Agriculture is becoming more and more of a digital business.
Derek Kleve, an area crop specialist with Servi-Tech, says farming with data involves the act of "collecting data by using all of the latest GPS technology and other tools to better prepare and produce maximum yields on every acre.”
Farmer Chris Gaesser, 27, of Corning, uses technology to help him make decisions.
"We've always pretty much adopted [technology] as soon as it came out," Gaesser said. "We've had John Deere GreenStar stuff about ever since it came out. It just gets a little better all the time."
Gaesser uses, among other things, GPS, in-field trials, yield maps and the On-Farm Network, a program through the Iowa Soybean Association, to improve crop yields.
"Farming with data has many different aspects which go into it, beginning with fertility and seed planning," Kleve said. "In irrigated areas, probes go into the ground at different depths to measure the amount of water in the soil. ... When it comes to spraying the crop, most farmers use an agronomist who will look at the crop [and] identify the problem at hand."
Yield monitors in tractors and combines allow farmers to create a map and see problem areas in a field. The monitors also control other things.
"Tractors pretty much drive themselves anymore," Gaesser said. “They monitor everything that goes on: seeding rates, on the sprayer it levels the booms for you ... automatic shut-offs on everything."
Another technology tool, soil sampling, provides farmers with information to apply nutrients where needed, and not apply any where nutrient levels are sufficient.
Jerry Hatfield is laboratory director and supervisory plant physiologist with the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa,.
"We want to minimize the offside movement,” he said. “And so when we start thinking about farming with data, we want to capture as much of those nutrients [without] having a negative impact on the rest of the ecosystem."
Other assets farmers use include seed salesmen, equipment dealers, independent consultants and the Internet.
Like Gaesser, farmers can get technical help through their implement dealers, employees of ISA, as well as other places.
"Each year more farmers are realizing the benefits and value of knowing how they can better their operation and the use of the data they collect on their own farms to increase profits with tight margins," Kleve said.
Gaesser's use of technology has been advantageous to the farm. For example, nitrogen trials allow him to be more efficient in nitrogen use, and GPS "saves us at least 10 percent in input costs across the board," he said.
"The information collected and used is making an impact on the environment, [such as] using less fertilizer, chemicals, saving fuel, just to name a few," Kleve said, "and in the end providing the farmer with a profit on their investment."