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Technology is changing the way farmers farm. New applications are being introduced every day that allow farmers to fine-tune their businesses.

To some, though, the whole thing is a little overwhelming.

'When you're considering any new technology, the first thing to do is think about what you are trying to achieve,' said Brian Luck, Ph.D., assistant professor, UW-Madison, Biological Systems Engineering.

Speaking at the Dodge County Forage Council's annual seminar, Luck offered examples of ways forage producers can benefit from the new technology.

Luck is currently completing the design of a new app that will be helpful for evaluating corn kernels in silage. It will be able to measure the size of kernels in order to know if the corn is being processed adequately.

'It is developed and we are now at the building stage,' he said. 'When it is in use, we should be able to make sure all kernels are getting cracked and the particles are small enough.'

He said apps can help with management of in-field variation and reduce the amount of inputs by knowing which areas of the field do not require more nutrients or herbicides.

Luck also used an example of end-row double-up.

'Using row-unit shut-off and variable planting rates can save money,' he said. 'It's surprising how much seed is wasted by overlapping at the ends of the rows without any yield increases.'

Getting started requires some investment, though. Luck suggested a starting point is to establish the basic spatial data for each field, noting that there is an implication of increased land value when yield records are based on these more accurate measurements.

Using GPS to map field boundaries provides accurate field areas and excludes areas not included in the production field such as buffer strips, waterways and more, he said. From there, prescription maps can be created for the fields.

'Once the spacial variability has been measured, most custom operators have variable rate technology on their equipment,' he said, 'and you will be able to save on inputs.

'Apps for data collection are being built every day.

'When considering the purchase of apps, I'd suggest staying with the same software package.'

Once basic technology has been put in place for managing fields, the next step would be to consider guidance systems and auto steer.

'A 1-foot overlap with a 20-foot tillage tool on an 80-acre field means five unnecessary passes over the field,' he said.

He said there is an app for that, and it is as simple as a light bar displayed on a tablet in the cab of the tractor.

There are also auto steer systems that clamp on the steering column.

Luck described the auto-fill system on large forage harvesters. These systems utilize an 'electronic eye' to accurately aim the loading spout at the forage box. As the crop fills the box, the spout is automatically rotated to completely fill the box. These systems allow farmers to accurately aim the spout, minimizing harvested crop loss and reducing operator fatigue.

Soil moisture sensors and in-field weather stations are also available. They can be installed in-field and left throughout the growing season. With data connectivity, they provide farmers with a soil moisture profile at any time and information for irrigation management and scheduling.

In-field weather stations are also an emerging technology providing information such as incident solar radiation, temperature and rainfall. This field location information allows farmers to improve management decisions throughout the growing season.

Getting started with technology

Luck offered some suggestions for getting started on implementing precision agriculture on the farm.

First, define a clear objective. Don't just go by what the salesman says about an app.

Next, identify a service provider who will offer training and support.

Buy products that are compatible with multiple operations. Make sure they can be updated and be certain the data can be downloaded and is accessible.

Finally, be sure to update frequently in order to make the best use of the equipment.

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