Remember when you used only pencils and notebooks to share information? And you watched Walter Cronkite on the news. As we immerse ourselves in platforms like Twitter (or whatever it's called these days) with endless information, that feels like a distant memory. After a farm management system update, we yearn for simpler times without software upgrades. It’s tempting, isn’t it? Thinking about when we only aligned the tractor with the fence post and relied on the foam marker to keep a straight line. Although, if we did that, we’d lose agriculture technologies’ proven results. Let’s consider several agriculture equipment and technology advancements and how they’ve optimized operations.
Monitor Machines with In-Cab Displays: See Real-Time Work vs. Seeing Work Later
Remember those film cameras or, heaven forbid, those disposable ones? You'd point and cross your fingers, hoping the film would capture the scene. Then, weeks or months later, you'd nervously wait, praying the film hadn't endured extreme temperatures, X-rays, or some other rough treatment, only to discover Grandma blinked. Before machine monitoring and in-the-cab displays, we would plant our crop, and then we'd just…wait it out. If something went wrong with the planter setup, you'd only know when the crop finally emerged; by then, it was too late. But those “oops moments” are far less likely thanks to a farm management system.
Farm management technology allows us to access real-time data in the cab or from our phones or tablets. We can see potential issues within minutes of them popping up and adjust immediately instead of weeks later. Using these technologies, we can “fail fast” in other words, quickly cutting losses and pivoting to something else. This philosophy guides much of technology development and can also be applied to farming practices.
If we add sensors to our planter, we increase our confidence in that seed’s future growth when planting. These sensors create a “quality control map” in applying seed, allowing for a more refined view of our crop. They are only as profitable for you as the data you collect. During the National No-Till Conference, attendees discussed the future benefits of seeding populations and row width to create a cleaner field, leading to a profitable harvest. These discussions are only as profitable for you as the data you collect in the field and the management of every individual seed. While we will always plant and pray, this real-time insight allows us to plant, pray, and pivot, if necessary — for example, by adding more fertilizer mid-season.
Set Tractor’s ‘Cruise Control’
I had a co-worker at my first job who used to tell us about how he used to drive 1,500 miles from Alaska to Yakima, Wash., before cruise control. So, what did he do to reduce the strain on his foot? One wood block, one stick, and he would leverage it to match the speed he wanted to go. When asked if he thought this was unsafe, he explained the risk didn’t outweigh the simple luxury of cruise control. Through machine control technology like AutoTrac and AutoPath, farmers experience a suite of driving improvements to reduce physical strain on their bodies and plants.
AutoTrac's steering guides tractors along predetermined paths through GPS technology to reduce overlap with each pass. AutoPath uses data sets to show secondary field passes when planting, spraying or harvesting. While every operator can steer in a straight line, AutoTrac and AutoPath optimize movements to reduce input waste, which saves money and conserves resources, while also increasing operators’ comfort. For operators, this means not only a better work experience but also more decision-making power to dedicate to their kids with homework.
Farm Management System: Automate Data Collection for Decisive Action
Remember getting a letter? On a simple piece of paper, a person shared all their thoughts through writing, but you had to wait weeks to read them. Then, reply with your thoughts, hoping your point will still make sense later. Lick the stamp and wait. Today, we can’t imagine staying on important news, sharing vital insurance or lending documents, or rental payment plans, without the ability to reply and ask, “What did paragraph five mean?” For all of us, the ability to share info and talk about it within a couple of hours contributes to daily success.
Using a farm management system not only allows us to communicate faster but also make decisions based on accurate data. Unlike that trusty notebook and pen that can only capture static information, data stored in your system can be easily updated based on the real-time info you are automatically capturing.
One of my favorite examples of digital transformation involves a father and son who live 20 minutes apart from each other and used to do daily check-ins. The father's computer stored all the data fields, and any discussion over a specific data point occurred in his basement office. However, after switching to cloud-based software, the father and son can now view the same data fields from the comfort of their respective offices or the cab.
Data Management Software: Search Specific Data Points to Discern Insights
Now, remember how it used to be to order fertilizers? I have “X” acres, and the extension agent recommends “Y” pounds per acre, so I will order that. However, if last year hadn’t been that great of a year, would you still order Y pounds per acre? We live in an age where the proverb: “Waste not, Want not” is a fundamental rule. With data points we can collect about yields, we can pinpoint specific zones of the field that are more productive and perhaps may need less fertilizer. For example, if the under the shade of a tree retained more nutrients than soil without the shade, we can adjust the “Y” pounds per acre in that specific field’s zone, including the shady trees. As input costs increase, the ability to search particular data sets equals the ability to ensure we grow crops well into the future.
With software like John Deere’s Data Sync, farmers can share field maps, planting prescriptions, and harvest data to tractors enabled with John Deere Operations Center and in-cab displays. Farmers can also access data from their computer or tablet and query a database to compare results year-over-year instead of flipping through notebooks. With this software, farmers find results faster, facilitate better decision-making with operators and improve overall efficiency.
I’ve come across farmers who have lost packing contracts in the past. As a result, they need to ask many questions quickly to save a season. One of the questions they ask is: Which fields can I plant a different crop in without violating pesticide label issues? When using John Deere’s Work Analyzer in the Operations Center, farmers quickly access pesticide and application dates to discern the specific field zones, application type, date and much more information. Farmers with access to this information take decisive action and can protect their whole operation. These farmers have peace of mind to ensure they grow crops without violating any future contracts.
With connected machines, farm management systems, and software, Data Sync farmers can quickly query large data sets to take decisive action when it matters. That doesn’t mean going utterly paperless (if that is what’s easiest), but it means creating a backup in your farm management software to help manage data for vital decision-making.
As farmers, we value traditions and our shared commitment to grow crops to feed the world. The tools we use to do this may change, but the commitment stays the same. With a focus on progress, we can register for the new software classes and spend a few more moments learning the buttons in the tractor's display. By paying this extra attention, we discover solutions rather than what we expected: a possible frustrating delay. Just like the 1930s evolution to plant with tractors instead of horse-powered plows, we can understand that adapting at the moment may be difficult, but it's in-the-moment changes that we enter a new era where equipment technology and software are just as vital as pen and paper.