HANOVER, Germany – In today’s global economy, many U.S. farmers travel to Agritechnica, Nov. 12-18, 2017, to see the latest smart-farming technologies available in the world. As in other countries, U.S. farmers must change and adapt to a digital workplace. Rocky Brown and his two daughters are examples of the new faces of American farmers who embrace precision technology.
After farming 40 years near La Porte City, Iowa, Rocky and Mary Brown are transitioning their crop operation to their two daughters and a nephew.
Accompanying the transition will be a continued focus on new technologies. Rocky was the first in his community to adopt new precision equipment like yield monitors, automatic row-shutoffs and cellular communications with his grain dryer. And now, both daughters who grew up in the digital age are as interested in electronic technology as their father.
The transition to daughters may also be a first in the area because few women in the U.S. manage farms. In addition, the women represent a new generation who work remotely and have professional experience elsewhere.
“We have a unique situation where both daughters have been able to come back and help me,” Rocky says. “It is exciting to work with them. They grab right onto this latest technology and thoroughly wrap themselves up in it and help me through it.”
The Browns’ oldest daughter Amanda Hollenbeck worked professionally in farm finances for eight years before joining the farm. The other daughter Mackenzie Monroe is a fulltime clinical pharmacist at a hospital. The Browns also are including their nephew Troy Brown who has spent his spare time for 17+ years helping Rocky farm.
Data Management First
“Back when I started farming, if you just worked hard, you could make money,” Rocky says. “But now, farming is 70 percent management and you have to be on top of everything.”
When Amanda started work with her dad, she took over business management for the 1,900-acre farm. The biggest change she made was transferring their financial records to software that uses a cloud-based platform, allowing her to frequently work from her home office, 45 miles from the farm. She enters all finances into a web-based database each month to allow real-time analysis.
“Now we can pull records at any time and see where we are,” Amanda explained. “We can look at it from a field-to-field basis, too. We own about 50 percent of what we farm and the rest is rented. So we see big differences in profit margins on each field.”
Helping Amanda analyze financials are the 18 years of records her dad collected using Ag Leader’s SMS record-keeping field-management system. Rocky also invested in New Holland combines and tractors with precision technology. Currently, he uses New Holland’s IntelliView monitors in most of the tractors.
Amanda also uses several years of planting and nitrogen application data that the equipment has collected. They currently are closely scrutinizing nitrogen use. The normal process for their operation is to apply anhydrous ammonia with a strip-till bar late fall. Liquid nitrogen is injected with a sprayer toolbar if needed during the spring and summer growing seasons. Using the strip-till method, his corn yields have been excellent.
This past spring, they started testing a satellite-based field monitoring system in a few fields to watch nitrogen status during the growing season. In the winter, Amanda will pull yields from those fields to see if these support tools can pay off by improving yields.
Amanda’s ability to pull financials allows her to scrutinize other areas, like machinery and labor to see how it affects the rest of the business.
“Maybe we can utilize our equipment better because some of it sits a little too long,” she explains. “We have done a small amount of custom spraying and could expand that. We also have a backhoe that Troy is really good at using. There’s a big need in our area for fixing tiles and waterways.” Storage costs are high so they are looking to expand their transportation fleet to capture higher grain markets beyond what is available locally. This would also allow them to do some custom trucking.
Another reason for getting the financials in order is to help develop a succession plan “and how we can try to carry on what my parents have worked so hard to build,” Amanda adds.
This includes figuring how she and Troy can become more fully involved in the business and her sister part-time. The end goal is to allow Rocky to cut back on work and enjoy retirement.