Spotty wireless connections can be an annoyance, but for some area farmers, it can make or break their bottom line.
As precision agricultural technology continues to advance by leaps and bounds, the need for broadband access in more rural areas is becoming more vital.
On Monday, Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer and her guest, Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel visited Jeff Pape’s farm just north of Dyersville on Floyd Road to discuss the need to increase connectivity in Eastern Iowa.
Finkenauer and Rosenworcel were given a first-class education on just how much data is being transferred between farmer, co-op and suppliers to create custom maps and plans for farmers.
The amount of time saved and the number of human errors being eliminated are helping improve efficiency, but sometimes it can be tough to get some of that information back on the screen.
To perfectly illustrate the problem, when Joe Recker attempted to pull up one of the custom maps to show the congresswoman, he didn’t have a strong enough signal to get it to load.
In this day and age, ag equipment now relies heavily on GPS and custom mapping to get seed in the ground and fertilized.
Going into harvest season, they can create a yield map which is sent to the co-op. From there, a “prescription” of sorts is written for each field and the farmer can custom apply fertilizers to bring weaker areas of the field into the fold, which also keeps farmers from over-applying in areas that are already producing well.
Pape said a fairly square field might be easy enough to stay in line and keep from double-spraying, but as any farmer knows, a lot of fields are not perfectly square and certainly aren’t perfectly flat.
“When there are contours and terraces, the rows can snake through the fields. If you have 120 feet of boom, you start overlapping and double spraying,” Pape said. “Years ago, you’d have co-ops make a mistake and spray the wrong chemical on the wrong stuff. Now you’re only using what you need where you need it.”
And this technology isn’t just being applied to the fields.
In the cattle barn, by using iPads, farmers can track exactly how much feed each cow is getting, how that correlates to weight gain and how much they can expect that cow to be worth when it’s time to take it to the market.
When the cattle are finished, the program creates a closeout that shows what the profit margin was for that particular batch, all while transmitting this data to nutritionists and veterinarians for examination.
“It makes you wonder how they did this 30 years ago,” Rosenworcel said.
The group told Rosenworcel and Finkenauer this technology wasn’t just being pushed by the next generation of farmers, but rather by industry experts who understand how important these efficiencies are.
“Honestly, we’re in our 50s, and we know we have to have this,” Pape said, motioning to a $350,000 tractor and sprayer. “If you start making mistakes, you’re gone. If a farmer loses on a year’s worth of cattle, you’re talking millions in loses. You need technology to stay ahead of it.”
Pape said the first unit he got to record yield data was purchased about 16 years ago.
“That was real basic information at that time,” Pape said. “Then they started taking that data and asking ‘what do we do with this information?’”
In the last five years, they said they’ve seen exponential growth with technology, especially now that all of these programs communicate and integrate with each other.
And farmers, believe it or not, also rely heavily on YouTube to keep the operation running smoothly.
“There’s a lot of farmers that go to YouTube to see how to fix something or how to run a machine,” Craig Martin, operations manager for Three Rivers FS, said.
“And all that takes data to stream,” Pape added. “It sounds dumb, but if you don’t know how to fix something, YouTube it. Somebody has probably had that same problem and recorded it.”
Finkenauer recently introduced the Broadband Accountability and Transparency Act in an attempt to correct some of these issues.
“I grew up in Sherrill right at the bottom of what they call the Sherrill mound. I remember growing up, cellular reception wasn’t really a thing,” she said. “It poses a unique challenge, but an important one.”