What can precision farming do for you?

The Purdue University basketball team was riding high Jan. 1, going 13-0 and having just demolished West Virginia. Two weeks later, fans were scratching their heads and deriding players after three straight losses. It’s very much a “what have you done for me lately?” world.

Precision farming doesn’t escape the same scrutiny. Pretty yield maps are neat, and sometimes useful. Precise GPS makes planting at night doable. And autosteering is good medicine for would-be tired muscles on a long day. But how much money does precision farming make you? What has it done for you lately?

Key Points

• Down-to-earth farmers want payback, not just gee-whiz technology.

• Planter row shutoffs, sprayer section controls are no-brainers.

• Autosteering pays off in both tangible and intangible benefits.


“There are many things that you can do with the new technology,” says Doug Davenport, who farms in Parke and Fountain counties in west-central Indiana. “But does it add dollars to my checking account? That’s what matters.”

Davenport shared his thoughts on precision farming to benefit both Illinois and Indiana farmers recently. Precise GPS helps him plant at night, and he’s confident that produces a payback since it helps him plant as timely as possible.

“Things like automatic shutoffs on planter rows that prevent dribbling on the ends and shutoffs on sprayer sections are no-brainers,” he says. ‘They save input costs and provide a return on investment.”

Payback varies

Davenport has yet to be convinced that some gee-whiz stuff hitting the market is a necessity on his farm. The acid test is whether it can produce a profit. He can’t pencil it out for every technology.

However, autosteering doesn’t fall in that category. The payback is partially intangible, but he believes it’s still very real. “We put in several super-long days in a row once the weather broke,” he relates. “We couldn’t have done it without autosteer. You simply feel better at the end of the day.”

Davenport’s dad uses the autosteer feature because it helps keep him fresh. But he’s not interested in how it works. “He just wants to know which buttons to push,” Davenport grins.

Davenport’s dad isn’t the only one that likes to keep things simple. It points to one downside of the precision revolution, notes Jeff Nagel, an agronomist with Ceres Solutions, based at Lafayette, Ind. “When you go toward more electronics in equipment, there’s always more of a chance the problem will be electrical, not mechanical, when something goes wrong.”

Sort out what pays

Part of the problem with precision farming to date has been compatibility between various pieces of equipment, Nagel notes. Initially, some brands wouldn’t talk to other brands. “It’s getting better,” Nagel says. “But working through these issues is a challenge.

“The real challenge is sorting out what makes sense for you to spend your money on,” he says.

When Nagel evaluates autosteering, he sees a precision farming technology that makes sense two ways. “It makes sense economically,” he says, pointing out that you can avoid overlap and skips that translate to the bottom line.

“But it also makes life easier. That’s important, too.”

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NO SKIPS: Accuracy sells some on autosteering. For others, the ability to run longer due to less fatigue seals the deal.

This article published in the March, 2010 edition of MID-SOUTH FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.