Precision farming tools are a part of many strip-tillers’ systems, and while technology often improves efficiency and productivity, it can also pose adoption challenges.
During the 4th annual National Strip-Tillage Conference in Omaha, Neb., we assembled a diverse group of farmers to discuss strategies, objectives and outcomes of utilizing precision farming systems, as well a influential factors when making precision purchases and the significance of having a reliable support network.
At the table were Kerry and Angela Knuth from Mead, Neb., Jeff Reints from Shell Rock, Iowa, and Tim Leischner from Parkston, S.D. Below are excerpts from the conversation, and you can read the extended Q&A, and tune into a podcast of the conversation, at www.StripTillFarmer.com.
Strip-Till Farmer: Where do you see the greatest technology void in your strip-till system, or need for improvement in the precision side of your operation?
Jeff Reints: “It would be nice if one monitor could control everything within our Case IH tractor and our 24-row planter. We have a Pro 700 monitor now in our tractor cab, but I think companies are getting closer to where we can also run our 24-row strip-till rig, which is a Harvest International UltraMax 60 series 60-foot toolbar with Dawn Pluribus coulter-style row units, and a Montag high output dry fertilizer delivery system. But at the time we got it, the software wasn’t available. We’re a single-mix application and we can change the rate of that mix but we can’t change the ratio of phosphorus and potassium on the go, which would be beneficial.”
Kerry Knuth: “Communication between machines. What I really want is the day that I can control where a piece of equipment goes in the field before it even goes there. For example, having the ability to monitor my sprayer operator in the field so he doesn’t have to make up his mind which direction he wants to go.”
Angela Knuth: “It would be nice not to have to take a USB stick out into the field because I forgot to upload something. And it’s usually the field that’s furthest away. Another challenge for us is sharing data between the different colors and different monitors with some of the background software packages. We know it’s coming but it needs to happen.”
STF: What do you see as the next game-changing innovation that will benefit your strip-till operation?
Reints: “I don’t think it will be in my lifetime, but the autonomous planter. Right now we’re running a 24-row Case IH planter and there’s a lot of weight and mass to that machine. If I can downsize to an autonomous 8-row machines behind a 90-horsepower tractor, that will hardly leave any footprint in the field.”
Angela Knuth: “Sensor data or sensors would really help direct our daily activities during the seasons. Then the ability of an autonomous little drone going out and diagnosing problems in the field would be valuable. Is it an insect problem? Is it a fungicide problem? A lot of sensors are going to be out in the field, but right now they’re not cheap enough to get enough of them out there to manage problems to the level we want to.”
Tim Leisner: “It’s about the money.”
A. Knuth: “Absolutely. Right now, we use the moisture sensors. But we can only afford one out in the field. We can you can get electrical conductivity (EC) readings map our soils, but that doesn’t tell us what’s going on day-to-day.”
Leischner:“That’s true. I guess I really wonder, speaking from an old-school perspective, how fast do we have to keep going? I mean, it seems like every year we have to do twice as much twice as fast just to stay even. And where is the breaking point? I know technology will do a lot of it. But on the human side, where is the breaking point?”
Reints: “And on that same line, at what point are we just in an information overload? We’ve studied every yield map, layered them in for all the years we’ve been collecting them. There is megabytes of data sitting in our computers that probably could be analyzed. And every 2 or 3 years, when we trade combines, it’s a different software that might not be compatible with what we were using.
“At some point, there’s just the good old seat-of-the-pants, you-know-how-to-farm mentality. It’s still a hell of a lot more fun to grab a 6-pack and the wife and go count corn at night. You can’t do that with an iPad and a sensor.”
STF: Thinking about some of the technology investments you’ve made, what are some of the biggest influences in those purchasing decisions?
Reints: “We look first at the dealership, at how long our specialist or salesperson has been there, and the quality of people. We need that dealer support. Our precision technician isn’t a planter or strip-till expert, he’s not a combine expert and he’s not a data expert. But he understands the entire ball of wax and can come up with a solution for the system, compared to somebody who’s more or less trying to sell the equipment the support is just a piece that goes with it.”
Knuth: “I’m going to go on just the side of the technology. We like to be innovators, but we’re not just looking for the next shiny, new toy. It’s got to benefit us. We’ve got the yield monitor in our Claas combine connected to Precision Planting’s 20/20 system for our 48-row John Deere planter. We get very good accuracy out of that with an iPad. We don’t necessarily like the data going to the cloud, but we have to have that. We can see when one row is messing up and we’ll catch it.
“We’ve been prototyping it in our wheat this year. It’s going to be great in the corn and soybeans, to be able to put all the yield information from the 20/20 so the planter information will be back in the office and it will merge really well.”