How Precision Ag Tools can Reduce Inefficiencies on your Farm

December 20, 2019

By Zach Gettman

No farmer wants to be inefficient in their operation. But if you’re not evaluating whether all aspects of your operation are optimized, then there are likely some areas where you could improve. Small improvements in efficiency add up over time, resulting in higher productivity, better yields, and stronger bottom lines.

While there are multiple ways a farm can improve efficiency, the adoption and use of precision technology is at the center of most of them. In fact, a study published in 2015 by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that 70% of respondents saw increased profits from the use of precision ag, with 42% crediting that result to increased efficiency and lower input costs.

Efficiency Saves Time

The challenge with efficiency is that it can be difficult to quantify. A farmer may not know they’ve been inefficient in an area of their operation until after a change is made.

For example, farmers may not have realized how inefficient their driving was until they adopted autosteer. I remember one of the stories the early developers told us about the first time they put a Trimble steering system on a customer’s tractor. When the customer reached the end of the field, he commented that he was able to fit in more swaths than ever before, thanks to the accuracy of autosteer.

This was because slight skips in the swaths took up more space in between passes when the farmer drove. While autosteer may not have saved the farmer hours and hours of time, he got more efficient use out of his field.

One operation that has seen significant time savings is Leo Dunne Ltd. The carrot farm in Ireland instantly saw they were covering more acres in an hour once they eliminated manual steering and headland turning. Farm manager Tim Davies estimated that the technology made them 20% more efficient.

Efficiency Reduces Costs

Being more efficient with your time also equates to less wear and tear on the equipment and greater fuel savings.

It can also reduce costs on inputs and prevent reduced yield.

For instance, one inefficiency in pesticide application is overlapping, which costs farmers not only in terms of the chemical wasted, but also yield if it burned the crop. Another inefficiency might be skips in the field, which would likely lead to greater chemical costs from attempting to control the increased weed pressure. There’s also the cost of lower yield as a result of those increased weeds.

Efficiency Increases Productivity

One common remark I often hear from farmers who use autosteer is how it lowered their stress levels and fatigue. Not only did the technology make their passes more efficient, it allowed them to focus their attention on the actual field task and make sure it was being accomplished efficiently. They could keep their eyes on more critical things in the cab and catch any problems before they turn into big issues and cause downtime.

This stress and fatigue reduction can, in turn, make them more efficient by allowing them to get more done in a day, which can be crucial when you have a time-critical task like planting.

Farmers can also use technology to help their workforce be more efficient. Employees that may not otherwise have the skills and experience to do certain field tasks can be trusted to get them accomplished because the technology is taking care of it — the employee can essentially supervise that everything is operating correctly. This not only ensures the operation is being done efficiently, but it frees up the farmer to do other tasks, which makes the entire workforce of the farm more efficient.

How to Increase Efficiency On Your Farm

One of the best ways to improve efficiency in your operation is to be on top of the season. Consider whether you, your employees, and your equipment are ready to go when the time to be in the field presents itself, whether that’s planting, spraying, harvesting, or another time-critical task in your operation.

If you’re thinking about whether to invest in new equipment or technology to increase your efficiency, evaluate whether it will fit your system. Are you willing to learn and make changes to become more efficient? If you’re not willing to use the technology to its fullest potential, it may not be worth investing in.

In fact, the biggest inefficiency I see on farms today is where they’re not leveraging the technology they already have. For example, you may have a spray controller on your sprayer, but you’re still making flat-rate applications instead of prescription-based ones. Look at what you’re currently using and ask yourself if there’s more you can be doing with it to be more efficient.

Don’t Overlook Data

Finally, while it’s important to examine field operations for inefficiencies, you shouldn’t neglect the inefficiencies that may be occurring outside of the field, especially with your data management.

While the task of moving data — whether it’s from machine to machine, machine to office, or office to machine — can feel like an inefficient use of time, proper data management and use can eliminate inefficiencies in the field. If you don’t study your data, you may not realize that an employee didn’t do an operation correctly. Or if you’ve misplaced data, you may not make a decision that would be the most efficient for your operation the following year.

As Michael Casey, general manager of Australian ag dealership Vantage NSW recently said, the cumulative effect of even small inefficiencies from inaccurate data year to year can be huge.

Be More Efficient with Trimble

With Trimble’s data management solutions, your data is automatically shared across all devices on your farm in real time, eliminating the inefficiencies of lost data and manual transfers, while our guidance displays will help you complete field applications quickly and efficiently. For more information, visit us today.