ST. LOUIS — A myriad of new agriculture technology hits the marketplace on a regular basis and selecting which ones best fit the farm from a return on investment and practical perspective can be challenging.
“A lot of technology is available and presented to farmers, but having many solutions presented doesn’t always lead to fast adoption,” Quentin Rund, Early Adopter Grower Innovation Community lead, said to open a recent Ag Tech Next webinar.
“Farmers still have to determine if the solution applies to them and then evaluate whether or not they have the dollars and as importantly the time to adopt the new technology into their workflow.”
The webinar featured panelists Jake Perino, Blake Hurst and Ken Dalenberg, all of whom have implemented various new technologies.
Perino of Perino’s County Line Cattle, Deer Grove, Illinois, farms in Whiteside County, where he grows corn, soybean, alfalfa and wheat, along with feeding about 1,000 head of cattle per year. He is involved in the Illinois Beef Association. He also grows seed corn and soybeans for Bayer and AgReliant.
Blake grows corn and soybeans in northwest Missouri in Atchison County near the Iowa-Missouri line and is president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. The family also has a wholesale greenhouse business.
Dalenberg of Scattered Acres, Mansfield, Illinois, grows corn and soybeans, as well as seed soybeans for Remington Seed. He has been involved in agriculture technology since its beginnings in the late 1980s and early 1990s and has been involved at high levels of the Illinois Soybean Association board and United Soybean Board.
The trio spoke of their adoption of new technologies on their farms and other related issues in a question-and-answer session led by Rund.
What is the most used and most valuable technology that you have on your farms?
Perino: "The most valuable technology is our new monoslope building. The whole design concept of it is the roof has just one angle and it plays in effect with the angle of the sun. During the summertime when the sun angle is high in the sky, the whole building is completely shaded making the cattle more comfortable, increasing our feed efficiencies and our rate of gains. In the wintertime with the way the roof is angled and the sun angle is low, the cattle utilize the sunlight that comes into the building and the whole building has sunlight all the way through it.
"There’s a visor on the front of it that amplifies the sunlight as it goes through the building to help increase the heat, raising it about 5 to 10 degrees inside the building. We also have climate control in our building. When the weather gets cold, it starts raining, we get a wind out of the north, we have curtains that drop down taking the wind and cold off of the cattle.
"With that we’ve noticed that our rate of gain has increased about one-half to three-quarters pound per head per day and you take to over 1,000 animals over a year and those gains add up very quickly."
Hurst: "Over the past few years I've spent a lot of time away from home as Farm Bureau president and I have the ability to track where the combine is, what the yield is, what the oil pressure in the combine is from my phone. I also have a new app — Amber Agriculture — that monitors the grain in my bin. I can turn the fan off and on with my phone. I also monitor the carbon dioxide in the bin.
"We’ve had the good fortune to be involved in a project that’s just starting with a company called Trilogy. They’re installed a 5G network on our farm throughout our greenhouses, so we’ll be able to monitor temperature, humidity and all that things that are important to growing greenhouse crops. This fall we’ll be able to monitor through our phones and iPads, so we’re pretty excited about that project."
Dalenberg: "There are really three technologies — autosteer, telematics and the iPad. The biggest thing is the ability to see what's going on in the field either from your office or if you're working in one field and your hired people are working in another you have the ability to track their progress.
"The telematics has definitely changed the field of agriculture in that we’re uploading data real time to the cloud and are able to make real time decisions for fertility, to view test plots, to be able to send information to my agronomist, to my soils person, and from the combine cab I’m able to deal with my retailer as far as what fields the fertilizer needs to be spread, what the rates need to be, and do that on a timely basis.
"All three of those technologies have made agriculture move forward in a much more efficient and cost effective way."
How do you evaluate new technology and what’s your process for sorting through the new innovations to decide which ones to try?
Hurst: "Some of it was from dealer information. A lot of it was by word of mouth in the back of the room at some meeting when someone will mention something that they're doing and I'll be interested in it and find out about it.
"I’ve had the opportunity to attend ag innovation meetings where ag innovators, tech companies and startups have had a chance to give presentations. I think it’s very evident just as a working farmer with a thumbs only grasp of technology that they do need to spend some time on the farm with farmers. We have this real interest right now in ag innovation, a lot of venture capital moving into our field. That’s very exciting, but sometimes I think there is a disconnect between what will actually work on the farm and what the farmer is interested in.
"It has to be simple. It has to be tough. It has to be able to work in the environment that we work in every day with dirt and dust on the farm and humidity in the greenhouses. It has to clear all those hurdles before I have any interest at all."
Dalenberg: "Having been involved in quite a few startups that have commercialized products over the years, the biggest problem is, is it something that we need on the farm? Is it something that can make us more cost efficient? Is it something that can make us more cost effective in deciding which ones to adopt? I've been involved in a lot of things that never came to fruition. Either they weren't needed on the farm, were too expensive for the farm or by the time they got developed we had moved past that.
"An example would be in the telematics and robotics in soil sampling and being able to do that real time using soil sampling where it’s repeatable over time in the exact same spot. That enables us to be more accurate in the zone work that we do because now we can look at what the change is over time and that’s important as we look toward the future and the environmental regulations on fertilizer. These are some of the things that have to enter into a farmer’s decision as he looks at what technology he adopts."
Perino: "You have to find out if it even works for your farm, is it really necessary for your farm, is that technology you want to get now going to be outdated in two years and be worth your investment for it.
"Also whenever we look at implementing something new, we like to find out who’s already done it, who has had it for a couple of years, how is it effecting them, how are they getting use for it, is it still valuable to them and is there something else that might last longer. We really don’t like to look to see if it will help us in the next year or two, we want to see if it will help us out in the next three to five years. We obviously want the payoff to be sooner than that, but will the technology still be valuable down the road."
Was there a technology that you thought would work on your farm, gave it a try, but it didn’t work out? What do you look for regarding the technology’s success?
Perino: "The return on investment is probably the biggest thing that's going to be that determining factor. Are you going to get the money that you spent on it back or not and that's pretty much the bottom line with anything in farming — was it worth the money that I invested into this.
"Did I get what I put into it back? Whether it’s saving time, saving money or being more efficient. If you got any of those back for the monetary value that you put into it that would be the deciding factor. Do we keep moving forward with this new technology or do we try to implement something different, something better down the road."
Hurst: "Many years ago we bought what had to have been one of the first spray monitors, spray controllers. At that time we were spraying ahead of the planter. I was spraying; my dad was running the planter. He would be ready to plant that field and I'd be stopped fiddling with that technology. So, I think there's always a danger of being too early when adopting technology and not letting the companies get the bugs out. Every farm has that spray technology now. It works well and they don't even think about it."
Dalenberg: "I've been involved with a lot of alpha and beta testing of technology. People will say, and my wife even asks me, why do I get involved with that. To me it's the intrigue of trying to figure it out. If it's something that I see that has potential for the future, of trying to help them redefine or actually define it for agriculture because the worse thing that happens is somebody goes down the right path, but the software developers or the analytic engineers don't have a clue how farmers will use it.
"There are several companies that I have walked away from because they wouldn’t listen to the farmer advisers telling them they’re going down the wrong path, that farmers are not going to use it, they’re not going to buy it and the market share will be so small you can’t survive. We’ve seen that with quite a few companies in the last 10 years.
"My saying is everybody has a little piece of the action, but nobody has everything that we, the farmer, need all in one package."
What needs do you have for your farm right now?
Hurst: "Can I dream big? The biggest problem we're facing, and I think it goes for much of the Midwest and mid-south, is resistance to herbicides. It is pig weeds and all their nasty and evil forms and shapes. While we're out of the edge (of dreaming big), it would be neat if corn would fix nitrogen. Those are big things.
"Little things include better monitoring and more affordable monitoring of everything that’s going on in my fields, the ability to use drone technology at a price and time constraints that I can afford to do the scouting that needs to be done. Simple things like I just need affordable weather stations on a lot of places on my farm so that I have better grasp of what’s happen that’s better than just driving around and seeing how much mud I’m picking up on my tires.
"We’re not particularly quick adopters and people already have a lot of these things, but that’s where I’m going next."
Perino: "We'd like to see the consumers, the people that are distant from the farm, see what we do, where their food comes from and how corn is grown. It wasn't that long ago that people were so many generations distant from a farm and they're now more generations away from people living on a farm and they've just lost touch with reality."
Dalenberg: "Let's talk about immediate needs — rural broadband. I'm a mile and a half from one of the fastest fiber optics in the country that goes to the University of Illinois and I have the equivalent of dial-up service for internet service. There are a lot of areas where internet service is horrible. I realize that the government is spending tons of money, but there has to be a much better way to cause that to happen in a faster sense.
"As far as the technology side for the farm, soil moisture sensors. There are some being developed that basically we could put in different sections of the field, not worry about the tillage on them and be able to read the soil moisture. We already have the ability to know the rainfall within the field, even from one end of the field to the other.
"The other thing we need, there are so many companies that are trying to do remote sensing. I believe we’ve come a long way, but have we really. I first got involved with remote sensing back in 1996 with Matra Marconi of France and in a lot of ways we have not come far enough with that technology. Yes, we can count plant populations in the field, but is it affordable to do that on scale.
"The other thing is being able to detect yield. Now we have the government estimating yield for the crop report using a lot of the remote sense data. I think that area needs dramatic improvement because the farmer has to also have the availability of using that technology and not just the grain trade or the government."