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Thursday, 01 May 2014 00:00

Technology helps farmers yield better results

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Terry Papcke climbs down from a tractor at the town of Sugar Creek farm he works with several family members. Papcke says technology is becoming more essential for farmers, helping them save on fuel and fertilizer and reap better crop yields. Terry Papcke climbs down from a tractor at the town of Sugar Creek farm he works with several family members. Papcke says technology is becoming more essential for farmers, helping them save on fuel and fertilizer and reap better crop yields. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- A newly planted field might not look much different today than it did 20 years ago, but these days, the methods used to do that planting definitely plow into high-tech territory.

“It’s a lot more management than the physical labor,” Rock County farmer Doug Rebout said. “Most people still have in their mind that the farmer is the guy out in the field with the bib overalls with a pitchfork. That’s not farming anymore.”

So this spring, software is getting to be just as important as soil and seeds as farmers prepare their 2014 crops.

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Terry Papcke, Walworth County Farm Bureau board president, said technology is becoming more essential for today’s farmers. 

Papcke operates a farm on 1,500 acres of land northwest of Elkhorn, along with his brother, Randy, and two of his nephews. Papcke grows about 1,000 acres of corn, 350 acres of soybeans, 50 acres of wheat and 150 acres of hay, as well as raises about 130 cows on the farm.

With so much to manage, Papcke and company are happy to have the help of a tractor GPS system that tells them where they have planted. A monitor inside one of the tractors also displays how many seeds have been planted and which rows have been planted.

The system also includes a disc card, which Papcke can remove and place in a computer to develop a map of the areas that have been planted.

Having such information helps  save on fuel and fertilizer, Papcke said.

“We farm about 1,500 acres, so we spread the cost over a number of acres, and there’s not a lot of upkeep,” he said. “It runs the way it’s supposed to.”

Technology also has helped produce better yields during the past few years, Papcke said.

“I think our yields are a lot better in our lower spots than what they used to be,” he said. “The year we had the drought, we had much better corn than what I thought we did.

“As dry as it was, it was amazing that we had as much corn as we did.”

Papcke said he also has technology that allows his tractor to steer on its own.

“About six or seven hours of (operating a tractor) it gets pretty tiresome. When you put it on automatic steer, you can watch it plant and watch the picture on the monitor when everything is working the way it’s supposed to,” Papcke said. “Obviously, you still have to turn the tractor around when you get to the end because it doesn’t do that yet, but I imagine it will be able to do that in time.

“You never say never about any of this stuff because as you keep getting more technology, it gets amazing what you can do. It’s no different than backing up a car. There’s cars that can back into a stall on their own.”

Using technology in farming isn’t an absolute need, but it certainly can improve the bottom line, farmers say.

“Obviously, we all farmed without it for many years, and it’s just a matter of using technology to save on fuel, save on fertilizer and get a better yield, so you can get more food to more people or produce more corn or soybeans,” Papcke said.

For Rebout, who is based in the town of Janesville and farms in several Rock County locations, a tractor GPS unit records where crops already have been planted or sprayed with chemicals.

“It allows us to go out in the field and whether we’re spraying or putting fertilizer in the ground or anything we do in the field, it keeps us from overlapping,” Rebout said. “It saves us money because we’re using less chemicals because we’re not overlapping.”

Rebout, his brothers and several nephews manage about 4,300 acres of farmland, growing corn and raising dairy cattle.

They use a GreenStar system in their tractors, which tells them what types of chemicals they have sprayed, when they sprayed the chemicals, what they have planted and when they planted. The system also provides information about past soil tests.

“We figured when we put that system on our last corn planter, it paid for itself within the first year and a half for what we saved in seed and what we gained in yield,” Rebout said.

Technology also has helped farmers become better stewards of their land, Rebout said.

“With technology, the part of getting back to the roots, we are able to take better care of the land,” he said. “We are able to get more out of the land because of the technology, and we’re only putting back in what we need to.

“We’re not overspraying, we’re not overfertilizing, and that’s all because of technology.”

Even though technology has been beneficial to most farmers, there are still some issues, Rebout said.

“It’s computers. You’re going to have your glitches. On the tractors, there’s a globe that sits on top of the cab that collects the information from the satellites to pinpoint where you’re at, and we’ve had some that have gotten hit by lightning and have gotten fried,” he said. “You’re always going to have some problems, but overall it’s been pretty good.”

Rebout said technology has made his job more efficient, which has allowed him to spend more time with his family.

“Technology helps with a better life and more family time,” Rebout said. “Growing up, the only time we saw dad was when we were outside. He never had time to come to any sporting events or extracurricular activities.

“I’ve got a 10-year-old daughter, and we get to do those things.”

Papcke said he hopes the weather starts cooperating, so he can start using some of his technology to plant crops.

“It’s not that it’s late yet, but we really do need to have some warm weather and some sunshine to dry things out so we can get going,” he said last week. “We got a little bit of corn planted, but technically you should shoot for planting on the 25th of April.

“All we need is a week of good weather, and it will grow like crazy with all the rain that we’ve gotten.”

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