Precision ag equipment can help growers make machinery buying decisions.

GPS and other precision ag equipment not only can help make growers more efficient crop producers, but it can also help make them smarter buyers. The field data these systems gather can help you analyze the efficiency of your machinery, says Randy Taylor, Kansas State University Extension ag engineer.

Checking efficiency. “You can use precision ag technologies to make good decisions specific to your farm, based on productivity,” Taylor says. “These systems collect data that will help you to analyze how efficiently your current equipment allows you to perform field functions. Before these systems, the best you could do was to use a stopwatch and log your time and yields in a notebook. All GPS equipment has a time stamp feature, which allows you to view productivity details on each field.”

Last season, Taylor looked at efficiency measurements for planting, including time, date, speed and field size and shape. He also looked at harvesting measurements, including time, date, speed, yield and field size, in several northeastern Kansas fields. Although he says he didn't find anything too surprising, he did prove that GPS systems can provide all the data you need to monitor equipment efficiency. “What improves field efficiency numbers is long, straight rows, and we've always known that,” Taylor says. “But now we can quantify it.”

Planter size decisions. He found that increasing planter size will make an operation more productive but less efficient. A grower can do more work with two 8-row planters than one 16-row model, he notes.

“Also, field size has little impact on field efficiency, whereas planting patterns can greatly affect efficiency,” Taylor says. “Traffic patterns are dictated by field shape, and although we can now do a better job of managing them in odd-shaped fields by shutting off rows, it’s hard to really optimize your traffic patterns in those fields. They just cost you more to farm than nice, rectangular fields.”

On-the-go unloading. Taylor also has taken a shot at quantifying harvesttime losses by tracking yield collected over a set amount of time when stopping to unload as well as unloading on the go. Although most people would expect to see a significant time savings by unloading on the go, the ag engineer says he didn't find it in the Kansas wheat fields where he tracked his yield data.

"We were tracking fields with lower yields; harvest efficiencies would probably increase with larger yields," he concedes. "But unloading on the go might not save as much time as many farmers think. Either way, now GPS can help individual farmers track these things in their fields and find out for themselves."