Top 10 precision ag mistakes

ADVICE FROM THE FIELD

MEET TIM NORRIS. He is the CEO of Ag Info Tech LLC, a precision technology and consulting business in Gambier, Ohio. Norris has been working with clients for 17 years, and in that time he has seen a lot of mistakes when it comes to precision agriculture. Many of those mistakes are often repeated, but they are avoidable.

PHOTO: TIM NORRIS, AG INFO TECH LLC.

“I’ve learned so much by talking to other precision ag service providers and listening to other farmers who have tried to implement technology, and I have a chance to give back and teach other people some things and have them learn from my mistakes,” says Norris. “I think that’s very beneficial. If I can share with you some of the things we have learned, hopefully you won’t have to make the same mistakes some of our growers have made.”

10. Thinking you can’t operate technology
“A lot of times I hear people say, ‘I’m 70 years old; I can’t learn how to run a computer in my tractor’. They feel they don’t want to try,” says Norris. “But a lot of times, if they do try, they learn that it’s not as hard as they think. At the end of the season, they think, ‘Wow, I’m so glad that I did this because it really did make me a lot more productive.’”

People do not give themselves enough credit when it comes to learning about technology, he says. Oftentimes, they struggle and then give up. When trying to learn new technology, Norris recommends keeping the end result in mind, then read the manual or watch an online tutorial if it is available. If all else fails, go to your local dealer and ask for help. Be sure to try the equipment out before you get into your fields. During the busier parts of the season – during planting, spraying and harvesting – help will not always be readily available.

9.  Buying out of convenience
Some producers buy precision ag equipment because it is either deeply discounted or it can be installed by the dealer that day. “Before you accept the offer, it is important to make sure that the technology will do what you want it to do,” says Norris. It may or may not be compatible with your current planter or sprayer. Ask questions, and think well into the future. Do you plan on installing drainage tile in the future?

8. Data overload
Sometimes growers overload themselves with too much information – yield maps, soil tests, field notes – but they have no idea what to do with it. Before gathering data, take some time to think. What do you want to learn? Start small, but keep the raw data for later use. Keep in mind that you can also hire someone to manage the data for you. And, most importantly, if you are not getting the information you want, ask for it.

7. Giving your data away
Do not give your data away, says Norris, at least not without a back-up. He has heard stories where the producer hands off his memory card to his seed dealer, and the seed dealer prints off his maps and then deletes the card. “If you hand that data over to somebody, keep the raw data. Don’t give that raw data away,” he warns. “Make sure you have a copy of it somewhere.”

6. Not starting with a plan
Before buying into it, you need to know what you want your precision technology to do. “I see people all the time that have invested in a light bar, but it won’t do swath control or RTK or even auto steering.” That is a problem, says Norris. “Know the limits of your system.”

5. Using multiple field & product names
“Too often we will look at a grower’s database and there are three different names for the same field or product,” says Norris. Unfortunately, this means that that data will be viewed as three different fields in the GIS. If this is already a problem, Norris recommends you can start with an empty GIS database, rename the fields, and then read the old data into the GIS. Some GIS systems actually have a “spatial sort” option, which is the best way to clean up old data. “The main thing is to make sure that all of the data is consistent.”

4. Calibrating improperly or not at all
Yield monitors must be calibrated each year and for each grain type. Remember, bad data in equals bad data out. Planter drives, row clutches and sprayers also need to be calibrated. Be sure to read your manual before you start. “The last thing you want to do is incorporate VRA seeding and have it be uncalibrated and not end up with the proper stand,” suggests Norris. Again, if you are not comfortable doing this yourself, you should hire someone to do it for you.

3. Waiting to start collecting data
“Once a crop is harvested, if you did not collect yield data, you can never get that information back,” says Norris. “Most people tell me that they wish they had started collecting yield data sooner.”

2. Choosing the wrong dealer
“We get customers all the time that have purchased equipment from dealers who can’t service them properly,” says Norris. “Check out the dealer before you buy equipment from them. This equipment is highly technical and can require a lot of service at times.” When looking for a good dealer, check to see if they have a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) or on-site agronomist. Ask if they offer installation. Will they train you on the new equipment? Do they have phone support? And, do they provide on-farm service, if necessary?

1. Forgetting good, sound agronomics
If you are going to implement a new practice, use test strips to make sure they are beneficial. “When we started to use the infrared sensors, I questioned the way that the sensors were applying the nitrogen, recalls Norris. The sensors wanted to put little or no nitrogen on the best corn and the most nitrogen on the poorer corn. I thought that this was the wrong approach.” After doing 11 test trials, Norris realized that he was wrong – every single time. “If we would have varied N just for the sake of varying N we would have cost our growers a lot of money,” he says. “Without the question and the test we would not have known.” •