By Brandy Harrison
MOUNT VERNON, OHIO — Tim Norris runs across three or four farmers every year that have bought tractors factory-equipped with an autosteer system they never use.
“It just came with the tractor and they don’t see the value. I see that happen way too often,” says the CEO of Ohio-based Ag Info Tech.
In the United States, Norris estimates as many as two-thirds of farms over 1,000 acres use precision agriculture technology, which could be as simple as a light bar to guide the tractor or a yield monitor without GPS. Most get what they want out of it, but only a small fraction tap into everything their tech can do.
It comes down to education: farmers aren’t always aware of the technology’s capacity, don’t take the time to learn, or brush it off as too expensive, says Norris.
It can get pricey. While farmers could start out with a $7,000 planter monitor, tricking out a 16-row corn planter with hydraulic downforce, v-set meters, a monitor, RTK steering, and electric drives can put a farmer out $58,000.
But there’s a big payback, says Norris, whose company sells, installs, and provides training and data analysis for AgLeader, Precision Planting, and Trimble products among others. By reducing overlap and increasing planting accuracy, the $58,000 upgrade has an $84.90 profit per acre and will pay for itself in 683 acres. “It doesn’t take long,” says Norris.
But farmers have to put in the effort to see that return, he says, likening it to using a treadmill. “If you don’t work out with it, it isn’t going to make you thinner.”
Here are Norris’ six simple tips for maximizing return on precision ag.
1. Do the research.
Talk to the dealer and research online to find out everything the technology can do.
“A lot of people don’t know what they want,” says Norris, adding that if a farmer doesn’t explain to a dealer what he wants, he can end up overspending. “You might find out the only thing he wants to do is spread fertilizer. Why sell him a $4,000 or $5,000 top-of-the-line display? Sell him the $1,800 display that will do everything he wants and doesn’t have capacity he never plans on using.”
2. Read the manual.
Don’t put the owner’s manual in a desk drawer and forget about it — it describes what the equipment is capable of, how to use it, and how to solve simple glitches without phoning the dealer. A copy can be downloaded at the manufacturer’s website.
3. Stay up-to-date.
Ensure you’re using the most current firmware and features. Most manufacturers offer free regular updates online.
4. Don’t skip the training.
Norris hears complaints from dealers all the time about how hard it is to get farmers to attend training sessions.
“Most farmers learn by doing and they don’t like to take the time to go to a meeting,” he says.
But dealers just don’t have the manpower in the busy season to give farmers a how-to lesson. “When a dealer is working 16 to 18 hours a day to keep everyone going, he doesn’t have much sympathy for the person that doesn’t want to learn until the day he’s ready to do it.”
5. Take a test drive.
Try out the equipment on a five-acre field. Make sure the cables are in good condition, it’s calibrated properly, and you know how to use it.
6. Get good advice.
Find a trusted advisor and work out a solid agronomic plan. A good advisor can look at the whole operation to find the best technology fit. Ag Info Tech has a program called precision with a purpose, where they take stock of existing equipment, discuss problems farmers are having as well as the farm’s five-year goals to find the technology that will do the job now and down the road.
You’ll spend a lot less in the long run,” says Norris.