Farmers zero in on using ag technology to meet their needs

There’s no rule that says you have to adapt every practice invented so far to cash in on precision farming. As far as Henry Buell is concerned, the ability to do one thing well that he couldn’t do before without advanced technology makes it worth it.

What is it for Buell? Planting crops at night. It was a plus during the late, wet 2009 season. “We used autosteering to plant at night, and we loved it,” says Buell, Lewisville, Ind.

Key Points

• Autosteering allows Henry Buell to plant his crops at night.

• The ability to document gains from tiling is most important for some people.

• The challenge is for agronomy to keep pace with changing technology.

In his second year of night planting, he utilized the StarFire 2 differential correction signal. It’s a subscription service, but it’s advertised as more accurate than relying on WAAS, or the Wide Area Augmentation System, a free signal that GPS receivers can pick up.

The service Buehl uses is accurate within plus or minus 4 inches. It was plenty accurate enough to make consistent rows, he notes.

“We would plant during the day,” he explains. “Then I would reload the planter and plant out that fill-up. I actually like to plant at night.”

Buell’s ultimate goal is to move toward controlled traffic in no-till. He expects to utilize GPS to make it work. As he trades equipment in the future, he hopes to move that direction.


The ability to document yields in various parts of the field with yield monitors tied to GPS locations has proven helpful for Doug Davenport. He farms in Parke and Fountain counties in west-central Indiana.

“We’re able to look at yield over tile lines using GPS yield maps,” he notes. “You also have to factor in soil type, but GPS has helped us make decisions.”

Yield monitors are very effective, especially when they’re calibrated correctly, notes Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension ag educator. In fact, he’s discovered it’s accurate enough for field-scale research. It’s certainly accurate enough to help someone like Davenport make decisions about where to install tile.

For Jeff Nagel, an agronomist with Ceres Solutions, based in Lafayette, Ind., one of the most profitable uses for precision equipment is enabling variable-rate, on-the-go lime applications.

It can also be used to apply phosphorus and potassium and maintain soil tests at critical levels, he adds. However, there’s a catch when it comes to programming variable rates, especially for P and K, Nagel says.

“Technology and equipment may be ahead of the agronomy part of the time,” Nagel notes. “It’s challenging. We want to apply products using variable-rate technology. But just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we know how. We don’t always have data to help us decide which rates should be applied where. We must make assumptions, and sometimes we’re right.”

To Nagel, which technology you select out of the precision farming toolkit boils down to costs and returns. “You have to sort through practices that are out there and decide which ones will make you money on your farm.”


NIGHT VISION: Planting by GPS guidance may not be quite like wearing night-vision goggles, but it beats “planting by moonlight,” Henry Buell says.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.