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Farmers getting more from their data

Mother Nature ruled the Crop Tech Tour the last couple of years: Excess moisture created challenges for many farmers, widened the harvest timeframe and made it tough to get an accurate feel for how some new tools worked in the field.

But, this year's warm, dry harvest season in the Corn Belt so far is giving a lot of farmers the chance to not just see better how new technology tools are performing, but also use past experience to make them even larger parts of their farms.

So, what's working? Precision ag tools remain high on most farmers' tech lists. But, the 2010 crop year showed one clear trend on the Crop Tech Tour: As more farmers gain experience with tools like GPS and autosteer, they're starting to use them more often and in different, more advanced ways. In other words, after having gleaned precise data from their fields for a few years, they're now starting to put those tools -- and the data gleaned -- to better use.

Farmers are starting to use some tools during a longer timeframe during the growing season, not just during specific times in the year like planting, spraying or combining, according to Mike Brandert, a Deere AMS consultant with Platte Valley Equipment in Fremont, Nebraska.

From the planter to the combine Mike Brandert, Deere AMS consultant based in Fremont, Nebraska, talks about how farmers are taking precision tools from the tractor and sprayer to the combine this fall.

Precision controls -- whether for planting, fertilizer and chemical application or harvest yield monitoring -- have "worked really well" for Brandert's farmer customers this year. In wetter years when harvest has been long and drawn-out, precision controls like autosteer and autotrack have helped farmers take full advantage of their time in the field and work longer hours during the precious few harvest days between rains. This year, though, the results have been shown more in yields, not just time.

"They're getting good information. They can say 'variety A made X number of bushels per acre' and so on. Then, they can go to their fertilizer and seed companies and say these did better, and I want more of that," Brandert says. "Technology has been impacting us in a lot better ways. Customers are able to maximize the yield they see at the end of the year."

Chris Weydert takes it a step further: On his farm near Bode in north-central Iowa, he uses a system of precision data management to show how all his crop inputs are performing. He layers these variables on maps to reflect the "most advantageous practicse to stack." It's a major departure from a few short years ago, when the data management approach was much less structured.


The value of managing data Bode, Iowa, farmer Chris Weydert talks about the data new precision technology allows him to glean from his fields
"Now, we've got a way to manage this information better than before. In the past, we'd print out maps...then sit here and try to make judgment calls," says Weydert, who works with West Des Moines, Iowa-based Premier Crop Systems LLC for his data management. "But, when we can throw all this into a query, we can maybe say these are our top 10 performing hybrids; then, re-query where those hybrids were, the seeding rates...what are the most advantageous practices to stack and where we performed best with all of these variables."

Precision data management and utilization's moving beyond the farm level, too. Some crop advisers are starting to collect wider-scale data to show how certain inputs are performing across larger geographies. Not only does it expand the number of acres from which precision field data is utilized, it also shows how a larger number of inputs are performing. To Bryan Arndorfer, crop adviser with Precision Management Services in Bancroft, Iowa, this kind of wider-scale data management has a bright future.

"We'll aggregate our whole client database together so we can see these trends across thousands of acres in our area," he says. "It's valuable to have it on one field, but if we can combine 20 fungicide trials in one area, it gives us a better idea of how it's working. It's interesting to see it on a certain operation, but when we can see it across multiple ones, we can get a better idea of the trend and what is truly happening."

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