Mike Strang farms 1,600 acres of strip-tilled corn, soybeans and edible dry beans and no-tills winter wheat near Exeter, Ont. He carries on the family farming operation that began in the 1850s, but their practices have changed dramatically during the last 15 years.
Strang began experimenting with precision farming technology in 2000, using a lightbar on his sprayer to minimize overlap. Since then, he’s steadily upgraded equipment and now uses Ag Leader Integra monitors and Topcon System 150 RTK signal receivers to control fall and spring strip-till passes and fertilizer application rates, as well as variable-rate seeding based on management zones.
“We do deep tillage with our ETS SoilWarrior in an 8-row configuration, then add wings for 16-row shallow tillage in the spring pulled by a 300 horsepower Versatile tractor,” says Strang.
The spring tillage pass is followed by their Kinze 8-row, twin-row planter that Strang’s brother, Geoff, a laser and robotics specialist, built a hydraulic drive unit for from parts he purchased on eBay and at the local auto parts store.
“We are upgrading to a 16-row, twin-row planter next year, and we will add two hydraulic drives so we can variable-rate two hybrids to match our management zones,” Strang says. “When we were buying the new planter, we went around with the dealer about the need for row markers. It’s rare that we don’t have an RTK signal, so we don’t really need the row markers anymore.”
He’s also added an OptRx crop sensing system to his sprayer, using it for nitrogen and fungicide applications based on crop health.
“It took three or four farms to get the hang of calibrating it, and we are looking forward to seeing the results of using it,” he says.
Point of Pain: Full Immersion Needed for Adoption
Strang and his family have adopted precision technology readily, but he sees other farmers frustrated by the all-in approach needed to incorporate equipment into their operations.
“There is no way to put your toe in the water with this technology. To benefit from it, you need to go all in, and that is quite a financial commitment,” he says. “We are also finding that even for us, it takes us 2 or even 3 years to fully understand the system and use it correctly.”
Strang says they are fortunate his brother is skilled at installing and troubleshooting this equipment and that his dealer has been reliable with helping them get the systems work with their equipment.
Although getting systems to work can be sometimes difficult, Strang says the biggest challenge is changing how he thinks to match the equipment’s logic.
“How I think it works vs. how it actually works are often different,” he says. “When I figure that out, it works better.”