Trent Sanderson came back to the family farm after graduating college in 2011, and one of the first things he did was to dive into the data collected over the years from the operation’s precision equipment. He farms with his grandfather, father and uncle near Clare, Ill.
“People have the impression that our area is all flat and black, but we have only one field that is anything close to square, and much of it has slopes,” says Sanderson.
Strip-tillers since 2007, the Sandersons rely on their John Deere dealer’s RTK signal for strip-till, planting and spraying operations. They use a Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) signal for harvest.
They apply a custom blend of fertilizer based on field soil tests and yield goals on a field-by-field basis. Their Deere 2510S strip-till unit has mini mole knives and applies a liquid fertilizer blend 6 inches deep supplied by the 2,000 gallon tender that follows the strip-till bar.
“We have the strip-till bar set up in four sections across the 12-row bar for variable-rate fertilizer, but we aren’t quite there yet with our data to make that transition,” Sanderson says.
They strip-till in the fall or the spring, but are looking more closely at spring strip-till because they can apply fertilizer closer to the time the crop needs it.
Points of Pain: Dirty Data and Tardy Software Update Advisories
Sanderson has developed a side business out of cleaning up field data for more accurate interpretation. “I’ve started with our operation and now offer the service to others,” he says. “When we get the data clean enough, we’ll be able to do prescription fertilizer and seeding rates.”
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.
But one of the challenges is making sure the data is useable. He cites four main sources of “dirty data:”
• Poorly calibrated equipment. “This applies mainly to yield monitors. No one wants to calibrate them more than once a year, but we see too much variability. The only way you can be sure it’s correct is to double check it with weigh wagons. Only then do you know what’s actually going into the bin and at what moisture,” he says.
• Equipment malfunctions. “When farmers forego tracking data because of an equipment malfunction in the interest of getting the crop in or out, it makes it impossible to take the next step of data analysis,” Sanderson says.
• Incompatible data. “When you upgrade from one system to another, data may not flow from one system to another. It can usually work with the new system if you know what you’re doing,” he says.
• Running more than one machine per field. “We had four different combines run across a section. Even though they were calibrated to the manufacturer’s specification, they weren’t consistent. Their colored maps matched up, but yield data didn’t. I think it’s best to use one machine, calibrate it, then use that data for greater consistency,” he says.
Sanderson is satisfied with the RTK signal from their Deere dealer. It’s a 450 mHz signal instead of a 900 mHz signal.
“The 450 mHz signal seems to blow through trees and hills and we don’t lose it,” Sanderson says. “Plus, our GreenStar 2630 controller won’t shut off auto-steering if the signal drops; it simply picks up the next best signal until the RTK signal reappears. I like that.”
Finally, Sanderson would like faster notification about software upgrade issues. They had one bad experience this spring with section control timing.
“A software upgrade created problems, and it wasn’t until we started asking questions that we found it was a known issue,” he says. “Dealers and companies can do a much better job of telling us about these problems and how to fix them.”