In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
You're Never Done Paying for Technology
May 01, 2012
Technology such as auto-steering systems is seductive. Beyond nice, straight rows, auto-steer reduces stress and makes farming fun. But fun is never free, and many farmers have discovered that purchases like auto-steer, row shut-offs on planters, boom section shutoffs on sprayers and other electronic wizardry are not one-time-and-done purchases.
GPS technology is not only expensive to buy, but it's expensive to maintain and REALLY expensive to repair. Many farmers assumed that once they purchased auto-steer and other electronic gadgetry, it would be like when their dad or grandfather bought their first fender-mounted AM/FM radio--bolt it on and it worked peachy every time the switch was clicked "on," with no upkeep aside from replacing the coil spring on the base of the antenna every year or two.
Modern technology is "high-maintenance." GPS-based systems often require annual contracts to access orbiting satellites and/or land-based sources of positioning signals. Aside from satellite "feeds," high-tech systems often benefit from annual software upgrades, which may or may not be available for free. Sometimes those software upgrades must be downloaded into processors by dealership techs, and there's usually a fee associated with dealership personnel setting foot on a farm.
Speaking of the cost of having a tech merely touch a machine brings up the price of having high-tech systems diagnosed and repaired. Sometimes it's scary-simple to diagnose those computerized systems---the system does self-diagnosis, pinpoints what's ailing itself, and the tech merely has to plug in a new component and all is well. Other times...well, sometimes it takes hours, even days, to chase down the gremlins within those mysterious boxes and endless wiring harnesses.
And that doesn't cover the cost of the parts necessary to make repairs once they're diagnosed. A simple computer "board" can cost hundreds of dollars. A self-contained processor (computer) is rarely less than $1000. Anybody who ever smacked a satellite receiver globe on a low machine shed door, or cleaned it off the tractor cab against a tree branch, knows those things easily chew multi-thousand dollar holes in checking accounts.
There's no way to say this without sounding borderline snotty, but the truth is this: if you want to have auto-steer and all those other high-tech systems, and enjoy their benefits, it's going to be expensive. Expensive to buy, expensive to maintain, expensive to repair. Wonderful to own, fun to operate, but...expensive. If you choose to dance to the siren song of high-technology, be sure you're mentally prepared to pay the piper.