Unique Combination of Tech and Grit

September 26, 2015 02:40 AM

Early technology adoption gives profitable edge to Indiana grower

Joe Rush has watched a technological bullet train pull agriculture far beyond the initial breakthroughs of the computer age. However, Rush, 74, is no mere observer; he’s the exception that jumped on early and rode to success at Rush Farms, Walton, Ind. Whether 150 bu. or 250 bu. corn, Rush preaches profit—not yield. From acres to seed and inputs, he knows the precise cost to raise a bushel of corn down to the penny.

Curious about computer potential for agriculture, Rush’s zeal went well beyond the curve as he recognized technological change would snowball across the industry. “Most farmers weren’t as adept or even as inquisitive about computers as I was—and still am,” he says. “I never shied away from computer change, but many farmers did.”

Prior to computers, Rush was experimenting with precision agriculture, placing grid samples on a map before spreading lime. During application, he used a foot counter to measure the distance of the spreader truck and then adjusted rates manually. In 1995, he put a computer in the spreader truck and began working with Agri-Labs. “We created maps and put them in a computer to spread variable-rate potash with FM radio receiving a WAAS signal. Soon after, we digitized all our soil types,” Rush says.

In 1996, Rush started variable-rate  seeding and used his first yield monitor in 1997. “I love variable-rate seeding because we pick up yield and gain efficiency. We’re combining fields whether it’s a field I own or I rent and getting rid of turnrows,” he says. “We pull out the harvest data and trace the inputs back to individual fields that mark operational boundaries.”

Rush currently leases his equipment to Jon Guy, who custom farms Rush’s acreage. Rush has pared down his tractor time to work on computer tasks such as seeding maps. Throughout the years, he has collected a mass of data, which Guy is putting into action. They’ll plant corn in 2016 using five years of yield data to base decisions, particularly regarding seeding rates. 

Currently, Rush believes the most valuable technologies include auto shutoff on spraying and seeding as well as autosteer. However, software programs have become almost invaluable: “I’ve had so much success with MapShots. It is all web-based, and Jon and I can work on the program simultaneously. I build seeding maps and get him to take a look in real time whether I’m out of state or at home,” he says.

He plans to use the new AgStudio Select with AgStudio Notes on his iPad this year. A web-based browser version of the AgStudio products, Select provides mobile access to the databases in the field through tablet devices. With the Notes feature, he can grab a photo or make handwritten notes in the field and geo-tag them to a specific location.

During the offseason, Rush spends three months with his wife, Susie, in Florida and two weeks in Minnesota. A few years ago, the distance would have kept Rush from most farming activities, but technology has made leaps in the past decade. “Whether I’m pitching horseshoes in Florida or fishing in Minnesota, I don’t go far from my farm,” he says. He sells grain, makes maps, completes paperwork and sends files to Guy from his laptop or iPad. 

“How much do computers help agri-culture? It’s harder to put in dollar amounts than people want to admit. It’s a cumulative effect. Pay attention to the smallest bit of data on spending and return,” he says.

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