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Tractor technology headed in right direction

As you drive across Nebraska, whether it be down the interstate or down a less traveled road, one thing is evident: we are an agricultural state. Crops and cattle have covered this land for a long time, all in an effort to address the need to feed a growing population.

Today, this seems to be an even bigger task as farmers in Nebraska and across our country have moved from growing food for their families and surrounding community to sending their crops across the world. It is with these changes that we have witnessed the creation and growth of major technological advances in agriculture.

To cite a more specific example, my husband, Ben, is a fifth-generation farmer in central Nebraska and we have embraced precision farming. Farming in the Peters' family has progressed from horse and plow to the installation of monitors and color-coded maps. While this transition took some getting used to with three generations still in the farming business, it has helped us do more with less in an effort to maximize efficiency.

So what does precision farming mean? The acronyms GPS and VRT (Variable Rate Technology) are something he uses in every aspect of the farm, from auto steer to variable rate seeding and fertilizing. While GPS may be the most recognized, both are growing technologies that help put the farm in the best possible position.

As far as using GPS on the farm, Ben puts it simply, “We allow our tractors and combines to be steered using Real Time Kinematic (RTK) technology, which allows sub-inch accuracy each pass. Basically, our machinery will not overlap, which allows us to save money on fuel, seed and time. We use fewer resources and time to cover the same amount of acres.”

Making fewer passes through the field not only saves money on fuel and seed, but it also allows farmers to avoid compacting the soil, which can stunt root growth. When plants can't root down as needed, they can become deficient in nutrients and water, which can negatively impact yield.

VRT is an area Ben says he enjoys. He says that when his father was his age, farmers would apply straight rates of seed and fertilizer to fields. In our area, soil types are not consistent, so by using straight rates, it is possible to over apply in some parts of fields and under apply in others. 

Now, based on grid soil sampling, the exact amount of fertilizer can be applied in an area where it is needed. Prescription maps are written and loaded into monitors in the cabs of machinery. Hydraulic motors and sensors are fed this information and will change fertilizer rates on the fly while the machines go across the field. This allows fertilizer rates to be matched with soil capabilities. If a certain soil type won’t produce at the highest level, there’s no need to apply fertilizer at the same rate as a higher yielding area. 

The same concept applies with seed. Seed corn is very expensive, so in areas of the field where there are tougher soils, prescriptions can be used to automatically lower seeding rates while planting. Again, this technology allows for the use of fewer resources while still allowing for top yields based on soil types.

In the past year, we have saved around $2,000 on seed thanks to VRT. We have also seen a downward trend in fertilizer usage while still seeing the yield improve.

So, as we hear Ben's grandpa tell stories of planting with a tow-row planter hooked to a cabless tractor, and look at the technology used on our farm today, we know we're headed in the right direction. Precision farming has allowed our farm to help feed more mouths than ever and will continue to do so as that number rises during our lifetime.

About the Author

Shalee Peters
Farm Broadcaster, KRVN "River 93.1"
Shalee lives on a farm just south of Worms, Nebraska with her husband Ben, three dogs, pack of farm cats and her chickens.

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