Not every farmer using precision-ag technology takes time to crunch the numbers and get a tangible feel for their return on investment.
But Ohio no-tiller and strip-tiller Brian Watkins tries to account for nearly every dollar spent on precision tools and how they help improve his family’s 7,000-acre corn and soybean operation near Kenton, Ohio.
Since he began adopting precision practices in the mid-1990s, Watkins estimates a 145% net return — or $216,611 — on their ongoing investment in tools like auto-steer, RTK guidance and variable-rate systems.
“Before we start thinking that precision ag is a magical money tree and we’re just going to go shake it and get this massive return on investment, know that it doesn’t quite work that way,” Watkins says. “The system doesn’t just fall into place.
“It’s a learning process and once you have evolved it, then you can make it pay.”
Trial and error, patience and persistence have all been part of Watkins’ precision journey. For years, a variety of different precision brands for GPS and auto-steer were used to control the farm’s multi-colored fleet of equipment.
But like many farmers, they struggled with compatibility. Last winter, they moved to one system for field navigation. They use Ag Leader ParaDyme auto-steer systems in each of their five tractors and subscribe to a cellular RTK data plan to deliver Ohio’s free Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) signal for corrections.
“When we’re planting or sidedressing, we can interchange the systems in our tractors…