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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Seger

Ep. 52: Using Technology to Understand the Weakest Link in Your Operation with Austin Heil

Ep. 52: Using Technology to Understand the Weakest Link in Your Operation with Austin Heil

When he moved back to join the family farm, there wasn’t an ounce of technology being used. But with a knack for tinkering and building things, Austin Heil discovered he could teach an old dog new tricks.

That “old dog” being pieces of farm equipment and machines, like a John Deere 750 drill and a 1972 L2 Gleaner combine, retrofitted with precision technology.

As a sixth-generation farmer from northwest Ohio, Austin takes pride in using what he’s been given. But he also knows the importance of how technology and data can bring his farm success.

So how does he mesh the two — old machines with new technology? By making the equipment he already owns work with the precision technology products that will give him the best data in the most affordable way possible.

Testing 20-inch row soybeans

With a 280-acre corn and soybean operation, understanding what works, what doesn’t, and what he could be doing better has always been important to Austin.

This planting season, Austin tested 20-inch row soybeans using a six-row planter; just one of the many ways he likes to figure out how he can farm his acreage the best that he can.

Utilizing wider rows, Austin was able to plant a lower population of soybeans. In addition to being able to cover ground quicker and plant less seed, Austin found that he had a much higher emergence rate than what was typical.

Finding the weakest link in your operation

After transitioning to wider planted rows of soybeans, weed management became a critical aspect during the growing season. Putting on an agronomy hat, Austin says timing in spray programs is key to plant health.

“As a no-tiller, and not having our own sprayer, it limits the time that we can get in and spray,” relates Austin. “It’s now looking at the agronomy aspect and figuring out what we need; what’s the next weakest link in our production cycle?”

Planning ahead

Planning, looking at the data, and seeing what he can do better are the first steps Austin takes before making a new equipment or technology investment.

“In order to get things to fall into place the way we need them to, we need to start planning far in advance,” says Austin. “When we’re looking at $600 a ton for nitrogen, that definitely plays into what we’re going to plant and how it’s going to be fertilized.”

Austin’s philosophy toward reaching his farm goals is to utilize technology to figure out what he needs next. Austin will ask, “What do we need to buy or not buy? How can we get by with what we have? Which piece of equipment has cost us the most? Which one is going to have the least ROI by upgrading?”

Retrofitting old equipment

Staying true to teaching old dogs new tricks, Austin has been scheming a few new ideas. Like rebuilding the grain tank on his 1979 L2 Gleaner so that it can run a yield monitoring system, and even retrofitting an old $2,000 Wilmar dry spreader with variable rate technology to apply potash at the same time he bands fertilizer.

“I want to demonstrate to our industry that yes, the cool, shiny new paint is great, but when we apply that money that we’d otherwise use to upgrade and instead apply technology to older machines, that it’s possible,” says Austin.

Here’s a glance at this episode:

  • [02:19] Austin Heil introduces himself and the history of his farm.

  • [03:09] Austin talks about his 2022 growing season and the weather events that most impacted crops.

  • [05:35] Even with harvest yet to happen, Austin explains why he predicts August rains may result in good soybean yields.

  • [07:42] Austin discusses soybean planting on his farm, specifically soybean populations, and what it was like to try 20-inch row soybeans this year.

  • [10:12] Austin talks about using spray programs versus the benefits of owning your own sprayer.

  • [13:04] Austin goes over the necessity of planning ahead for 2024.

  • [16:38] Austin discusses his goals for the farm and how he plans to use precision technology to try to reach those goals.

  • [21:25] By using data, Austin reveals what questions he plans to ask himself before buying a new piece of equipment or upgrading technology.

  • [25:03] Austin reveals the top two things he would do to improve his operation if he had no budget.

  • [31:59] Austin goes over his decision-making process for purchasing a yield monitor and how he compared two different systems to find the best fit for his operation.

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Austin Heil is based in northwest Ohio, and farms on his family farm of about 280 acres. Austin knew growing up that there wouldn’t be an opportunity to farm full time but knew he had a strong passion for the ag industry. Austin graduated from The Ohio State University with the hopes of becoming a product specialist while also being able to work on the farm. After college, Austin worked with CNH in North American combined field testing where he was given the opportunity to travel all over the U.S. and Canada. His work with combine machinery allowed him to move back home and help with the family farm.



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