Ryan Nell’s family farm has been using precision farming equipment since 1999 — when he was 13 years old. Today, he’s part of an extended family cash grain and dairy operation near Beaver Dam, Wis., and they continue to fine-tune and leverage precision farming data to improve productivity on their operation.

Running primarily John Deere equipment, Nell says they have had few of the headaches that other multi-branded farming operations face. “We use an original brown box GreenStar unit as well as 2600 and 2630 monitors,” he says. “We interchange them all the time with no problems.

“Even though our oldest tractor is 16 years old, they all have auto-steer systems that we use with an RTK signal. Our planters, sprayers and combine are all less than 5 years old and have the latest technology incorporated into them. Our local Deere dealer placed its RTK tower on our grain leg, so a weak signal is never a problem.”

The Nells continue to push the capabilities of their precision farming equipment. This fall will be the first year they will strip-till soybean ground going into corn, variable-rate applying phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) based on Nell’s soil tests and yield data. They will also vary seeding rates for corn and soybeans next spring.

Nell and his cousin, Cody Schmitt, also operate a consulting service, helping other farmers variable-rate map and apply P and K as well as nitrogen with their Deere 4930 sprayer with 120 foot boom.  He is also looking into using his sprayer with 360 Yield Center Y-drop nozzles for a second layby variable-rate nitrogen application.

“We use SST Summit to analyze the data,” Nell says. “It allows us to look at several years of data, where the Apex farm management system let us only look at the previous year’s data. The new program gives us more flexibility in measuring parameters to make variable-rate maps.”

Point of Pain: Steering for Sub-Inch Accuracy

The Nells’ field conditions range from steep — where they usually grow alfalfa — to moderately rolling and fairly flat, where they grow corn, soybeans and wheat. Even with an RTK signal and all 5tractors, the combine and sprayer equipped with auto-steer, equipment drift can make it difficult to maintain the proper spacing.

“Auto-steer still does a better job than the operator can, but I think it will take a globe and controller on the equipment to get sub-inch accuracy,” Nell says. “It wasn’t really an issue with our conventionally tilled crops, but as we move toward strip-till, we will need more accurate steering. Adding this to the equipment will handle 95% of the drift problems.”

Nell handles the technology transfers between equipment and sets it up before others start operating it. He’s found it’s really important to use the same A-B line and to work the field in the same way every time.

“If we could get the drift issue solved, I think we will explore strip-tilling more acres in the future,” he says. “This is our first year, so we’re taking it slow to assure we have it figured out.”

So far, his local Deere dealer’s AMS expert has been helpful with the transition. Nell says they priced out some equipment from their precision specialist and a competitive dealer.

 “He told me, ‘If you can get that equipment at a better price, get me 10 of them,’” Nell says. “It turns out the other dealer really botched the estimate. Our specialist also offered great advice and insight about what’s coming and that means a lot to me, especially as we evolve how we’re using precision technology in our operation.”