From Cal Dalton’s commanding seat in the combine, a high- tech screen flashes localized information, making his farming more efficient.
GPS, or global positioning system, satellites communicate with his combine to display site-specific corn yields on the in-cab computer screen, logging an impressive average of 289 bushels of corn per acre for one of his fields. Altogether, his cornfields averaged about 200 bushels per acre in 2016 – a record for his farm.
Dalton says technology, from seed to equipment, greatly contributes to his award-winning yields. He uses computer-generated prescriptions to plant biotech seeds with GPS at variable rates across the field.
The signals guide auto shutoffs on the planter to reduce seed overlap during planting. Technology in his sprayer ensures a consistent pesticide application rate per acre, regardless of speed.
He grows corn, soybeans and hay, and raises beef cattle near Endeavor, where he continues the farming tradition of his grandparents, great-grandparents and the state.
“Technology has allowed us to produce more yield and better quality crops than we’ve done even in our own generation,” says Dalton, a repeat corn yield contest winner for the Juneau/Adams/Marquette County region of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association competition. “I think technology has allowed farmers to work longer, better and smarter.”
Wisconsin ranks among the top 10 corn-growing states, producing more than 573.1 million bushels of corn for grain in 2016.
GPS contributed to those bushels. Farmers throughout Wisconsin use it to pinpoint soil nutrient needs within fields and map yield by location. They may plant, fertilize or spray in varying quantities across a field using GPS signals that map down to sub-inch accuracy. On some farms, the technology allows farmers to steer tractors hands-free.
“My grandfather would be totally amazed if he were riding in the combine with me today,” Dalton says. “He would be amazed with all the computers we have in the new tractors and the size of them.”
Farming the Future
Evolving farm technology generates staffing and training demands for farm equipment dealerships like Service Motor Co. The Wisconsin-based family corporation, in business since 1916, has beefed up its precision farming department’s staffing and support in the last decade, says Kevin Sommer, vice president of sales and a fifth-generation owner.
“We have had to invest, train and embrace the precision farming side of the business,” he says. “With GPS in a lot of tractors, we’ve had to staff and train for it. It’s a three-year training process to ensure we have someone who has the knowledge to support that side of the business.”
The dealership’s sales staff, parts representatives and service technicians also must embrace and understand new farm technology. As a result, Service Motor Co. maintains a partnership with Fox Valley Technical College, based in Appleton, to train prospective employees.
The ongoing relationship helps shape qualified technicians to service the increasingly high-tech equipment Service Motor sells. The family business provides equipment for classroom use, and also offers students internship programs as well as tuition and tool reimbursement opportunities.
“With technology that keeps enhancing, it’s a different level of technicians we are looking for as we embrace the use of computers to diagnose tractors,” Sommer says. “It’s important we partner with the college so that students know there is a career path and option with Service Motor Co.”
According to Dalton, it’s important for farmers to keep on top of technology and trends.
“I think you never stop learning. If you do, then you might as well retire,” he says. “I try to make it a point to go to at least four to five farm shows per year to keep up with the technology, because
it changes so fast.”