They farm 1,070 acres, no-tilling corn and soybeans on hillier, rocky ground and conventionally till the rich bottom ground in their Bark River Valley fields. In flood-prone areas near the river, they grow marsh hay for sale or as feed for their cattle herd.
“If we had our way, we would be totally into precision farming,” says Bruce. “It’s proven to us time and again that you drive much more accurately with guidance systems than without them.”
The Ehlers rely on simple Outback Guidance units that guide them while spraying, applying fertilizer, planting and occasionally, doing tillage.
“We have three Outback units. Our first model was an Outback S, which is now known as the Outback S-Lite. It is the simplest one that we use with the sprayer or fertilizer spreader,” Matt says. “We also have two Outback S2 units that we can use to fertilize, spray or till, although we don’t usually use them for tillage.”
The sprayer is also outfitted with a Raven SCS 440 Automatic Controller. “When it’s working, it is great, but its performance last year was erratic. We haven’t been able to figure out why it cuts in and out,” Bruce says. “Matt, who also works for a trucking company, is very familiar with this type of technology, and it’s frustrating when it doesn’t work right.” They appreciate the dealer’s efforts to replace suspected defective components, but they have yet to pinpoint the problem.
For planting, they have outfitted their John Deere 4960 with an Outback eDriveTC auto-steer package that’s controlled by one of the Outback S2 units. “It’s not sub-inch accuracy, but close enough for us. Besides, when we are planting contours, I prefer to use the row markers,” says Matt.
What Farmers Want From You is a series of farmer profiles that examine the scope of precision farming tools individual farmers are using on their operation, along with the frustrations that can occur with adopting new technology and how dealers can alleviate those "points of pain" for farm customers. For the latest additions to the series, visit our What Farmers Want From You feed.
The Ehlers are now looking to upgrade their simple, yet effective system in their combine. “We had an Ag Leader Integra monitor in our John Deere 9610 combine, but it fried somehow. We would like to replace it with an Ag Leader InSight unit that we could also share with our planter and then go with variable-rate planting and even fertilizer application,” Bruce says. “With the cost of seed and fertilizer, variable-rate is the way to go.”
Point of Pain: Lost Signals
On top of using Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) location from satellites, the units can also receive positioning information from their AgJunction GPS base station. “We are within 6-inch accuracy, which is good enough for us. We know we can’t drive that accurately,” says Matt.
Farming fields in the picturesque Kettle Moraine area of the state, fields are often small and usually lined with trees. That makes dropping location signals an all-too-common occurrence. “When we’re spraying along tree lines, we lose the signal for 4 or 5 minutes at a time. We expect that now, but one time we totally lost the signal on all units,” Bruce says. “We were at a loss as to why and we finally called the dealer. They told us that one of the satellites these units rely on went out.”
The Ehlers were told to reset the units so they could locate another set of satellites to draw a signal, but it took more than 20 minutes to reset.
“It would have been nice to know that was the problem in the first place and we would have if the dealer had called or contacted us,” Bruce says.