If you want to know how technology is changing Georgia’s farms, look no further than the driver’s seat on today’s farm equipment.
Just a generation ago, farm machine steering depended entirely on the operator. Global positioning technology fundamentally changed that.
“GPS steering systems increased machine efficiency, made input application more efficient and helped bring down the stress on the operator,” says Eric Hansotia, AGCO senior vice president.
Equipment companies have been fine-tuning GPS-guided auto steering for the past 20 years. A big benefit: helping farmers avoid overlap in field operations.
“Overlap is not too big a deal if you’re mowing your lawn,” Hansotia says. “But in the farm field, it can increase the amount of inputs used and increase soil compaction.”
Auto steering has a great benefit to the operator, too, says Dusty Engel, a Burke County native who supervises precision agriculture technologies at Lasseter Tractor, a John Deere dealership.
“Steering technology lets the operator monitor the equipment, without also having to worry about where they are going,” Engel says.
Technology that developed as equipment companies fine-tuned steering systems took farm management a step further.
“Sensors on harvesters measure yield and moisture – now in realtime,” Hansotia says. “That data becomes the foundation for farmers to determine what causes variation in yield.”
Dusty Engel says variable-rate planters now adjust seed populations on the go, based on soil fertility and past yield history. A big help for environmental stewardship; if one part of a field is more deficient in a nutrient than another, fertilizer rates are adjusted to reflect soil needs. That avoids overapplying nutrients and potential runoff. First popular with peanut and cotton farmers, Engel says Georgia vegetable growers are now quickly adopting variable-rate technology.
While technology started with steering, the machine’s computer systems now converge in the cab.
“Farm equipment has progressed to where the technology is integrated throughout the tractor,” says Richard Carver, vice president of sales for AIMTRAC, a Case IH dealer. “You can control a multitude of different functions right from the cab.”
Today’s technology also allows farms to combine data from different machines; machines “talk” to each other. That means a harvesting machine can interface with the grain cart where the combine will unload, as well as the dryer or bin where the grain is headed. Machines communicating with each other help the farmer avoid delays during the time-sensitive harvest season.
Wireless transmission of data from farm machines is the next chapter of precision agriculture technology.
“This is called telematics – the ability to remotely pull data off the machines,” says Hansotia. “It will fundamentally make precision agriculture easier.”
Data transmission also makes operating the machine easier. Carver, who grew up on a family farm in Moultrie, remembers when unclogging a combine was a manual, messy job. The combines he sells today can clear clogs mechanically. And on cotton pickers, there are several spots on the machine the operator used to have to get down from the cab to check.
“Now cameras relay video to a monitor in the cab,” he says. “The technology is all about decreasing downtime and increasing efficiencies.”
More efficient machines mean decreasing operator fatigue – meaning operators can spend more hours comfortable during planting and harvest. And with the capacity to monitor more and more parts of the farming operation right from the tractor cab, that’s a welcome development.
“Farmers can now truly do precision ag,” says Hansotia. “And they’re going to have to do precision ag to get the world fed.”