September 14, 2018

Technology in the field: What’s new and who has adapted?

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Photo via: Darrin Schmidt through the 2018 #BredtoWin contest

What are you reading this article on right now? Are you scrolling through your smartphone while on the combine, or sitting in front of a desktop at home? Like our day-to-day technology, updates around the farm are ever-changing. But getting on board with new technology is different for everyone — especially if you’ve been in the business for a while.

In part one in our series on technology, we get the lowdown on the types of technology making waves in the industry and who has started to adopt it.

Only a generation ago, wheat farming was an entirely different affair. “My grandpa used to seed a bushel and a peck per acre,” said Rob Eggert, who grows wheat in northwest Minnesota.  Now, Rob plants based on seed count, adjusting by variety and conditions to optimize yield performance. Rob has grown wheat his whole life, carrying on the family tradition that his grandfather passed down to his own father. Even with only a generation between Rob and his grandparents, he says the advancements that have been made in farming are staggering: “It blows their minds,” said Rob.

Modern efficiencies have indeed changed the face of the wheat industry. We may take for granted that our combines are able to tackle acre upon acre, clearing a field in a day. According to Rob, that same amount of work would have taken his grandfather the entire fall. “My grandpa, when he started, was running one bundler and a threshing machine. And now we're taking 40 feet straight through a combine,” said Rob.  

These high-powered equipment updates brought along the capability for farmers to customize practices based on their acres. Rather than planting and harvesting seed the same way year after year that was typical of Rob’s grandfather, modern advancements allow farmers to seed based on seed count and adjust by the acre in order to optimize yield performance. These seemingly small updates make a powerful impact.

Even more impactful than these added mechanical efficiencies, and certainly appearing more futuristic to an older generation, are the technological tools that have developed. Digital agriculture is making waves and allowing farmers to collect, store and analyze field data at the tips of their fingers.  

According to Ryan Weber, WestBred® wheat regional commercial manager, new digital technology is an exciting advancement for growers. Ryan says he’s just now seeing farmers start to incorporate Climate FieldView™ platform onto their operations. “Growers are experiencing the technology and seed, and they're also able to understand what technology is doing for their farm,” said Ryan. “Being able to quantify what their farm is doing based on data is starting to pick up and it’s exciting to see.”

Rob says this digital technology is helping on his operation as well. While the technology of his grandparents’ days lended itself to viewing the operation as a whole, current technology allows Rob to tackle his farm on an acre-by-acre basis. Rob has occasionally incorporated drones and uses satellite imagery to help him track each acre. “Crop monitoring is big; between satellites and yield health imagery, you can really watch how your crop progresses,” said Rob. Finally, Rob says the technological evolution of the seed allows him to customize varieties to the exact needs of his operation. “Instead of just buying one thing and planting it across the farm, you now can really hone in on what that one variety can do for you and put it on the acre where it's going to perform best,” said Rob.

As with any new advancements, there are bound to be those hesitant to change. It’s is a tough decision: Do you stick with the way things have always been done or do you try something new? Rob says he sees this battle between old and new ways in his retail business. “We deal with a lot of fathers and sons, and the new generation is fully easing in on the advancements that come on the farm,” said Rob. It makes sense. Just think about teaching your own parents how to use the latest technology. Now think about convincing your parents they can’t live without said technology. Ryan says he notices the same trend in his region. “I think it's typical generation gap,” said Ryan. “It's different and it's going to take time to accept it. It’s a learning curve.”

It’s easy to see how these new technologies available now can be overwhelming. Rapid advancements from one generation to the next may increase productivity and profitability, but only if you’re willing to submit that learning curve. There’s something to the phrase, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” but there’s also something to the mind-blowing nature of the technology that now drives the wheat industry.

How are you adopting new technologies onto your wheat acres? Do you prefer to stick to what’s always worked or are you the first to jump at a new innovation? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or drop us an email at the.tiller@westbred.com, and check back next month as we continue our series on technology in the field.

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