Technology cuts costs, increases crop yields
When John Bartman planted this spring at his Marengo farm, he had a touchscreen mounted in his tractor automatically telling the machine to add more seed here, less there. More fertilizer in this field, less in that.
The technology, called geographic information systems (GIS), records every step of the farming process – from planting to harvesting – using built-in GPS tracking. Then, it stores and analyzes the info to be used for reference next time around. The fields show up on the GIS devices as color-coded maps, with red showing areas that need more treatment, green showing areas that need less.
“I think that markets are so valuable right now that, with the price of seed, (GIS is) definitely a requirement,” Bartman said. “It’s a fairly significant cost, but you do receive a return on your investment rather quickly.”
Though the technology started popping up on the farm about a decade ago, it’s only within the last couple years that GIS has become more mainstream in agriculture.
And for good reason, most agree. Knowing the exact history of any given field allows farmers to be more precise with resources, cutting costs and increasing yields.
The GIS systems work in tandem with the machinery. When planting or spraying, if a farmer is about to go over a section they’ve already hit, the GIS knows and will automatically tell the machine to stop laying product.
“The driver does very little once the thing’s set in motion,” said Gene Ziegler, an instructor of geography and GIS specialist at American Sentinel University.
Ziegler added that he thinks more and more producers of agricultural equipment and machinery will embrace the GIS technology.
In some ways, that process has already started. New John Deere machinery can now come equipped with the company’s own version of GIS, which includes an auto-steer option.
The GIS will steer the tractor on a straight line based on its map of where each row should be planted or sprayed. The rows of fertilizer only overlap a couple of inches.
Bruce Meier, a Hebron farmer who uses the auto steer function on his John Deere, said in addition to saving money on seed and fertilizer, the technology means fewer trips up and down the fields.
“The other thing is just operator fatigue,” Meier said. “You’re not so tired at the end of the day. Your shoulders don’t hurt. Your back doesn’t hurt. You don’t have to focus on much of the steering and you can turn around to look at the field behind you to see what kind of job it’s doing.”
Ziegler said on a larger scale, GIS is a step toward more precision and greater efficiency. Which, he said, is ultimately what the agriculture community should strive for.
“I think these things are vitally important when you think about the growing population,” Ziegler said. “We’re going to have to get better and better yields if we want to keep up.”