase, don’t overlook the importance of documenting subtle or unusual observations from planting to harvest. Detailed note-taking on intangibles can provide valuable perspective when you analyze yield maps and begin developing planting prescriptions for next year.

It's also worth documenting final calibration factors and compare variables with the following year to determine any dramatic changes and the potential of a yield monitoring problem.

6. Commit to Memory. In addition to clearing last year’s yield data off your monitor, consider the capacity of your current storage. Keeping yield data in the cloud provides easy access and transfer but be sure to back-up annual data with hard copies. The University of Missouri Extension recommends daily downloads of yield data to validate your monitor is properly and to reduce the risk of accidental loss.

When considering storage capacity, one megabyte of memory can store 15 to 45 hours of information for yield data collection intervals of 1 to 3 seconds. Here’s a handy reference that breaks down logging time for logging intervals of one to three seconds for different data storage device capacities.

Courtesy of the University of Missouri Extension

7. Coordinate Communication. Capitalize on opportunities to wirelessly connect your farm for a more efficient harvest, especially if you are running multiple combines and grain carts. Telematics and fleet management tools can keep your operators in sync. “Asset tracking is emerging as a valuable tool for small and large-scale farmers to track trucks and cycle times,” Fulton says. “These logistic packages are becoming more accessible because they are being built into some of the software platforms and increasingly popular to help farmers increase equipment uptime during harvest.”

8. Manage Moisture. Hitting the target for moisture content when taking grain to market is critical to capturing the most economic return. Having experimented with different wireless grain bin monitoring systems, Nebraska farmer Brandon Hunnicutt understands the bottom-line benefits the emerging technology can add.

In 2021, circumstances didn’t allow Hunnicutt to install a monitoring system on a 40,000-bushel grain bin and they ended up running the fan for two weeks straight, which contributed to the farm losing $1.30 per bushel on a couple semi loads of over-dried corn. “While it was only 5% of the bin, the loss was the equivalent of half the cost of the grain min monitoring system,” Hunnicutt says. “The bin monitoring system costs us about $0.10 per bushel annually to run, but since we didn’t have it installed, it was probably closer to $0.20 per bushel because of the added electricity expense and loss of grain quality.”

9. Connect with Confidence. If a yield monitor is the heart of harvest technology, a reliable, integrated platform that connects other aspects of the process is the central nervous system. New tools like Topcon Agriculture’s Smart Cart solution track how much grain is being harvested and loaded into the grain cart along with the exact weight of going into and coming out of on-farm storage and also measures crop damage for insurance documentation.

“At the end of the day, the grain cart doesn’t lie, so the ability to get accurate weight-verified, geo-referenced data can translate to real money,” says Ryan Pieper, North American Channel Manager with Topcon. “In addition to proactively planning for grain hauling needs and bin storage, farmers can make a more lucrative grain marketing decision in real-time from the cab, vs. waiting until they get back to the office.”

10. Trust the Process. While yield is an obvious indicator to measure the success of your growing season, it’s not the only one. The return on your investment of time collecting quality, accurate data is validated by more than just bushels in the bin.

“We track and model yields as part of the journey to harvest, but that’s not the destination for us,” says South Dakota farmer Jeff Lakner. “Yield is a piece of the financial puzzle. We integrate with everything else we do to make smarter operational decisions year-round, not just harvesting the biggest yield.”

The operation is adding the new MZB Analytics platform to get more detailed comparisons of yield data and per-acre ROI to decide if there are more profitable, productive growing opportunities on areas of the farm. “Corn and soybeans are not the end of the process for us. Based on the depth and detail of our data, we’re not averse to looking at alternative crops that will generate a similar economic return and add additional soil health benefits.”

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