As a third-generation farmer in the Tipton, California, area, Tom Barcellos defines efficiency as “getting as much done in as few trips as possible.” He's accomplishing this through the integration of precision ag technology and the incorporation of new tillage practices.
For more than 10 years, investing in precision ag technology has allowed Barcellos to progressively improve – from planting to harvest – the efficiency in his fields as well as in his equipment, which has a total value of around $4 million.
“I started with GPS technology in 1998 with Ag Leader and Trimble yield monitors on the combines,” says Barcellos. “This gave me field maps so I could target variable-rate fertilizer applications. Lightbars and receivers were taken out of the combines and added onto the tractors for disking lands. The end result was parallel and correct width, no points, no wasted ground, and improved efficiency.”
Two years later, he added auto steer in one of his tractors to help prepare beds for cotton and corn.
“It was a Trimble automated steering system that turned out to be an unbelievable investment,” he recalls. “The base station and unit cost $48,000. Then I added it on a wheeled tractor, which provided expansion of auto steer and GPS technology. Besides improving efficiency, I saw a 10% to 15% savings in fuel. I also saw reduced operator fatigue and less wear and tear on machinery.”
That same year, Barcellos began practicing conservation tillage, which included some no-till. He also made a switch to Roundup Ready corn.
“At that time, the number of tractors working the ground dropped from five to one,” he says. “This eliminated labor, improved water efficiency, and cut fuel consumption considerably. I haven't purchased any cultivator bearings or sweeps for 11 years. That would be impossible without GPS and auto steer.”
Foundation to build on
As the years progressed, Barcellos continued to build on his technology base. He incorporated it into other aspects of his operation.
“When I converted to conservation tillage, one of the first purchases I made was a strip-till bar,” he says. “Then came the second auto steer system. I just kept adding, and now I have five tractors with auto steer. They are used for everything from tillage, to applying fertilizer, to spraying, to planting, to laser leveling. And I use a float tractor to make the final pass, which eliminates one overlap in the field.”
With its 60-foot boom, this technology has not only impacted the efficiency of his spray rig, but also made a big difference with his chopper.
“I cut eight 30-inch rows at one time,” says Barcellos. “It's not easy to chop into a truck and not spill any forage. The GPS makes my job so much easier.”
While GPS has saved money in labor and in parking tractors, Barcellos has seen other benefits.
“From one year to the next, fuel consumption has been reduced by 25%. There are also fewer exhaust emissions, and I'm seeing other environmental benefits,” he notes.