Rick DeGroote, and his father, Duane, farm 23,000 acres in 5 counties in northeast and north central Iowa. Growing corn and soybeans that are either no-tilled and conventionally tilled, depending on the field, the farm team relies primarily on John Deere equipment for all tillage, spraying, planting and harvesting.

Each unit is outfitted with a Green Star 2630 monitor that follows a StarFire 2 signal. Although DeGroote hasn’t made the investment in RTK-level accuracy, he notes that technology obsolescence can be a deciding factor when considering an update or upgrade.

“Take globes, for example. It seems they are good for only so long,” he says. “Over time, system updates are added and about every five or six years, they are obsolete and have to be changed out.

“Fortunately, the guidance system pencils out for us. We’ve seen great savings in fertilizer and tillage and fatigue is less of a factor especially at planting. We don’t even have row markers on three of our planters.”

Fields are either disc-ripped or just disced in the fall, depending on the rockiness of the field. In the spring, the DeGrootes or the local co-op apply phosphorous (P) and potassium (K), then knife in anhydrous ammonia.

Closer to planting, they apply 60 units per acre of UAN and work it in with a field cultivator pass. Then some fields will be sidedressed with additional anhydrous.

“We think this puts nitrogen near the seed and then as the roots grow, they can tap into the nitrogen applied as anhydrous,” DeGroote says. “We are trying to apply the fertilizer closer to planting.”

To plant corn, the DeGrootes run 4 planters in the spring —  two 48-row, Deere DB120 machines, one 32-row DB80 unit with electric drives and one 16-row 1700. Soybeans are planted with two 47-row DB60 60-foot planters on 15-inch centers.  

The DeGrootes have experimented with variable-rate planting, but haven’t captured any economic advantage from it, yet. In 2018, they are participating in the Seed Advisor program through Monsanto.

“We share our field and yield data with Monsanto and they run that data through an algorithm that recommends corn hybrids,” DeGroote says. “This fall, the yield data will be collected and should produce additional insights and hopefully, greater yields.”

Point of Pain: Simplifying, Validating Data

With conventional tillage, fertilizer applications and planting across 23,000 acres, the DeGrootes rely on 33 full-time employees to help them get across all of the acres.

“We have operators who are really tech-savvy, while others still are using flip-phones,” DeGroote says. “The monitors must be ‘Fisher-Price simple’ to operate, otherwise, the operators won’t use them. We have the Climate Corp.’s FieldView app installed on iPads in each cab that pick up data via a Bluetooth connection from the tractor’s CAN Bus. But if that data is not accurate, what are you gaining?”

Each harvest season, the yield monitors are calibrated, but the DeGrootes also run every load across grain scales to double-check yield results. DeGroote says his precision farming experience with his Deere dealer has been a good one, but he can be frustrated with the GreenStar system’s inability to make yield data coming from different combines working in the same field

“One issue we have with our yield monitors is if two combines are working in the same field, they don’t talk with each other, so the yield data has to be combined,” he says. “Deere says they are working on this, but it creates lot of work by hand to merge the yield data into something useful. Is there value in data? Only if it is accurate.”