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Managing tech boosts efficiency

Randy Madden is quick to put new technology to work on his Alden farm. High fertility and variety selection are the primary keys to high yields on his 2,000 acres of continuous corn, notes Madden.

But he is quick to point out that using and managing technology with his equipment makes all the difference in the world.

Madden’s entire lineup of planting and harvesting equipment uses John Deere’s integrated AMS products, which consist of a comprehensive machine control and data collection system. Liquid hog manure is a key resource in Madden’s fertility program.

Key Points

Efficiency in crop production is key for this idea farmer.

He uses the latest technology for machine control and data collection.

A new high-tech planter will be used this spring.


The John Deere GreenStar Rate Controller allows him to apply the precise amount of manure at a consistent rate across the fields. It also gives him the ability to document and map application details including rate, location of the applied fertilizer and environmental conditions.

“We are required to keep detailed manure application records for the Department of Natural Resources, and this really helps,” notes Madden.In addition, the coverage maps help Madden determine where manure was not applied, so he can adjust the rate of anhydrous ammonia at sidedressing.

“The system makes us much more efficient in our resource utilization,” states Madden. “The increasing cost of commercial fertilizer makes it even more critical; we apply it only where and when it is needed.”

The equipment is capable of variable-rate application — a “prescription” across the entire field based on soil maps. “We haven’t gone there yet,” explains Madden. “But we certainly will as crop input prices increase.” The same technology can be used on all fertilizer applicators, such as anhydrous bars or sprayers.

RTK-based system

Since Madden sidedresses nitrogen, accurate row spacing is critical. “The John Deere iGuide system monitors the position of the planter and automatically steers the tractor accordingly to achieve more precise row spacing,” explains Madden. “The extra precision offered by RTK is essential.”

Efficiency is top of mind for Madden, and the John Deere RowCommand with Swath Control Pro technology fits the bill. “The system shuts off row units, so there is no overlap on point rows or end rows. The result is seed savings and improved yields,” he says.

New tech for 2011

Madden is especially looking forward to the 2011 season because he will have a new high-tech toy to play with. His new planter will be equipped with the John Deere SeedStar XP system, which monitors seed placement, spacing, and skips or doubles.

“The ‘brain’ is actually on the planter and works with standard monitors,” says Madden. “We will be able to control everything from the cab, change population on the go, for example, and even monitor and adjust row unit down pressure. And all the while, the data is being documented and mapped.”

But even before he fires up the tractor and planter, Madden can sit at his office computer and create a field-specific prescription for his planter to follow using existing field maps in his Apex software. “You can program population, where to shut off the planter, such as waterways, and when to turn row units off.”

Madden tried starter fertilizer for the first time in 2010. “We used a two-prong approach to manage fertility,” he explains. “We put starter fertilizer in the row and dribbled 32% N between the rows.

The idea is to make sure the seedlings have sufficient nutrition during early-growth stages. Continuous corn yield drag can be tied to that early nutrition. We hope to overcome that with this system. Early results are promising, but we need more testing to validate the need.”

Madden uses variable-rate technology when sidedressing nitrogen. “With proper timing and application rates, I believe we can consistently achieve yields comparable to rotated corn.”

Data management

“As a farmer, I see the next real opportunity for technology providers such as Deere to bring value to producers is in data collection and management, notes Madden. 

“For me to fully utilize prescriptions and realize the full value all of this technology offers, the industry will need to learn much more about how to manage individual soil types and areas smaller than whole fields.

I believe that is the next wave of technology needed — to ensure the U.S. farmer remains competitive in a global industry. We have to get more efficient with resource utilization as yields increase, and technology will play a critical role in that quest.”

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RANDY MADDEN

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EARLY ADOPTER: Randy Madden, who grows 2,000 acres of continuous corn near Alden, Iowa, employs machine control and data collection technology from fertilizer application through harvest.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.