Data Drives Decisions On the Go

October 8, 2018 09:54 AM
Tim Eike

Sitting at home, at a ballgame or in the grain truck, Steve Moffitt keeps a watchful eye on harvest. App technology allows him to “see” each combine at work, the information flowing into the cab and who’s driving, from anywhere. With several employees and moving pieces, knowledge like this helps him manage logistics for an efficient harvest.

From the ground up, Moffitt and his brothers-in-law Scott Mundhenke and Tim Eike use technology to guide and track decisions from planting to marketing their crop. The four main technology tools they use to make decisions are: My John Deere, Climate FieldView, AgYield and ADM Investor Services.

Before grasping the power of technology, their harvest and planting data sat hostage on USB drives. Now the trio use that information to drive decisions, starting with seed selection.

“Today we’re using Seed Advisor by Climate Corporation, which tracks our data to help us pick the right products for the right field,” Moffitt says. “They use what they know about hybrid history to tell us the best hybrid for the field and give us density maps to best plant that field.”

Because hybrids only stay on the market for about three or four years, Moffitt says the information provided by breeding companies can help guide his success better than even his own side-by-side research. For example, when a hybrid performs well one year, he’ll typically plant it to more acres in subsequent years. However, this year Seed Advisor advised him to plant a newer hybrid instead—and combines are proving that was a good move. A field he planted to the older hybrid right across the road didn’t yield as well as the hybrid recommended by Seed Advisor.

During the growing the season, monitoring available nitrogen helps determine sidedress rates. This year, they’re also part of a testing program for a new tool that alerts them on disease risk and treatment.

Grain marketing tools keep current prices at farmers’ fingertips. Eike takes the lead on marketing and does much of it from the tractor or combine seat.

“We got hooked up with AgYield market advisory company about a year and a half ago, and they help us with some of our marketing,” Eike says. AgYield is a free app that updates live futures every 10 minutes and shows a farmer’s current market positions. It also gives notifications when there’s a marketing opportunity based on parameters the farmer has outlined. Using AgYield, Eike is able to track profit and loss in real time based on his cost of production, yields and current grain prices.

To manage market contracts, he turns to ADM Investor Services, which costs $165 per month for the desktop version and an additional $60 for the app.

The AgYield and ADM platforms sync for seamless data transfer, which results in timely information that helps guide marketing decisions—and ultimately their bottom line.

“I saw it put like this ‘a man who knows his breakeven and doesn’t sell above has no advantage over a man who doesn’t know his breakeven,’” Eike says. “If I know where I’m at every day and can change my yields in the app, I know whether or not I can sell at today’s market or if I need to put in an offer at a different level.”

Moffitt and Eike can store 100% of their grain on-farm using bins and bags. Eike contracts throughout the season and has already arranged most of their deliveries for November through March.

“The apps have helped us quite a bit—anywhere from $20 to $100 per acre difference,” Eike says. “It makes it really convenient to track what we’re doing, but when it comes down to it it’s still our decision.” 

4 Easy Ways to Use Precision Technology

Many of the farmers Aaron Bobeck works with see an ROI from using precision technology. But he also encounters some who are on the verge of calling it quits because they’ve been burned by expensive products or services that didn’t deliver what they promised.

If you land in the frustrated camp, there are ways you can reboot. Bobeck, who farms 1,800 acres in north-central Indiana and works as a precision technology consultant, recommends the following:

1. Take stock of the precision tools you own. Evaluate whether you use all the existing features to their full advantage.

“Most everyone has auto-steer but they don’t necessarily use it on end rows,” Bobeck says. “Field boundaries are something I think everybody still struggles with as well, especially farmers who have multiple crop types in one field, which can create challenges with software. I’ve got quite a few guys who don’t have fence rows between fields. We’ve gone as far as sharing guidance-line information between neighboring farmers to lay a straight line and get as close to that field boundary as possible, and not let the weeds grow where the crop doesn’t.”

2. Consider how you use your yield monitor. If calibrating your yield monitor is a challenge, Bobeck advises systems that help automate calibrations such as John Deere’s Active Yield and Precision Planting’s YieldSense.

Some farmers, Bobeck advises, should consider investing in a tech expert. That includes those who rarely use their yield data because they’re not set up to handle it and those who see their data as a treasure trove but need help unlocking its potential.

3. Document processes. The majority of the questions Bobeck receives have to do with fundamentals that don’t change year-to-year. “Document how you use tools, so you know how to use them the next year,” he advises. Make a checklist that tells you the order of the buttons to push on a tool or take a picture of the settings on the screen and then organize that information into folders on Google Drive or Dropbox.

4. Consider new tools or practices with little cost but big value. For instance, Bobeck says putting a GPS receiver on the planter is useful, especially if you farm uneven terrain. “Every subsequent pass with a sprayer or sidedress bar is going to benefit,” he says.

Video surveillance allows you to remotely watch and record what’s going on around your farm. Cameras cost up to $500. Avoid most of the cloud-based options because they use your internet upload bandwidth and carry recurring fees, he says.  —Rhonda Brooks


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