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The precision ag grower

Grower: Will Masteller, Selby, South Dakota

For many small growers, not investing in precision ag technology comes down to one thing: cost. “I was afraid that because I was a small producer I couldn't justify it,” says Will Masteller, Selby, South Dakota. “I used to wonder how much of a difference a piece of precision ag equipment could really make.”

“It's not cheap equipment,” says Troy McKown, Precision Ag Solutions. “And that is why the big farmer went after it and the smaller grower didn't.”

To prove it could pay for the small producer, Masteller agreed to take part in a project created by Trimble that would help him piece together a precision ag plan for his 1,500-acre operation.

Masteller's Magnum tractor was equipped with Trimble's FmX display, Autopilot, and two receivers with GLONASS correction capability. TrueGuide was also installed on his tractor. His Kinze planter was outfitted with Precision Planting's 20/20 SeedSense monitor system to incorporate some variable capabilities.

As Masteller wrapped up his first season, he says one of the biggest surprises was the accuracy of the 20/20 SeedSense system. “I always used to worry about where the seed was going. I knew if the boxes were empty, the seed was somewhere in the field. But where? With this equipment, I knew exactly where it was and that I had done a good job,” says Masteller.

“Right away I saw instant improvements in the quality of job I was doing as well as savings in inputs.”

“I think the mind-set that only larger growers can have this equipment is all an affordability question.”

He also saw less overlap in chemical application, which resulted in a 3% reduction in input costs.

“And I felt less tired at the end of the day,” he says.

On average, his farm yields around 130 bushels per acre. With the technology, he believes he saw an increase of around 5% to 10%.

That's not to say it has all gone smoothly.

“The learning curve was pretty steep,” he says. “We had high hopes for 2010, but what we ended up with was a year of orientation and trouble-shooting.”

For 2011, the original pieces of the puzzle will change slightly to enhance customer service and collect better data. “What I learned is that I can't expect one person to know all the answers,” he says. “It's a step-by-step process that requires a lot of patience.” 

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