Editor's note: Be sure to check out our final video with the Kilmers at the end of this story.
A year in the life of any farm is filled with surprises. For Kilmer Farms, the biggest surprise was a washout spring for some fields followed by near-perfect weather that helped crops recover. But along the way, the family found that technology offers help in many ways.
We caught up with the Kilmers in the fall of 2016 in the field, harvesting corn. The farm was adopting a range of new tools from section control on planters to AutoTrac autosteering on combines and tractors. And they adopted more detailed yield mapping as well as the use of a new My Analyzer app that was a big help during the replant period that hit in the spring.
"We were able to walk through a field with the app and see where a hybrid changed," says Dan Kilmer. "And when we replanted we drove the same track, so we didn't increase compaction."
Spending time with Darryl, Dan and Tim was fun. This is a hard-working group of farmers that long has prided themselves on their quality of work. In fact, they were doubtful about the value of adding the technology. "I think I was scared of it at first," Darryl admitted after a year of using the tool. "I wasn't sure I would be able to learn it."
In fact, not only did he learn it, he came to require it. During spring seedbed prep - on Mother's Day - when the AutoTrac system shut down (time to renew a subscription), Darryl refused to work. Dan, and his brother Tim, smile about that, but in fact Darryl saw the productivity benefit of having the tractor steer itself.
Long hours are not new to the Kilmers. Perhaps the spring replant set a new record for tractor seat time during any given day, but Tim and Dan note that even with the long hours having autosteering, and more accurate planting, took away some of the stress. "We just weren't as worn out at the end of the day," says Tim.
Auto-steering is common on a lot of farms, yet the Kilmers shied away in part because they already did a good job. Straight rows, and even lack of overlap, were hallmarks of their planting practice. Dan tells the story of how he would set his sight on a specific target and drive toward that target, white-knuckling the wheel to keep the machine straight. Those days are over.
All about sections
While Darryl was a tech skeptic when we first met in 2016, by the time we connected during the 2017 harvest, he was all in. "The section control on the planters brought a big improvement," he said. "We're looking at adding section control to the sprayer for 2018."
For the Kilmers, they know that overlapping planted rows are trouble - wasting seed and cutting yields. They would till out the overlap rows, cultivating them away to maximize yield. That, however, meant wasting seed.
With section control, that problem went away for one planter in 2016, and both for 2017. And those as-planted maps helped with in-season fertility too. In fact, Darryl was responsible for cultivating those overlap rows out of fields, and the first field in 2016 he hit where section control was used he found he had nothing to do. It's a productivity improvement.
As the Kilmers continue with the technology, they will fine-tune what they do. During a good combine ride during fall soybean harvest Tim shared that they were looking at what tech made the most sense for their farm. How far into the tech did they want to get? How much would they really need?
Those kinds of questions should be evaluated on a regular basis for any farm. What are you using most, and what has the least value? For Kilmers the list is longer than they thought, but they keep reviewing the tools available.
One area discussed was the value of support. Kilmers have access to a number of dealers in their area, but AHW LLC in Dwight, near their home operation, was involved with the Tech@Work project. And Justin Blanchette, the precision ag manager for the dealership, worked with the family to keep things moving.
"So throughout the 2017 growing season Kilmers experienced several benefits from the technology incorporation," he explains. "Not only the benefits of saving the inputs with section control, but having to do a lot of things twice this year, we saved on the inputs both times. The AutoTrac, hands down, bigger days. I start earlier, I run later, I feel better when its all over with. I got more accomplished in the same amount of time."
He notes that the maps created provided a guide throughout the season. He added that with this information the Kilmers always knew what was going on in the field because they could pull up all application and planting data from their phones. Having the information available made a big difference in the first year.
Blanchette, and the AHW team, is always available. The dealership chain even has a 24-hour call-in help line for customers that allows for faster response during the busiest times of the season. Those service support people can actually use Remote Display Access to see just how a farmer has set up a machine and help troubleshoot issues from the phone.
Technology brings enhanced efficiency, greater information for decision making, and during even the busiest times take some stress off through auto-control of fatiguing tasks. As we wrap up this series with the Kilmers we look forward to 2018 where we'll be meeting a new farm family as part of the Tech@Work program.
For more information on the automation and technology tools available from John Deere, visit johndeere.com.