Tech Toolshed

One-stop education shop helps farmers make better decisions and improve their bottom line.

Tom Oswald of Cleghorn, Iowa, can pull up field and yield maps anytime on his iPad to help make management decisions. (Progressive Farmer image by Matthew Wilde)

Tom Oswald believes precision agriculture pays but thinks it's nice to have the yield monitor verify it.

Soybeans averaging 64.5 bushels per acre (bpa) poured into Oswald's combine grain tank as he harvested a 65-acre field last fall that was known for drowned-outs. GPS coordinates and yield mapping allowed the Cleghorn, Iowa, farmer to precisely bury a string of tile the previous year to better drain several chronic wet areas that would have produced little to nothing in many areas.

"That's probably hundreds of bushels I would not have got given the wet spring and early summer," says Oswald as he wrapped up soybean harvest in mid-October. "That's not counting the hassle factor of farming around wet areas. Let's face it, if you can reduce that, it will improve your quality of life.

"That's the point about using technology," he continues. "The Tech Toolshed is available to help farmers who don't know where to start."

The United Soybean Board (USB) created the Tech Toolshed website (www.unitedsoybean.org/techtoolshed) to assist farmers as they continue to adopt ag technology. The goal is to help producers make better decisions, boost efficiency, decrease inputs, increase yields, become more sustainable and improve their bottom line.

Precision agriculture and data-management use has exploded since the early 1990s, according to USB officials. But, that doesn't mean all farmers embrace it or utilize both to its full potential.

The online resource -- created at the behest of USB directors -- can help producers maximize technology they currently have, integrate new technology and manage the vast quantity of data and data services available.

"It was constructed to be a one-stop shop of unbiased information and technology," says Timothy Venverloh, USB vice president of sustainability strategy. "It's kind of the wild wild west right now. It can help farmers sort things out."

Topics include:

> aerial imagery

> enterprise resource data management

> expert commentary

> GPS

> prescription software

> real-time kinematic (RTK)

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> sensors

> soil sampling

> variable-rate technology

> weather data

> yield monitor

FARMER FOCUSED

The Tech Toolshed features experts -- farmers, academics and industry organizations -- from across the country who provide actionable insights pertaining to precision agriculture. Oswald's blog describes his adoption of precision agriculture since the late 1990s and integrating newer technology alongside existing equipment to boost productivity.

"It's not that you have to go buy the latest and greatest technology," Oswald says. "My philosophy is to maximize the equipment you have."

The USB director's 9-year-old Case IH combine is full of technology. It's not all new or fully integrated, but it does the job.

A portable DigiFarm Beacon uses a cellular connection to stream RTK data to a Trimble CFX-750 display, which includes GPS guidance, mapping and yield-monitoring capabilities. That controls the Trimble EZ-Steer, a nonintegrated device that uses a friction wheel and a motor to keep the combine on course. The Trimble CFX-750 also feeds GPS data to a Case IH Pro 750, which interfaces with the combine and records important data and maps to use for future management decisions.

The technology enables Oswald to track production, improve efficiency, reduce stress during long workdays and put more money in his pocket. Examples weren't hard to provide:

> Good production records thanks to yield maps provided needed documentation to get a $1,000 refund on corn seed recently when a specific hybrid's emergence and stand rates were far below expectations.

> A yield map last fall showed the effectiveness of a fungicide treatment on a 50-acre soybean field affected with white mold. Fungicide trial strips showed less-affected areas averaged 70 bpa versus 30 bpa in harder-hit areas.

"I'm already working on a treatment plan and strategy for the next time the field is in soybeans," Oswald says. "I can't give up yield like that. That's the value of technology."

INFORMATION UPDATES

The Tech Toolshed is continually updated. USB, in partnership with five land-grant universities, recently rolled out a new series of resources centered on incorporating digital and precision agricultural technologies into farm operations.

Iowa State University, Kansas State University, University of Nebraska, Ohio State University and Purdue University collaborated to create a series of resources that aid farm decision-making. These include data, fundamentals, integrity, management, sources, utilization and legal aspects.

John Fulton, an associate professor in the food, agricultural and biological engineering department at Ohio State University, says the data literacy project was developed to help farmers and trusted advisers better understand evolving agricultural technologies and analytics.

"We have new tools that require data to be delivered through apps and similar devices," Fulton continues. "Just keeping up with the available options, costs and the value they bring back to the farm is challenging. I see the Tech Toolshed as a real resource in the digital age of ag."

Tech Toolshed by the Numbers

This soy checkoff resource has more than 45,000 page views from every soybean-producing state since its launch in August 2018, according to United Soybean Board (USB) statistics, far exceeding initial goals.

> There are 67 companies listed in its tech catalog.

> More the 1,000 participants have watched webinars on tech topics through the site.

> Soybean checkoff investment to date is nearly
$1.2 million.

"We know that technology application is among the surest ways to optimize efficiencies and profitability on farms," says Timothy Venverloh, USB vice president of sustainability strategy. "Every dollar USB invests to make farmers' jobs easier helps them save money where it matters most."

Group Launches Precision Ag Web Tool:

Precision Ag Reviews, a program started by the Ohio Soybean Council and the soybean checkoff in 2017, recently started a new website to serve as an unbiased resource for farmers.

The public site strives to create a "farmers-helping-farmers" community by collecting reviews for all brands and models of precision ag equipment. Producers can complete and read reviews on www.precisionagreviews.com.

It is building a reliable source of information about precision technology so farmers can educate themselves without a bias of brand or product.

"We are thrilled to have our new website ready to serve as a resource to all farmers," says Stacie McCracken, project manager for the website, in a recent press release. "Our team has been traveling to farm shows across the U.S. asking farmers for their input on the precision equipment that they are utilizing on their farms. We have a strong and diverse set of reviews, and look forward to continuing to grow this resource."

Farmers can see the collective average review plus all the individual reviews to aid in educated decision-making on the best equipment for their operations.

> Follow Matthew Wilde on Twitter @progressivwilde.

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