Ag Tech

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May 30, 2011 - 7:00pm



Ag technology

By Perry Stoner/NET News

Talk to Scott Richert about equipment on his tractor and it may sound like high-tech jargon.

"That has the satellite receiver in there, that's receiving the GPS signals from the sky, it's got the radio antenna which is receiving the correction from the base station and then it's got some gyros or whatever else they are using to adjust for slope and tilt and those things."

In his 22nd year of farming outside Gresham, Richert is as high tech as many of today's ag producers. The satellite and GPS he talks about on his tractor are telling the auto steer program on board where to go while planting. He says he's invested in technology like this to be more efficient and he's not as fatigued during the crunch time of planting. He can concentrate on what's happening on the planter while the computer steers the tractor.

"When the conditions are tough and you are trying to get the job done and you've got the sun shining in your eyes or the wind is blowing across, to have something else driving that thing is... just the stress relief on that is big. So it's having somebody else steer so you can manage everything else."

There's no getting around it, technology is changing nearly every aspect of our lives. For decades, technological advances have played a part in increasing productivity on agricultural operations. As farmers wind down on another planting season in Nebraska, the business is as high tech as any other.

Technology is invading this industry as much as any other. From computer operated irrigation systems to monitoring the progress of harvest through GPS devices mounted on equipment in fields miles apart, today's farming is less about grease and mechanical parts and more about solid-state circuitry.

Showing his tech wares at the Nebraska Agri Business Expo earlier this year, Lance Steinhausen from Barker Implement in Winterset, Iowa, says the trend in the industry shouldn't change in the near future.

"We've often joked that we're gonna have E-techs. That they're not gonna turn wrenches. They're gonna know how to fix the software on your computer and know how it talks to your machine and vice versa."

"I think the biggest changes in the next three to four years won't be in bigger booms or more iron, but it's gonna be in smarter machines that (John Deere) is driving more integrated technology as far as logistics planning, utilizing the auto-steer, the swaft control probe, but also being able to figure out what is that machine doing, where is it at, and how do we get more efficient because it's getting to do more with less. But that same machine has got to be smarter than it used to be."

Steinhausen says implement dealers will be diagnosing field equipment breakdowns from computers at the shop. That will tell them what to fix when they get there and what parts to bring along or maybe even avoid a service call by telling the farmer how to fix it himself.

Matt Franzen from Nebraska Machine Company in North Platte has equipment that could help take the guess work out of fertilizer application once crops start to grow.

"The co-op gets their map from the farmer where the a yield is low or not what it should have been in that field, they create a map for it and send it to the machine and applies however much fertilizer it calls for. Basically you just drive the machine and the system controls itself and applies whatever has been prescribed to that field just like a just like a doctor so it's pretty neat."

Even with systems costing tens of thousands of dollars, Steinhausen says that's not keeping farmers out of the technology game.

"Farmers are getting more and more technologically savvy that each penny or each couple of pennies per bushel makes a big difference."

Rob Jonelis came to the Expo in Omaha from Hutchinson, Kansas. He's trying to convince farmers to buy something from AgTrax Technologies. Jonelis says farmers can be just as cutting-edge when it comes to incorporating technology as any other industry.

"You'd be surprised even in this economy that there are some farmers that are so progressive and still looking to push forward. What we don't often realize is farmers and co-ops and these people involved in the agricultural business are very, very well off with cash flow and things of that nature. It just sort of depends upon their theory. Are they progressive? Are they wanting to invest their money? Are they wanting to put it back in savings? So it varies."

Back at Scott Richert's Seward County farm, he's incorporating technology to grow his operation. It's helping him meet the increasing demand for the corn and soybeans he produces and be a profitable enterprise at the same time.

"We've replaced labor with technology and equipment and machines get bigger and smarter so you can do more with less personnel."

Watch a video report on Richert's technology.

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