Farm Inventor Goes Digital DIY

December 2, 2016 02:14 AM
 
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Jim Poyzer connects new technology and older equipment

When a farmer looks at shiny new farm equipment and can’t tell the difference between a price tag and a toe tag, expect innovation to emerge. With equipment and technology costs hanging like the sword of Damocles over many producers, Jim Poyzer is crafting backyard digital solutions with a keyboard and hammer in hand. Necessity is the mother of agricultural invention and Poyzer, 66, is one of its patron saints. 

He might be in the old guard age bracket, but make no mistake, Poyzer is among a new breed of innovators connecting digital DIY technology to older equipment. Born into a farming family in central Iowa, Poyzer left for training in electrical engineering, emerged with a degree in physics and spent a long career in computer development and programming for big store chains. In 2010, the family land was sold and the profit split between Poyzer and his siblings. He took his share and bought 180 acres close to his home in Ankeny, Iowa. Almost 45 years after walking away, Poyzer jumped back into farming with a lifetime of digital knowledge under his hat.

He bought a small tractor and other equipment and filled in the knowledge gap with advice from a farming brother-in-law and cousins. Chemicals, equipment, seeds and more—Poyzer was learning or relearning what other farmers take for granted. 

Poyzer quickly became familiar with the row-monitoring capability of Precision Planting’s 20/20 SeedSense and Ag Leader’s SeedCommand. “I knew the electronics on a planter,” he says. “It’s just an LED light with a receiver on the other end sending a signal up to the computers of these companies. I said, ‘I think I can do that.’”

Poyzer wasn’t intent on building a better mousetrap; he wanted to build the right mousetrap for his needs at a fraction of the premium cost. Simply, he spent $300 and used a microprocessor to build his own planter monitor for a 1969 John Deere 7000 tractor with adjustable corn meters. 

He devised a control box that hooked to the planter and watched for signals to arrive from each row sensor. The data was sent to a laptop and ran through a program designed by Poyzer. On the first test run, he was able to observe the planting progression of all rows on the screen simultaneously. “I got out of the cab 25 times, adjusting the planter and making improvements immediately,” he says. “I knew it was already making me money.”

Over the next three years, Poyzer continuously moved the system toward a tablet platform and made it stronger to compare with market models. In the spring of 2015, he began experimenting with variable-rate technology to compensate for sandy areas of lower production in his fields. Poyzer wrote a GPS-responsive program for a Duo-Rate device capable of planting populations according to prescription. “I estimate I’m saving $1,000 on seed every year and right now, that’s a significant amount to me,” he says.

When farmer Randy Brekke heard about the DIY planter monitor, he had Poyzer build a twin. On a $100 tablet, he says the system is seamless. 

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Brekke, who grows corn and soybeans near Ames, Iowa, says Poyzer is at the edge of approaching change. “Jim is one of the first farmers to mix a tablet and smartphone with my equipment,” he says. “There are lots of guys who want to make these  types of changes, particularly on older farm equipment.”

Design and innovation are in many farmers’ blood. Even as a child, Poyzer constantly hammered and sawed on backyard projects and the urge to tinker never left him. Beyond the planter monitor, he’s working on a solar-powered sensor to monitor soil temperature and get a jump on planting. However, the parts are buried on his workbench beneath a host of IoT projects. He’s just scratched the surface on a microcomputer with built-in cellular technology that allows plug-and-play of crop sensors and streaming of data to his smartphone. “These types of changes are going to save farmers money in the long run,” Poyzer says. “IoT technology is beginning to bear fruit everywhere.”

Poyzer is also tackling harvest issues. He uses an 8-row planter, but his crops are combined by 12-row heads. The difference requires precise planting on the 30" rows, but despite using auto-steer, the GPS signal sometimes slightly changes on turnarounds and affects row spacing. Rather than pay for a new corn header, he’s crafting a solution for just several hundred dollars. Essentially, Poyzer is building his own base station to send a GPS correction factor to his tractor.

Neighbor Bryon Westrum, who farms corn and soybeans and leases several hog barns, says Poyzer’s innovation is driven by cost concerns. Westrum strictly adheres to a fleet of used equipment and mixes, matches or tinkers as needed. 

“He does such a great job in finding technology to substitute for more expensive units,” he says. “Once Jim figures out a device, then he integrates into it more things.”

Agriculture is at the forefront of a DIY jump in electronic technology. Young producers are particularly primed to soak up ideas, Westrum says. “These young guys are already well-versed in the technology. The more this stuff gets out there, the better it will be for all farmers,” he adds.

Poyzer’s website (www.outfarming.com) displays his latest innovations, and he hopes to add drone technology to his project list. With the eyes of a computer technician, he says the future is full of potential. 

“The pace of change is simply incredible,” Poyzer says. “The tech is changing so fast that things are becoming available I never would have dreamed of even two years ago.”  

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