Planting technology has many advantages, but the technology comes with frustrations growers hope to avoid during the planting season.
Even growers who uses technology likely will tell you about all the times they wanted to take every piece of technology off the planter, throw it away, and run the planter as simple and as plain as it used to be before putting any technology on.
"For many growers every year, these technology issues end up being very costly and I am not talking about the dollars spent on fixing the issue here. In fact, in most of these situations, they are willing to pay someone extra or for a part at a ridiculous price if that person or part can fix the planter issue immediately. It is the valuable time these technology frustrations cost them," said Simer Virk, a precision agriculture engineer with the University of Georgia.
He said many growers shy away from planting technology because they view it as "not worth the time and effort for them." Virk provided Southeast Farm Press his tips to avoid the hassle and ways to better prepare to tackle issues during planting season.
Timely tech inspection
Spending little time and effort upfront on a thorough technology inspection can save you a lot of time and frustration in the planting season. Do not wait until the day of planting to get the planter out and expect everything to work perfectly. There are lot of wires, connections, hardware and firmware on that planter so plan to perform a thorough technology inspection at least a week or earlier before you intend to plant.
Check the GPS, seed monitor, seed meter drives, seed tube sensors, and other planter technology (hydraulic downforce etc.) for proper function by performing both static and in-field tests.
Check all the harnesses for any cracks or damage, and make sure to take care of any minor issues then. Check for GPS correction subscription, firmware updates, and unlocks for prescriptive seeding applications.
In ag technology market, good customer support is valued. So, your decision to invest in a certain planting technology should not just consider who has the greatest product in the market but must also consider who can provide a good customer support, which can save you from lot of frustration.
For the technology either you already have on your planter or plans to invest in, you should find out answers to the following questions:
- Is there a local support person available in your area or will you get customer support over the phone? How readily this person will be available in the season?
- Does this company/dealer offer any annual or monthly maintenance plan(s) for the technology?
- What are the fees associated with in-person customer support if any?
Usually the best support in ag tech is when you have a local company/dealer person who is always within a reachable distance or a phone call away and willing to help you anytime (including nights and weekends).
Build a positive relationship with the person if possible. Having good customer support and knowing the right person can help make dealing with technology frustrations a lot easier.
Pictures and notes
While some issues on planting equipment are common, some of them are unique and only occur once in a while (may be once in every two to three years or even more). It is hard to precisely remember all the steps required to fix each one of them. Take pictures and notes on the technology issues, and most importantly the troubleshooting steps you or the technician/consultant/dealer followed to fix that issue.
Fixing some of these issues requires technical expertise or specialized tools for which you cannot do much about, but just being more attentive and learning about what exactly causes some of the common issues and how to fix them will save you some major annoyance and money. Generally, a good practice is to take before and after pictures with detailed notes on each issue that occurred during and keep that information where it can be easily retrieved. You would at least want to keep notes on all the planter and technology settings on your seed monitor/display at the beginning of the planting season. There will be days that these pictures and notes will come in handy (more often than you would think).
For some growers, internet, especially social media like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, is usually the first place to go when they run into a technology or similar issue. For those who do not use internet, you would be surprised to know how much information is out there on technology setup, calibration, or fixing technology-related issues. In my opinion, it is a great resource as other growers probably have already experienced such technology issues recently or in the past and have shared information (sometimes very detailed instructions) on how to resolve these issues.
One advice for both new and experienced internet users, try not to get overwhelmed by all the information on the internet but find two to three trusted websites which can provide good reliable information on setup and troubleshooting issues specific to your planting technology. Some technology companies or dealers also have their own website or YouTube channel where they have very useful information in a blog or video on troubleshooting technology issues.
There may be some other ways too that growers are utilizing to make technology work for them and avoid any major issues during the planting season, so talk to other growers, both new and experienced technology users, to learn about their ways of dealing with technology issues and frustrations.