I saw something on Facebook the other day that actually didn’t make me clench my teeth or roll my eyes.

It actually made me laugh. It was cartoon and it said, “If 2020 was a food truck…” and showed the ice cream man rolling down the street, bells ringing, carrying a load of liver and onions. Two children watched from a nearby porch with forlorn expressions.

Well, that pretty much sums this year up, doesn’t it? Hopefully, you had an acceptable year or even a great year on the farm. I hope harvest went well, or your winter crops and cover crops are in the ground and you can focus today on the personal things that are important you.

Rather than making this column a rehashing of all the discouraging things that occurred in 2020, I challenged myself to offer 5 tools that growers might consider using in 2021. Yes, you might have heard of them but are you using them?  

1) Drones: Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) might seem like a toy, or something complicated that you don’t have time to mess with. But there are timely farming tasks that can be performed much easier with them, in a much timelier manner than satellites — such prioritizing fields for harvest, crop scouting for disease and pests, monitoring livestock or irrigation equipment, and the like. Up to 15% of our readers have said they use this technology, which is nearly triple the rate it was in 2016.

2) Soil Biology Tests: Many of you are probably using them, but some are not. There’s nothing wrong with traditional soil tests for ascertaining your soil’s nutrient status and monitoring the usual parameters. But there may be important information those well-known tests don’t tell you about your no-tilled soil, which is your biggest investment. About 70% of our readers said they didn’t plan to use such a test in 2020. Find out more about your soil livestock: You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

3) Crop Rotation: I know, you’ve heard it before. It’s not just about being diverse financially and mitigating risk. It’s another opportunity to break up disease and pest cycles. Make it a point to plant a new crop for next season: mung beans, camelina or switchgrass might be possibilities, depending on your location. Or add cover crops and start building your soils at another level. With enough biomass maybe it can take some pressure off your herbicide program. Get rid of fallow, it’s not your friend.

4) Dig a Soil Pit: Is it time to break out the backhoe or find someone who has one? Looking at the whole soil profile can tell you a lot not just about soil layers (a.k.a. “horizons”) but what your roots are doing underneath. Dig the pit deep enough that you can see the whole profile. Make note of how far down roots going, the earthworms present and compaction layers present if any. This article had an interesting account of reading the history of soils by using pits.

5) Get More Precise: Whether it’s cover crops or cash crops, seed isn’t cheap. Take a look at your air seeder, drill or planter and be honest about whether it’s delivering the results you want. Is your guidance system up to snuff? Is seed placement consistent? Have you put off adopting row shutoffs? Are you using field mapping? Our readers have spent an average of $4,800 a year on precision equipment and services since 2016 and it’s hard to find a precision technology tool that is used by more than 50-60% of them.

On this Thanksgiving Day, farmers should be thankful that A LOT of tools and expertise are available to help your farms be as efficient as possible. Much of this wasn’t available decades ago when no-till practices were just starting to grow. Maybe picking up a new tool will ring in a happier and more profitable growing season this coming year.

Meanwhile, turkey and mashed potatoes are pretty much guaranteed to taste better than liver and onions, so enjoy it!