Some farmers enter into precision agriculture with a single tool, function or outcome in mind. David Taylor started with more lofty ambitions, and it’s driven his technology adoption ever since.
Taylor’s initial goal 11 years ago was to create a network of tools and software that would collect data from every field operation on his farm near Como, Mississippi. He wanted to collect easy-to-navigate, actionable data that he could leverage in making decisions to improve the efficiency and overall output of his family’s 5,500-acre corn, soybean, cotton and peanut farm.
“The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know,” Taylor says. “Just when I think I’m going to figure something out, I lose it.”
Precision Ag and ROI
Taylor began integrating new precision ag tools into his operation shortly after his return to the farm in 2006. He’s made it a point to keep the learning curve short and always connect each new technology tool he integrates into his operation to his return on investment (ROI).
“I’m trying to be realistic about what is going to have ROI and what’s just going to end up being a toy,” Taylor says. “I want to be able to show that this stuff is paying for itself and that it’s making us money.”
In researching precision tools he felt were necessary to his farm’s future, he landed on Ag Leader as his provider, beginning with a yield monitor and guidance system and later adding more precise grid mapping to help him maximize crop input efficiency.
“We do a lot of grid soil testing, variable-rate applications and in-soil variable-rate nitrogen applications,” he says. “I realized I needed to focus not just on these specific functions, but do a better job of collecting and archiving all of this data. The more data I have and the more precise it is, the better off I will be.”
Technology Adoption Tips
Taylor recognizes that not all farmers are as quick to make precision agriculture a major part of their operation. That’s why he’s taken a cooperative approach in working with other farmers to first help educate them on technology and help them learn how to best begin to utilize it on their own farms. Here are a few points he considers in that process.
Be open-minded. If what you’re using in the field is working, don’t seek a solution looking for a problem. It’s important to take an open-minded approach to technology that accounts for current machinery and expectations moving forward. “If what they have already is working well and meeting their needs, that’s great,” Taylor says. “An open-minded approach is important when adopting precision technology.”
Leave emotion at the door. Many times, even with hard numbers in front of them that show the benefit of precision ag tools, it can be difficult to make major changes to a farm operation. That makes it important to take emotion out of the decision-making process when adopting new precision ag tools. “I’ve been surprised at the number of farmers who are such emotional thinkers. You have to be able to make these decisions logically,” Taylor says.
Run the numbers. With the current state of the grain marketplace, any additional investment on a crop farm can lead to anxiety. That’s why it’s important to ensure any new precision tool you add to your machinery lineup needs to have a thorough cost justification. “You have to look at dollars and cents, and if something can net you a $100/acre savings at a cost of $15/acre, don’t let emotion keep you from implementing it,” he says. “A system may cost $40,000, but it may pay for itself in a year.”
Keep your expectations realistic. Don’t enter into the process of adding precision ag tools to your farm thinking it is going to revolutionize your operation overnight. It takes time and effort, and it’s important to recognize that full results won’t always be immediate. “I think you have to have a certain amount of data on your own farm to show how these things are working so you can then say ‘here’s what I spent and here’s how much I saved,’” Taylor says. “You have to work it out in the real world, not just on paper.”
Don’t get complacent. Once you’ve integrated precision ag tools on your operation, that’s no time to pause. It’s important to stay on top of the latest tools, their functions and how you can add them to your existing tools to optimize efficiency and production on your farm. “I enjoy it. That helps as much as anything. If I’m interested in something, I can teach myself,” Taylor says. “I think once you learn that this stuff can pay for itself and make you money, it can stir excitement to keep learning. It’s really become a hobby of mine.”
In general, Taylor says any farmer who’s hesitant to begin working with precision ag tools should first identify the tools they need, then through the identification of the right support system of service providers, grow his or her comfort level over time. It takes time to make precision ag systems work best.
“Good, unbiased advisors are important. If you see value in this technology, you can start using it immediately, but it takes patience and confidence,” Taylor says. “If you’ve made an extra $100 per acre, you will be looking forward to the next wave of technology.”
During my travels, I often get asked: “what do you do on a normal day?”. My typical response is something like: “Wake up, eat, travel, talk, eat, travel, eat, sleep”.
I’m lucky enough to be a part of a great team of sales professionals. Some of the best in the business actually. I’m always amazed at how similar, yet drastically different our territories are. Today, I want to take a little time and expose folks to what an average week as the West Coast Territory Manager looks like.
The week started with a 7am flight into Sacramento, CA. There I met up with Chad Swindol, the Sales Agronomist for Emerging Markets with Ag Leader. You can read all about this weatherman turned agronomist here. Chad and I spent the afternoon strategizing about the West Coast Territory and planning for the day ahead. The next day we would host dealers from across the state of California for a meeting full of Ag Leader!
We started Tuesday off around 7am while we set up for 8am start to the meeting. NA Sales Manager, Sean Ealy decided to join us (after a delayed flight the day before) for our meeting as well. Attendance was great, as we were able to gather most of the CA dealer in 1 room! We covered topics that included: The Ag Leader vision, product updates, dealer tools, and great conversation/discussion about the future of precision ag and the future of our great dealer network! Our day was filled with great conversation, and was a welcomed boost to the start of the New Year!
Chad and I left Sean in the dust early the next morning; catching a 6am flight from Sacramento to Phoenix, AZ. Once we landed in Phoenix, we grabbed a quick bite of authentic Mexican cuisine and hit the road in the rental car. We made the 3-hour drive to Yuma, AZ without any issues. Although, I'm certain I caught Chad dozing off a time or two…
Our Thursday was packed full of learning and market research with Mike from Big W Sales. Mike taught Chad and me all about agriculture in Yuma. This is a diverse area of the country and there’s a lot going on! This is one of the parts of the job that I enjoy the most. A Midwest guy has a lot to learn about vegetable crops, but I enjoy every minute of it! From the different crop rotations to lettuce, melons, and dates, there's a lot to soak up!
We ended Thursday with a drive back to Phoenix to catch our early morning flights the next day. During our drive back, we had time to reflect on the week and try to comprehend the flood of information we received. Discussing the product applications that we found and how we can help the growers of California and the Yuma region become more efficient in their operations.
As I wrapped up my 2,700+ mile journey for the week, with 6 flights, 4 hotel nights and 1 rental car… I can't help but think; man I'm tired, but boy did I have a blast!
We have heard many ask, "What device do you suggest for getting internet in the cab?" With our recent announcement, we’ve made it simple and convenient through a dedicated modem in the cab which connects to both RTK and AgFiniti® seamlessly.
Yet we know one size doesn’t fit all, so we allow you the flexibility to choose which internet option suits you best. Let’s take a look at the choices.
- Dedicated modem in the cab
- Mobile hotspot like smartphone or iPad
- Consumer-grade hotspot (Jetpack)
Whatever you choose, don’t go to the field this spring without reliable access to the Internet so you have complete connectivity in the cab.
Learn more about an easy way to bring internet to the cab available through your Ag Leader dealer.
InCommand v3.1 firmware, released today, enables InCommand to connect to both NTRIP RTK corrections and AgFiniti® utilizing a single data plan.
To complement this new functionality, Ag Leader dealers are now providing a complete internet in the cab solution with the new BR1 Mini Kit. The BR1 Mini is a turn-key 4G LTE capable modem solution that automatically powers on with the display and provides internet connection in the cab.
Of course, Ag Leader allows growers to use a hotspot solution of their choosing, making data management as flexible and easy to use as possible.
Read the full v3.1 release notes and download here.
In the second installment of this blog I will share specific examples where InCommand identified issues that could cost yield. It's all pretty common knowledge that proper seed spacing and uniform emergence equates to more bushels in the bin but how do you know you're planting properly?
Enter the InCommand™ 1200. It has the resolution to clearly show everything you need to know. Historical pass-to-pass information with directional arrows, split screen so you can delve into more specific information, have planting maps in hand when you leave the cab with AgFiniti® Mobile and much more.
Avoid costly mistakes
Fun Fact: Using row-by-row planting data from the InCommand™ 1200, an amazing 80% of our first-year participants were able to uncover problems they never knew they had.
From a Missouri grower using InCommand and SureDrive:
"I had the population set at 36,000 and noticed the left side of the planter was under-planting and the right side of the planter was planting as expected. I started troubleshooting. It was not a vacuum issue and the encoders on the hydraulic drives checked out fine. Digging deeper, I figured out I forgot to update the gear ratio setting on the second hydraulic drive. Agronomic issues like this typically would have easily been overlooked in the past."
From a grower making his first few rounds with the new InCommand and SureDrive:
"I took the screen shot below showing poor singulation on rows 12 and 16. An investigation into those two rows found that I had installed the seed delivery belt backward. They must have been this way for years and I had never noticed before I had the visibility that InCommand provides."
Keep Your Operation On Par From Afar
From a grower using InCommand and AgFiniti:
"I am part of my family's corn and soybean operation, but I don't farm full-time. I have a job away from the farm, but it drives me crazy not knowing what's going on in the field during the busy seasons. Thanks to AgFiniti, I can see Dad's InCommand display in real time, and know how things are going even when I'm 100 miles away from the farm."
Will Hutchinson enjoys a good challenge, especially when it comes to improving production on his row crop, wheat and alfalfa farm near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
So when he saw the opportunity to leverage Ag Leader’s Hydraulic Down Force system to prevent a common problem and improve his planting operations on acres where he plants cover crops, he jumped at the chance. Two years later, he’s seeing major corn yield improvements as a result.
Why Hydraulic Down Pressure?
Topsoils are relatively thin in south-central Tennessee, and Hutchinson says during the growing season he’s always just “10 days away from a drought.” Any departure from normal seasonal moisture – either too wet or too dry – could be devastating to his crops. To help better conserve and manage available moisture, he began integrating cover crops into his no-till rotation five years ago. Today, he plants a mixture of triticale, oats, vetch, peas and occasionally rye, radishes or other brassicas. Though he’s still fine-tuning his rotation, Hutchinson says he’s learning more about cover crops over time, and his soils are benefiting and helping to sustain and improve his rotational crop yields.
But during spring corn and soybean planting season, his cover crops’ ability to maintain steady soil surface moisture isn’t always Hutchinson’s friend. Especially in years like 2017 – when cool, wet conditions stretched the planting timeframe beyond most farmers’ comfort zones – excessive spring moisture becomes a bigger problem than normal in the presence of a healthy cover crop. The more plant matter, both above and below the soil, the more moisture is retained, and that can mean either delays or planting into conditions that are far from optimal, resulting in a crop whose development is hamstrung from day-one.
“Those cover crops soak water up like a sponge. That can mean a lot of moisture remains on the surface in the field,” Hutchinson says. “The resulting wetter conditions can knock us out of our normal planting window if it stays wet for too long.”
That’s why Hutchinson started to explore increasing planter downforce as a way to plant corn in damp conditions, especially in his fields with cover crops. Typically, heavier downforce in damp conditions would create undesirable soil compaction, but in Hutchinson’s unique situation, planting through a thick, green cover crop requires greater force to get the seed through the biomass and into the soil.
He describes himself as purpose-driven, deliberate and thorough when it comes to technology on his farm, and far from the most “cutting edge” farmer. For him, integrating Ag Leader’s Hydraulic Down Force system was all about function, not new technology.
“We knew we’d be planting in wet soil conditions, and really thought precise control of down pressure would have good potential to pay off. That’s what compelled us to give it a try,” he says.
The Hydraulic Difference
After researching the marketplace, Hutchinson found Ag Leader’s ISOBUS-compatible Hydraulic Down Force system to be the best fit for his operation, both in terms of the product’s performance and the support he received in integrating it into his planting operations.
“We were using a different system before, but I was only able to apply so many pounds of down pressure to the planter gauge wheels. Ag Leader’s Hydraulic Down Force was able to apply about 30 percent more, so that was part of our big push to use this system,” Hutchinson says. “The system was simple and highly functional, and we really like Ag Leader’s service.”
Hydraulic Down Force’s mettle was tested in the spring of 2017 when Hutchinson said he faced wetter-than-normal conditions. Without the system, he said he would have been kept out of the field completely. Instead, he was able to plant his crop in the ground and start off at the right time.
“This spring was extremely soggy, but with the combination of the cover crops and hydraulic downforce, we were out planting in a lot of no-till fields when other guys were sitting,” Hutchinson says. “Given the grain markets we’re facing today, it’s important to hit these timeframes, and Hydraulic Down Force was the right technology to help us do just that.”
More Results and Adjustments
How did it perform? Though it’s just one critical piece of the puzzle, Hutchinson says it contributed to corn yields around 20 percent higher than his farm’s previous five-year annual production history. And from an operational standpoint, it enabled him to devote attention to different aspects of his farm business at a critical time of the year.
“Early on, it was like a new toy to me, and I wanted to watch it and see how we were doing all the time. But, there’s really nothing to pay attention to with it. You set it and it operates from there,” he says. “I know it’s doing what it is supposed to be doing, and it allows me to concentrate on more issue-prone parts of planting. There are very few things that are truly ‘set it and forget it,’ but this one is pretty close.”
And as the season progressed, he noticed the absence of a common, sometimes costly problem. “Sidewall compaction was not what I normally would expect. It’s really a combination of practices, cover crops and more precise downforce. I would say this Hydraulic Down Force system goes a long way toward minimizing sidewall compaction,” Hutchinson adds.
Integrating the system into his planter did require some work. Because he’s a no-till farmer, Hutchinson says his soils are “extremely tight” and planting requires a lot of downforce, meaning he had to add length to his planter toolbar to “give it something to push against.” Ultimately, he removed the no-till coulter from the planter after adding necessary weight. While that combination is admittedly hard on his planter’s disk openers, replacing them each year is a small price to pay for the benefits to planting and early emergence the system provides.
“Our stand has just been fantastic. I think it’s a combination of the Hydraulic Down Force system and these other small adjustments,” Hutchinson says. “We also added spiked closing wheels, and they really helped a lot.”
Looking ahead, Hutchinson says he’ll continue to refine his cover crop rotation to maximize the benefits of the system to his soil health and quality. One constant factor will be his continued use of Hydraulic Down Force. He expects the system’s return on investment will grow stronger in the long run, especially if he’s able to integrate it into more than one planter.
“I feel confident that we can expect really positive ROI benefits on the system, especially if we can have it on two planters. Managing our planting time window is the biggest benefit now, but I feel confident that it will definitely continue to pay off when we face challenging spring planting conditions like we had this spring,” Hutchinson says. “It’s a really good product, and I’d buy it again in a heartbeat.”
Our dedicated dealer network is the backbone of our company. Take a second to meet some of the local precision experts across the country, and around the world.
What is your name, position, dealership & location: Pete Youngblut, Position - President, Dealership - Youngblut Ag Inc.
How long have you been selling Ag Leader products? I have been selling Ag Leader products since 2007 when I worked at Ag Leader but started the dealership in 2013, so officially as a dealer for 5 years this month.
What’s your favorite thing about selling precision ag products? My favorite thing about selling precision ag products is to take any piece of machinery and improve its efficiency and effectiveness and truly have an impact on a growers operation. The relationship that we build with the customer and getting to see the smile on his face and how excited he is when we are finished with a job and he gets to use the product is second to none. We get to make a real impact on a farmers operation.
What do you enjoy about working with Ag Leader? The most enjoyable thing about working with Ag Leader is that they are like family. I really enjoy the relationship and team effort that Ag Leader and it's employees have with us as a dealer. We have the ability to be confident that Ag Leader will stand behind us and work with us to make sure that we are able to do the best possible job taking care of our customers. The employees are our friends and always are there to help when we are in need. There really isn't any other vendor that we work with that we feel like we are part of them than Ag Leader.
How can people follow your company? Find us on facebook at youngblutag.
Ag Leader’s SMS Software leads the industry for compatibility with the majority of file formats from most brands of precision displays. The latest addition to its extensive support list is the John Deere Generation 4 CommandCenter™ Display. Expanded compatibility reflects Ag Leader’s commitment to offering versatile precision software and hardware solutions for every grower.
Corey Weddle, Director of Software Solutions at Ag Leader, says, “SMS Software has a long-standing and trusted reputation for helping growers and their trusted advisors integrate field data from a variety of sources across the farm and turn it into actionable information. We continue to invest in and build upon that versatility to support growers’ needs and are excited to be one of the first farm management information systems to support this new generation of John Deere displays.”
Lane Arthur, Director of Digital Solutions with John Deere, adds, “Collaboration is essential to providing customers with uncomplicated, seamless flow of and access to their data, no matter what software or hardware technologies they are using.”
During spring planting, there are many things to keep in mind, and often it’s hard to prioritize. I like to tell people to stick to the basics, which includes proper soil conditions, trash control and correct seeding depth - these form the foundation for achieving a successful crop year.
If these conditions are met, a grower is off to a great start in maximizing their yield potential. One of the keys to having success at planting is to maintain proper downforce pressure on each row unit. Some growers still depend on proper adjustment of springs to maintain downforce pressure to achieve the desired depth of their seed. The problem is, those springs aren’t changing based on soil type or field environment. A Hydraulic Down Force system controls and adjusts pressure instantaneously based on field topography and soil conditions, giving you proper planting depth every time, regardless of field conditions.
Reasons to switch to a hydraulic downforce system
Consistent, proper planting depth no matter the soil type.
Minimize sidewall compaction when soils are wet - sidewall compaction can cause poor germination and uneven emergence.
Automatic response time - hydraulic systems react in a couple seconds, unlike airbag systems that can take up to 20 seconds or more to respond.
Greater control - with row-by-row sensing and control available, apply variable pressure across changing spots in the field or where more compaction is present, like wheel tracks.
Multiple channels of control - sections of the planter adjust separately to apply optimal downforce where it's needed.
"Free energy" uplift springs provide lift for row units with large hopper boxes, or in heavily tilled or sandy soils.
Even if you do not have the technology listed above proper adjustment of the retaining stock springs is still crucial at planting time. One key thing to remember is to adjust your springs from field to field when conditions change.
A fundamental step for any grower is to maintain good downforce management, which is a critical aspect of operating a planter well. The return on investment (ROI) for your planter is not necessarily easy to determine, but in many cases, growers are looking to either minimize the impact of soil variability and compaction or are looking to take the risk and hassle out of the deciding proper downforce on their own. A Hydraulic Down Force system does both. Learn more about Hydraulic Down Force here and here.
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