Farmer Networking to Direct Precision Ag Technologies Toward Sustainability

Final Report for FNC97-186

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1997: $4,950.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


I was raised on a family farm located in Branch County, Michigan. This farm supported dairy, hogs, chickens, and had an average of 500 acres in row crops and pasture. Also a custom harvesting and trucking business was operated from this farm. I have seen a transition in tillage practices from conventional moldboard plowing and summer fallowing fields to chisel plowing and no till planting on our farm. We still incorporate cover crops and plow down seeding while practicing crop rotation.

I have a strong interest in computer technology and electronics. I am very willing to share this skill with other farmers as we investigate precision technology. Our goal is to define the “datum point” for using a minimal application of fertilizers and chemicals without decreasing the yield potential of our soil.

Our farm has been called home by three generations of family members. Smaller farms have seen increased pressure to maintain their viability and profitability in today’s agricultural arena. It is my intent to maintain our farm for our children and future generations. With the technology becoming available today I feel farmers large and small will have the ability to maximize profits needed to remain prosperous along with preserving our natural resources for future generations.

A) Develop a network to broaden the local support base and technical competencies of farmers in precision agriculture thus directing efforts toward sustainable practices
B) Incorporate pest and crop scouting data into the analysis and management decisions of precision agriculture on 300 acres, across six different farms.

The learning curve for precision agriculture is very steep, and this grant helped in several ways. One was to increase the networking of farmers with agri-business and the other for several farmers in our Innovative Farmer group to increase their knowledge of precision agriculture through meetings and trainings.

Since several farmers have the “Farm Works” computer software to map their yields with, we hired a private consultant to do a one day, hands on training for eight growers. This was very helpful and the interaction amongst the growers was valuable.

We also held a yield monitor calibration training at an Innovative Farmer members farm during wheat harvest to show farmers the different components of a yield monitor and how they function. If monitors are not clearly understood and used properly, including calibrating, the yield data will be inaccurate and a misleading piece of data. 20 farmers and agri-business reps attended. I helped demonstrate the yield monitor components and Ed Groholski demonstrated his system with a “tagging” add on feature.

Our Extension agent (Natalie Rector) and Innovative Farmers member Tim Godfrey, attended a GIS software training session in Oklahoma (SS Toolbox). I was also hoping to attend but was unavailable due to family illness. The GIS software is a step up from the cheaper and less powerful software that most farmers are using. We fell it is important to take the step up to software that has more analytical capabilities.

Two farmers, Kevin VandyBogurt and Ed Groholski attended a precision agriculture meeting in at Michigan State University in March. Ed Groholski and Natalie Rector attended a national no-till conference in Indianapolis which featured several sessions on precision agriculture. Ed Groholski attended a Precision Ag conference in Minnesota with many nationally and internationally known speakers.

An agri-business employee, Patrick Trail taught a session at a local trade show on precision Ag.

A well attended tour of many Innovative Farmer demonstration plot projects included a tour stop of the Veris electrical conductivity equipment by Terra. This August event attracted over 200 farmers and agri-business.

In cooperation with agri-business, we had 300 acres of ground analysis with an electrical conductivity measurement and worked with Terra Industries to evaluate the data.

Many of the above mentioned activities provided first hand experiences with technology and equipment that have made each farmer more knowledgeable in precision agriculture.

A second important component of the project was networking with agri-business. We feel that it is very important to learn from our local business people, but also for us, the farmers to have more say in what and how data is collected. Along with Extension’s leadership on this, we have held several round table gathering of any and all local dealers in our area to find out what they are doing with regard to precision Ag. We have met twice and are meeting again on December 2, 1998. Farmers and industry must work closely on this technology so that it is sustainable, economical and practical. Our efforts in working together have paid off. Members of this group have included NRCS, Extension, Terra, Grower Services, several private consultants, the Anderson’s, Stuben County Co-op, John Deere and Case IH dealers, chemical and seed representatives, and of course farmers.

Since I have a good working knowledge of yield monitors and software for mapping yields, I have helped several farmers with questions and on site help installing their yield monitors and have done some computer generated maps for them. The software that I do this with is expensive and needs upgrades regularly. I already owned the software and this assisted me in upgrading that software.

One important outcome of our work in precision Ag is that, due to being known in the state for having an interest in this technology, our Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Groundwater Stewardship Program recommended funding a large grant ($50,000) to the Innovative Farmers for continued work in nitrogen and pesticide management utilizing variable rate applications. This project just began in October 1998. The established network with agri-business has obviously been extremely important to this project. And have several well trained members will pay off significantly in the future of this project. The SARE funds have given us the initiate to continue this next large project. Due to the significant funds coming in, we will finally be able to acquire, analysis and evaluate data based on precision technologies. Replicated, standardized nitrogen plots are planned for the spring of 1999.

The largest barriers to precision farming are time for learning, cost of learning and cost to truly evaluate the technology on any one farm. The process will not be completed in any one year, but will be a continuous evaluation on several of our farms.

We have worked with our local Extension Agent, Natalie Rector, to help in the outreach of our project. This occurred at our annual summer tour, mentioned above. It is also continuing through a mailing list of interested farmers and agri-business that Extension maintains and through getting this group together several times a year. We have also discussed this project at several of our regular Innovative Farmer meetings.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.