CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Agriculture is constantly inundated with new technologies, and sorting through this array of products — what fits, what doesn’t — can be both challenging and perplexing.
The Illinois Soybean Association recently hosted its new Tech Connect event that featured ag tech company representatives and other experts to provide some practical advice to help farmers sort through these multiple options.
The event concluded with a panel of growers that were early adopters of various technologies to give insights on what they’re doing on their farms.
Panelists were Steve Pitstick, Maple Park; Jacob Wade, McLean; and Ken Dalenberg, Mansfield.
Pitstick advises startup ag companies and has a long track record of utilizing the latest and most innovative equipment and science available in the agricultural industry. Pitstick also represents District 2 on the ISA board of directors.
Wade relies on multiple technologies to benefit his operation, including precision tools, field data recording and drones for crop health monitoring.
Wade is a fifth-generation farmer who raises corn and soybeans and ventured into hemp production this year. In addition to farming, he operates AgVantage Seeds and a seed treatment business.
Dalenberg has tested and consulted on technologies for The Climate Corporation, Farmers Business Network, Syngenta’s AgriEdge, Agrible, John Deere and other companies after becoming an early adopter of ag tech on his own operation.
Dalenberg’s Scattered Acres Farm has been the site of many research projects to evaluate precision farming technology and other innovative products and practices.
Here’s a rundown of the question-and-answer panel discussion.
What are you implementing this year or have in the last couple of years in your farming operation that you’re excited about and are showing promise?
Pitstick: We’ve been using the FieldView platform since it came out in 2011. What’s really helped there is being able to track everything in the computer.
So, we track all of the as-applied, fertilizer spreading, spraying, even doing some tillage operation. At one point, we kept track of the grain cart activity across the field, trying to get a full aspect of everything that we’re doing.
This year was extremely tough. We have four different trait platforms that we plant and very little ended up where it was intended to when we built a plant back in January and February.
Because of the weather conditions, a lot of things got repositioned, but we were very adamant in making sure that that seed was logged into the FieldView platform where it went.
Wade: The thing I’m looking forward to the most this harvest is I did a very large plot of 15-inch versus 30-inch corn. It’s been done several times, but one thing I feel like I did a little bit different was I managed it a little bit higher.
I did two Y-drop applications. I did two fungicide applications, as well as a little bit of micronutrient feeding.
I did 14 hybrids and planted each entry 1,000 feet long, and I replicated it four times. That was a big trial to get in this year, but I made time to get it in and it’s looking great. So, I’m really excited to take that to yield and get the results of that.
Dalenberg: The biggest thing this year with the weather scenario that we had is keeping track of the chemistry since most of the stuff this year was sprayed by a commercial applicator instead of myself.
Traits and chemistry is extremely important and so being able to track with telematics and then checking to make sure the genetics match the actual chemistry sprayed is high on the list of things to get accomplished every year.
If you’re trying out a new technology, how long do you test it before deciding whether or not to use it in the future?
Dalenberg: Now with the cloud and being to upload data and do comparison with different databases such as Farmers Business Network’s database, generally someone in a different farming community might have tried this same product. So, you compare notes on how that might have done in different environments.
In our case, generally if the results are favorable in the first year, you’ll go ahead and try it the next two or three, but if the results are not favorable, you generally probably won’t do it again.
Wade: Anything that I try I will generally try a second year on maybe a little bit less acres if it didn’t do well the first year. If it did well the first year, I’ll increase my replications, but I’ll at least give it two years. If it does me wrong two years in a row I will not give it a third year.
Pitstick: I’m kind of in the same camp. Every product works somewhere some of the time. Nothing works everywhere all of the time. Best case, 70%, 80% success rate on a lot of these products. So, trying to figure out which ones work, which ones help you with what you need.
Ken and I are doing some testing for a new company, Trace Genomics, which looks at the DNA of the soil. I think if we can find some answers there to unlock some of the secrets as to what the micro-biome might be doing, we could better place some of these biologicals, things like that to get a better performance.
What are some of the biggest successes you’ve had with implementing a new product on your farm?
Pitstick: Auto-steer was huge, Roundup Ready technology, it all fits in the ag tech space. Those are all huge technologies. Seven or eight years ago, we started with the FieldView platform, being able to get all of our data in one spot.
The big aspect the last few years is data transfer. When we have multiple machines in the field, it’s almost impossible at the end of the season to get all of that data back to a central point.
Being able to have all of this stuff streaming through the day, everybody in the operation can see that on their smartphone or on an iPad, see what’s going on where. I would say of recent that has been the biggest thing that’s been a benefit for us.
Wade: I agree that the FieldView platform is the biggest success. But financially I think the biggest success is high-speed planters. They have improved the efficiency in my operation, and this year I would not have got the crop in in as timely of manner as I did.
I planted all of my corn at 11-plus miles an hour this year and the stand is perfect. Three or four years ago, I would have had to do it at half that speed. On years like this, you can really see a financial return with that technology.
Dalenberg: I’d say the best thing that has come out would be telematics, whether it’s a FieldView drive or JDLink, the iPhone or the iPad, the ability to upload data in real time to the cloud as you’re going through the field and, for me, to be away from the farm and see what’s going on. Telematics has changed the whole operational aspect of the farm.
What do your foresee as the biggest change going forward in your farming careers?
Pitstick: There’s this idea that autonomous is going to take over. I think that’s quite a ways out there. We farm. That’s what we do. We like to drive machinery.
The autonomous space is going to probably come in tillage first. We as operators like to plant. I’m not going to let an autonomous machine take that over just yet. I want to control my destiny.
I like harvesting. I like seeing my report card, so I’m not going to give that up yet.
But I think in this step transition to autonomy we’re going to see a lot more smarter machines. If you see all of the things coming from Precision Planting, John Deere, self-adjusting machines that are connected to the cloud that sense and then reference something in the cloud and then change it based on conditions, that’s the step towards autonomy.
We’re in that gradual transition. Ten years seems like a long time, but it goes pretty fast. I don’t know that it will be a lot different 10 years from now, but we’ll have a lot more smarter machines.
Dalenberg: As we look forward in the short term, we’ll see better solutions of the financial, agronomic, the platforms all being hooked together.
Today we have splinterings of each that are not totally seamless, but at some point I think life will become a lot more simpler as more companies develop ways to fully integrate the financials into our databases. Nutrien is headed in that direction at this point, but there’s still too much data entry.
So, I think as we move forward in the next couple of years that’s one area that I see becoming more and more developed for us as farmers to take some of the headaches of bookkeeping but also keeping it real-time.
Wade: Other than automation, which will come eventually, but is several years out, as well, I think the most beneficial thing is when we can actually get imagery correct. You can see an inch-tall corn plant and tell the population per acre.
So, in a year like this you would know the exact areas where you need to replant or the areas the are struggling and behind, or be able to tell exactly whether it’s at VT or at V10 in the field so you can make decisions on, OK, the majority of the field is tasseled, so I should go spray it with fungicides.
Just decisions like that from imagery I think will make it easier on the grow in the future. That technology is trying to be here now, it’s just not been very successful yet.