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Technology for your Farm Operation

Eric Madsen
Educational Opportunities: 
Grain, Dairy, Swine, Beef, Young, Beginning Farmers, Women in Ag, Investing in Rural Communities
Home > Education & Events > July 2018 > Technology for your Farm Operation

The technological innovations that the Agriculture industry has seen over the last several decades is astounding. Producers are continuing to increase production within their farming operation with less land and resources, while providing consumers with a safer and more reliable product. However, with prices and expenses being where they are – profit margins continue to tighten and many producers are seeing shortages in cash flow. As new technologies continue to be released into the marketplace, I often get asked by the producers that I work with, which services they should be investing their time and money into.

With tighter margins, it may not be feasible to be investing large amounts into the latest and greatest technologies, but rather to look at what products and technologies you may already have at your disposal and using them to your advantage.

When people talk about the latest and greatest, you may automatically think of the fancy new gadget in the cab of your tractor, or the newest piece of equipment sitting on the lot of your local implement dealer. However, I would encourage you to look no further than your home office.

During a time of low prices, and tight margins – there is little that is more important than knowing your finances on a very detailed level. Using financial software packages will allow you to track your expenses with a higher accuracy. Investing in something like QuickBooks, Farm Business Management Programs, or even managing an Excel spreadsheet will allow you to track expenses, determine trends, build a better balance sheet, and compare month over month on an annual basis.

I know record keeping isn’t the most fun thing to do, but during challenging times like these, knowing your numbers, and knowing them well is extremely important. One of my favorite quotes I’ve heard over the years is to “be a student of your own business”. Continue to learn about your business. By better understanding your financials, you can become more efficient and proactive in making decisions.

We hear it over and over, know your cost of production. And in order to do that, you should combine what technologies you already have in your equipment and utilizing it to its fullest potential. For example, what are you doing with your planter? I have seen variable seed planting become an increasingly popular practice. By understanding which fields have good soil or lighter soils, you can set prescriptions for your planter, in order to save on seed costs, and allow for greater product placement.

On the opposite side of the growing season, how are you tracking your yield at harvest? Do you have your yield monitor calibrated correctly? Or are you relying on bin measurements once you get your crop off of the fields? If you do have yield monitoring capabilities, I would strongly suggest that you take the time to ensure that they are set up correctly. You need to be in the field in order to calibrate, which leaves a small window once harvest starts rolling to get that done. Be as proactive as possible in making that happen.

If yield monitors are calibrated correctly, you should be able to be within 1% of the grain you deliver. This allows you to be more confident in marketing ahead of time. By utilizing farm business management programs combined with technologies you may already have, like variable seed planting or yield monitoring, you can strive to know your cost of production at a field by field level. This will allow you to assess what land is most valuable, what land may not be valuable enough to hold on to, or even help you in negotiating rent prices. 

Additional technologies to take advantage of, that are extremely low-cost or even free, come from what many of us have in our pockets. A smart phone. What apps are you currently using on your phone? There is a wide array of apps available to you, dependent on what information you wish to gain. There are weather apps that will allow you to know what the week ahead looks like to help you determine a schedule for spraying, planting, harvesting, etc. In addition, you can download apps that give you up to the minute information on grain pricing, market data and available bids.

Some grain elevators have started offering apps to help centralize a lot of that information, and others, along with crop insurance companies or financial services providers allow you sign up for text alerts with important deadline information or important notices on what’s on the forefront. If you don’t know what apps would be most useful to you, reach out to your buyers, seed reps, financial officer, or crop insurance agent for some suggestions that would work best for you in your area.

During tight financial times, it may be hard to justify, or even impossible to invest in the technologies that are coming out. By doing your homework now, and doing your research on what technologies are available, you will know what you want to invest in and can act on it when prices turn around. But remember that this shouldn’t be something you take on by yourself. Anytime you are considering a larger investment, it’s important to bring in your team of trusted advisors.  They are there to help you navigate that decision, in order to make a decision that is best suited for your operation. By utilizing these different tools, and researching additional options to implement in the future, you can continue to become a better student of your business.
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