- Dusty Sonnenberg
Go to Where the Future Lives
Precision Ag Technology is constantly changing, improving, and evolving. It is important to fully understand what level of technology your operation is currently utilizing and know what new developments are coming in the future.
Before looking at what the future holds, it is essential to evaluate your operation’s current utilization of technology and remind yourself why you have adopted that technology. The technology may range from guidance with a basic light bar and a free WAAS signal to a high accuracy RTK autosteer system. A simple light bar or steering wheel assist system utilizing the WAAS signal is sufficient for most tillage operations and possibly harvesting crops with a grain table. However, a higher level of accuracy allows for more refined operations such as strip-tillage while applying variable rate fertilizer in the strips and seeding cover crops between the strips, then being able to follow-up and plant in the center of those strips. Another example is laying drip tape and planting on either side of the tape in subsequent seasons without damaging the tape.
Your farm may be utilizing a yield monitor. A yield monitor can collect accurate data, which can be used for important crop analysis ranging from variety selection and yield comparisons to analyzing specific agronomic treatments across a field. If the yield monitor is not calibrated and the data is not “cleaned-up,” then it does not have much more value than simply monitoring the moisture and yield in real-time driving across the field.
The technology utilized may include section control for planters with row shut-off or a sprayer with section and boom controls. It may be used on the planter for variable rate seeding or fertilizer applications or for changing down pressure on the individual row units. Regardless of the level of technology, all have a place on the farm and multiple reasons why they were adopted.
Once the various technologies being utilized are identified, the next step is to evaluate how fully you are utilizing them. Precision Ag technology typically builds on itself. The higher the level of technology, the greater the refinements can be. Fully using each level of technology to get the intended results creates a greater return on the technology investment. When the capabilities of the technology are fully understood and implemented, the greater the efficiencies that will be achieved.
Going to where the future lives is a proactive approach to precision agriculture that involves evaluating the farming operation itself for changes that have occurred over time and identifying current strengths and weaknesses. With increasing labor shortages, combined with shorter and fewer weather windows of opportunity to do field operations when soil conditions are ideal, and also more required data collection for both government as well as marketing programs and specialty contract verification, the gains that can be achieved by identifying and implementing specific technologies can become a solution to multiple weaknesses in the operation.
It is easy to become overwhelmed in this process. Keep it simple. Search for the technology that will improve efficiency. Prioritize which areas of weakness or inefficiency to address first. Automating simple tasks allows for more time with complex issues. It is important to have someone that is comfortable using the technology to oversee the implementation process and be able to help others in the operation troubleshoot and navigate through the learning.