Clair Urbain, Contributing Writer
When farmers trade equipment, they often take a few steps ahead in technology and productivity. For Jason Starnes and his father, Kim, they ended up taking a step backward when they upgraded to a newer combine.
The Starnes farm 800 acres, no-tilling corn, soybeans and wheat near Salisbury, N.C. They use Trimble precision systems on their sprayer and planter, but their John Deere 9550 combine was set up with a GreenStar Starfire ITC receiver and mobile processor that could record and download yield maps. They used those maps, in conjunction with soil tests completed by the local co-op, to build variable-rate fertilizer maps.
Last year, they upgraded their combine to a Deere 9560 STS, only to find the next-generation system was incompatible with their current data.
“To do yield maps, we will have to upgrade to a GreenStar 3 2630 display. That is quite an upgrade, and if we do that, then we will make it so it can be used in the planter tractor and on the sprayer,” Jason says. “That will help reduce the overall cost and we can make best use of our yield maps.”
Point of Pain: Incompatible Upgrades
The Starnes want to ‘future-proof’ their precision farming technology, but that is easier said than done, acknowledges Jason.
“We are not that big of an operation and we don’t trade equipment very often. With no-till, equipment lasts longer,” Jason says. “We simply don’t wear out tractors, so we have less need to upgrade, but the technology upgrade with older equipment is a challenge.”
The Starnes started with an older generation lightbar on their tractor and were “dead-ended” when they tried to upgrade technology, Jason says. “We ended up spending more money in the long run.”
Jason suggests that dealers help customers look into the future and select a system that they can expand and improve upon. “That’s how we got involved with our current precision systems for the sprayer and planter. We have mostly Deere equipment and found that the Trimble EZ-Guide 500 lightbar, EZ-Steer 500 and EZ-Boom swath control was the best all around system for plug-and-play on our farm equipment,” Jason says.
Although they installed most of the components themselves, the Starnes relied heavily on their dealer to calibrate them. “We were having lightbar calibration issues and they were very good at getting it working. They helped us install the system on the sprayer,” Jason says. “We installed the Tru Count row clutches and EZ-Boom control on our 6-row no-till planter ourselves, but they helped us test the units to make sure they worked correctly.”
Having precision components properly calibrated and working together on equipment is a key to getting the most out of the technology and Jason says a good dealer can help farmers realize the savings a good precision farming system can deliver.
“When we replaced the foam marker on the sprayer with the lightbar, we saw our input costs drop about 5%. With the auto-steer, we saw another 5% savings and with swath control, we saved another 5-7%. When you are making between 5 and 7 applications a year, that savings in fuel and chemicals quickly adds up,” Jason says.