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Should you stay or should you go?

Typically, there are enough farm technology breakthroughs to make the trip worthwhile. At the 2017-18 shows, this was especially true for owners of CLAAS straw-walker and hybrid combine harvesters. This new addition to CLAAS's CEMOS family of automated systems has stolen the show at numerous exhibitions around the world.

Introduced in 2015 for threshing and cleaning grains such as corn and soybean, the CEMOS line has now been expanded to automate the time-consuming and often frustrating setup process on combine harvesters. The manufacturer says this system enables all controllers to communicate with each other automatically and allows combine harvesters to continuously combine at maximum efficiency.

Does Farm Technology Deliver ROI?

Farm tech is often very expensive, and agronomists have seen farmers plunge into deep financial trouble trying to stay abreast of the latest advances. To avoid this, it’s crucial to perform a cost-benefit analysis and be realistic about the potential return on the tech investment. Those who skip this step risk assuming too much debt. Ag economists caution you to pay close attention to your bottom lines, debt, and risk thresholds, and have some data to support your anticipated ROI before signing those installment loan papers.

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Research is important for another reason: Technology that is perfect for one farm or one crop may not be suitable for another. Consider discussing your pending purchase with someone other than the salesperson. Other growers, ideally someone who has experience with the product, are another great resource. Ask questions at the local gathering spot or even in online forums such as agriculture.com, newagtalk.com and agriville.com. There are other growers there who can save you time and money.

What's Hot in Farm Tech?

While some growers shy away from all but the standard farm tech because of cost or difficulty in operating it, new products are not always expensive, complicated or intimidating. For instance, you can use your smartphone or tablet as a remote control to help improve your irrigation efficiency and pivot performance. More than a half dozen of these irrigation apps are free.

In a roundup of the hottest farm technology products of 2017, agriculture.com's list ranges from apps to zero-entry bin unload tech.

An app for that:

There's now an iOS app that works with Agrible’s Morning Farm Report software. Among its many features, the Pocket Spray Smart app shows farmers what conditions will be for spraying, on an hour-by-hour basis, up to three days in advance.

Also in the App Store, you can find the latest addition to the Farmers Edge farm-management platform, FarmCommand. The app was designed to equip you with tools to track crop growth, plan nitrogen applications, and visualize overall crop health and variability. And it's free!

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See the big picture:

Would you like a birds' eye view of your fields? Consider a drone. These devices can help complete tasks such as spotting areas that need to be replanted or identifying weather-related damage without adding compaction to fields. Precision Hawk's new PrecisionMapper also allows you to determine weed pressure in your field. That means you can increase your spot-spraying efficiency and identify problem areas while they are still manageable—and, in some cases, still invisible to the naked eye.

Turbo-charge your drone: Have a drone, but need an affordable sensor? Sentera has released a lower-priced model of its popular Double 4K sensor on an easy-to-use platform. 

Quality data matters:

There is an open market for farm data. Savvy growers can create another profit center by using a passive data capture device to create electronic field records (EFRs). If you're wondering about the market for field, machine and agronomy data, you can find buyers on sites such as Farmobile’s Data Store.

Data control platforms can help you independently store and share your data. The Grower Information Services Cooperative (GiSC) and Agricultural Data Coalition (ADC) recently collaborated to develop AgXchange, a working data storage and visualization platform to improve growers' control over their data and choose whether to share that data with universities and other researchers.

You can avoid disappointments at the end of the harvest season by collecting quality data, including calibrating your yield monitor. Many growers skip this important step because they feel it is too time-consuming and complicated. To address that, Ag Leader Technology's new InCommand displays include a simplified calibration process.

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See the future:

There are a number of crop-modeling devices for wheat that can improve your input decisions. Among them is the new R7 Field Forecasting Tool from WinField that helps address in-season crop stresses.

The tool incorporates data from the company's Answer Plot program and tissue samples from its NutriSolutions 360 system, and uses the plant as a sensor to measure variables that data models alone can miss.

Clean as a whistle:

Sweeping the bin floor no longer has to be a dreaded task. There's now zero-entry bin unload technology that improves bin clean-out and eliminates two risks: entrapment from falling grain and auger entanglement. GSI’s FlexWave technology uses two large liners that gently push any leftover grain into a centrally located conveyor trough. A control system automatically senses the amount of grain and shuts off once the process is complete. GSI says you can expect 99% clean-out.

You can keep up with the latest in farm tech at websites such as agriculture.com. But in weighing their benefits, don’t forget to factor in unforeseen costs and potential risks. For example, computerized tractors can run circles around older models. But if something breaks down, you may be running in circles. That’s why many farmers today are shunning high-tech tractors for traditional models they can repair themselves.

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Technology is only helpful if it enables you to be more profitable, more efficient and produce a higher quality, more sustainable crop. Pay as much attention to the features as the cost/benefit ratio. Ask yourself:

- How many hours am I spending on this task right now? How many hours will this save me?
- How much will it increase my yield?
- How much more profit will that extra grain deliver?
- Will this reduce my input costs? If so, by how much?
- How long will it take for this technology to pay for itself and start saving money?
- Do I have the desire and patience to learn this technology?

Downtime and repair costs can devour all the savings you’re anticipating from a new piece of equipment. So you’ll want ask the salesperson a few questions, too:

- How long is the warranty?
- Are there any precautions you should take to protect your new equipment?
- What parts generally wear out first—and after how long?
- How easy is it to replace those parts: Are the parts generally in stock? If not, how long does it take to re-stock them?
- Is it a DIY job or will you need a repair technician?
- If you try to repair it yourself, will it void your warranty?
- Dig deeper: Does the manufacturer require repair techs to be certified by the company?
- Where is the closest certified technician?
- How long does it take for the tech to come out? Is there generally a backlog of work orders?

Technology can reveal what you don’t know about your soil, your seed, your yield, and more. It can also tell you things you don’t know that you don’t know. The key is to be inquisitive. Leverage the resources of university extension services, online reviews and agronomists. It will be worth the effort because it will help you make informed decisions that protect your investment and boost your return.
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