Technology, particularly auto-steering, came up frequently during farm management tour stops this year, particularly at Bill Gelfius farm and Shane Meier's and family, both located in Bartholomew County. Both operations have been using precision from a long time, and both are sold on the benefits, particularly for auto-steer.
In fact, statements like "I wouldn't let you take it away from me" flowed freely during tour interviews. Besides the tangible benefits, including saving from overlap and spraying more precisely, the benefit that it's not possible to put a dollar sign on came up quite often.
That's how freeing yourself from doing the driving and concentrating on rows or markers leaves you much fresher late in the day. How you measure not being so tired in terms of dollars and cents is a factor even ag economists haven't conquered yet, but farmers insist it's real and that it's important. And the older the farmer running it, like a parent or grandparent, the more important that factor becomes, they note.
One of the newest technologies Gelfius uses from Precision Planting, Tremont, Ill., delivers accurate seeding information for a state of the art seed sensor. Ron Hamilton, a Flat Rock farmer, sells and backs up the units. It's an extension of his planter meter business. In the off-season Hamilton runs neighbor's units through his Meter Max machine, also developed and sold by Precision Planting. The Meter Max helps determine if planting units are working and singulating seed as they should. If they're not, Hamilton can pinpoint the possible cause, and either make the repairs or suggest what repairs should be made to his customers.
"If you believe in singulating seed, then this new product really should have value for you," he says. Bob Nielsen, Purdue university agronomist, demonstrated more than a decade ago that uneven seed spacing and uneven emergence can cost bushels and dollars. If it's five bushels per acre, that could be $35 per acre in lost revenue this year. Over 1,000 acres, that's $35,000. That will pay for a lot of meter checks and even the repair parts to make the planter work like new again.
But it was auto-steering that kept coming back as the most favorite technology at the tour. Some folks still use the free WAAS signal, but those serious about using it for precise operations, like planting, are either using a satellite subscription signal or obtaining an RTK signal. Precision Partners, a technology firm located near Flat Rock, now ahs a series of stations mounted on various towers that broadcast RTK signals. For a fee they allow customers to pick up the signal and use it for guidance. This same system of developing a network of signals and charging individual farmers to use it has been popular in Illinois and other parts of the Midwest for the past couple of seasons. Expect to see more of it in the near future.