Panel reviews experiences with precision ag equipment

Staff Writer

PRINCESS ANNE, Md. (Aug. 25, 2015) — James Adkins had two words of advice for farmers looking to get into precision agriculture.
Start small.
“I don’t think it’s something you want to jump in with both feet,” the associate scientist in bioresources engineering at the University of Delaware Extension told a room full of farmers this month.
Adkins was one of a group of five Eastern Shore farmers assembled for the University of Maryland Extension’s MidAtlantic Precision Agriculture Equipment Field Day at the Princess Anne Civic Center on Aug. 5. He suggested starting with something relatively simple such as a lightbar system or auto steer — a sentiment echoed by the other farmers.
Wicomico County farmer Daniel Rayne said he loves using an auto steer system and the swath control on his sprayer that saves on inputs.
“If you ever let a computer do it, you’ll fall in love with it,” he said.
Automated systems also help the farmer conserve energy, Somerset County farmer Brian Johnson said. He said auto steer gives him more time to monitor his planter, and he’s become dependent on his GPS system.
“If it quits, I quit,” he said.
Yield maps can also help a farmer investigate field issues such as manure application that affect the pocketbook, Rayne said.
“You’ll see different things (in the maps) that cost you money. You’ll see different things that make you money,” he said.
While most of the farmers on the panel were relatively young, older farmers can pick up an aptitude for precision farming tools, Somerset County farmer Shane King said, such as his father. But Adkins warned older farmers not to get “click-happy” when tinkering with an issue such as calibrations in the yield monitor for moisture.
“Once you get it set up, the biggest thing is to leave it alone,” he said. “There’s less that we can do to fix this than you used to.”
That’s one of reasons Rayne said he pays for John Deere’s 24-hour, on-call support.
When asked what they would do to improve precision agriculture equipment, Adkins suggested a big need to improve connectivity between different brands of equipment.
Looking to the future, the panel agreed that software was most likely to trump hardware and equipment in agriculture because of its ability to inform a farmer’s decisions.