Heavy Metal, High Tech
This Illinois farmer says he was slow to adopt precision ag technology. But now, after a few years under his belt, he’s excited about the results.
By Jeff Caldwell | Photos By Christy Couch Lee
Dave Lynn likes his music loud. When he’s running a tractor or combine through his Illinois farm fields, chances are he’s got his trademark heavy metal cranked up in the cab.
The 48-year-old farmer also enjoys a good laugh—you might just hear his booming laughter over the music—even if that means making himself the butt of the joke.
For instance, as he pauses to reflect on when he began leveraging precision agriculture tools on his 1,400-acre row-crop farm near Williamsfield, Ill., he naturally points to his own folly as a sort of obstacle.
“It was pretty simple how we started. Because I’m dumb,” Lynn says with a self-deprecating laugh as he reflects on his first yield monitor in 2009.
He took it slow, he says, explaining he’s not the world’s most technology-savvy person, and, as a result, wasn’t the first farmer in his area to start using technology such as autosteer and other precision ag tools. Yet, once he saw the benefits of those types of gizmos and gadgets, he was an easy convert, and today he even uses such technologies as an iPad to track field data from planting to harvest via a Wi-Fi signal in his tractor.
These days, says Lynn, “The more information I can get, the better I know what works and what doesn’t. Now, when I’m talking to a seed guy, I can make reports based on their hybrids and see what performed best out in every field, because I’m mapping all those varieties in the planter and the combine. I can find out the yield for every hybrid out there. That’s pretty exciting.”
One Step at a Time
For Lynn, who also helps manage a 200-head registered Angus cow herd at Lynnbrook Farms alongside landowner Les Potts, his adoption of precision agricultural tools and techniques was both a building process and one of discovery. As he traded and scaled up equipment over the years, he started to notice synergies among his tractor, planter and combine.
“We traded our ‘workhorse’ 200-HP tractor, and decided to get autosteer in the new machine,” Lynn says of the tractor he purchased in 2012. “When we did that, it opened the door to all of these other tools.”
Lynn characterizes many of the crop management changes he makes on his corn acres as “really unscientific.” He explains that “a lot of the time, making decisions still comes down to: ‘What worked last year?’”
Yet, he adds, experience is teaching him that tools like the precision monitors he now uses with his planter and combine are part of a more disciplined approach. It’s helping him make more specific adjustments in the field without sacrificing efficiency and timeliness during operations like planting and harvest.
“We’ve noticed over time that when you match everything up and have good data, you can start to see correlations between what you do from a management standpoint and your yield results,” Lynn says. “I have the capability to make my own prescriptions for planting now. If I want to plant for specific soil types, now I can do that.”
As quickly as he can rattle off the latest heavy metal song he played in his tractor cab, Lynn’s just as quick to credit his now tech-forward approach to his precision-farming manager, Nathan Zimmerman. The two met at about the time Lynn was looking to build his precision ag toolset.
“He was a young kid just getting involved in [precision ag], and we’ve had a good relationship from the beginning,” Lynn says. “It was huge to my success having him come along at that time, because I have always had so many questions to ask. Eighty percent of the time, he can fix my problems over the phone and get me pretty well squared away in a short amount of time.”
According to Zimmerman, a successful adoption of precision ag components and practices starts with seeking efficacy in every component and understanding how to follow through from implementation to review of the results.
“The [farmers] who are best at it are the good communicators—the ones who want to make sure everything is working properly, they’re getting their money’s worth and get the most utility out of it all,” Zimmerman says. “Dave is great because he always wants to get the most out of what he buys.”
Looking ahead, Lynn says he’ll continue building on his technology toolset, adding components that will help him accomplish specific tasks, that will, he believes, have a positive effect on his balance sheet.
“I see a lot more ahead,” he explains. “I will have the capability to make my own prescriptions for planting based on seeding rate and plant population. “If I want to base that off of soil type, I can,” Lynn says. “I’m looking forward to being able to plant different varieties automatically—see how they’re performing. It’s got me excited.”
Adds Zimmerman: “You don’t always get a huge, immediate payback from guidance, for example. But, if you’re integrating it into a strip-till system or when you start getting into newer planter clutch systems and liquid controls, there is a lot of money to be saved on inputs like seed and chemical.”
For instance, continues Zimmerman, “We just installed a second liquid kit so Dave can monitor his anhydrous on his strip-till bar. And, what we just installed is also something we can move to his sprayer, so he can control rates with automatic section controls in the spring. This is all being done with the same display that runs his planter, controls his guidance and runs the yield monitor in his combine.”
Still, Lynn—once the kid who couldn’t wait to get out of school and into the field to drive a tractor or combine, and crank his favorite heavy metal song in the cab—knows that continued success will require a lot of ongoing education. “Some days, I don’t know if I want to learn anything else. But, I know I have to,” he says with a laugh. “The great thing is I’ve gotten really interested in all of this technology.”