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Climbing the precision ag technology mountain

11/01/2012 @ 11:11am

Adrenaline pumps through his veins. Sweat beads roll down his forehead. As he inches his way toward the summit, a hard day's work is apparent on Will Masteller's calloused hands. With each pass conquered, he is one step closer to a more efficient operation.

For three seasons, the Selby, South Dakota, farmer has ascended the precision ag technology pinnacle, thanks to a project created by Trimble. The initiative shows that a smaller grower like Masteller, who farms around 1,500 acres, can realize his operation's true peak by climbing the mountain of precision ag technology. As he scales the wall, his end goal is clear – always look where you're going rather than where you've been.

“If you're not looking ahead, you're falling behind,” says Masteller.

The technology has tested his endurance, strength, and agility. He now recognizes that knowledge of the right techniques is crucial to ascension. Like all climbers, Masteller makes this journey through eight carefully planned steps.

Step 1: Do your research

For nearly 10 years, the only piece of precision ag equipment Masteller had on his farm was a TeeJet lightbar for his sprayer.

“With just 1,500 acres, I didn't believe the technology would pay for itself,” recalls Masteller.

That all changed in the 2010 season when he tested a more comprehensive precision ag package. But Masteller didn't enter this expedition blindly. He discussed each piece of technology and talked about the ways it could impact his operation with then Trimble representative Chad Pfitzer.

“I had a lot of questions when I was first approached about this project,” Masteller says. “With what technology would they be outfitting my equipment? Would it be compatible with my older equipment? How much was it going to cost? How long would it take to see a return on investment? How could I involve my agronomist? Basically, what was I getting myself into?”

Step 2: Assess yourmental strength

While Masteller researched the project, he also came to understand that this was not a process that would transform his operation overnight, and it was no small undertaking. It would take time and a commitment on his part to endure the ups and downs of installing and learning new technology.

“The biggest challenge has been installing the hardware. Some of the hydraulics were a bugger. But after working out some software bugs, everything has gone pretty smooth,” he says. “If I'd left well enough alone, I'd have had hardly any issues. The tinkering and adding pieces was what got me into trouble.”

Since the closest technician is about an hour away, much of the support is done over the phone.

“And there is always a wait when ordering parts,” he notes.
Like many mountaineers, he has learned valuable lessons since he began his ascension. For instance, he's dropped his specialty crops to focus on corn, soybeans, and wheat.

Step 3: Acquire the gear

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