Like any other precision ag technology, planting technology has its obvious advantages but it also comes with the frustrations that every grower hope they can avoid at all costs during the planting season. Even the growers with very little technology on their planting equipment can relate very well to this topic. In fact, every grower who uses technology can tell you about all the times when he wants to take every piece of technology off their planter, throw it away, and just run the planter as simple and plain it used to be before putting any technology on.
Trust me, I have been there many times as well and nothing is more frustrating than when you are ready to get out in the field to plant (or actually in the middle of the planting season) but the planter would not run, more likely due to an issue(s) with technology. This issue could be anything including GPS not working, seed monitor/display not powering up, display unable to detect control module, bad seed tube sensor, malfunctioned seed meter drive, unable to load seeding prescription map, and the list can go on and on depending on the amount of technology on a planter. 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. Actually, it is the valuable TIME that these technology frustrations cost them, which they would much rather spend planting than trying to get the planter going. And for that reason, there are many growers who prefer not to utilize any technology on their farm as dealing with such technology frustrations is not worth the time and effort for them, and I cannot blame them for their decision to not use technology at all.
There is no doubt that using planting technology (as a matter of fact using any ag technology) can be challenging and frustrating at times, but in my opinion the technology benefits certainly outweighs dealing with the challenges involved in its utilization. In case of planting technology, being able to visualize planter data (seed singulation, population, spacing quality, etc.) in real-time for each row-unit while planting definitely provides a clear picture of the planter performance along with opportunities to correct or improve it on-the-go. Without any technology, the only way to assess planter performance is by looking at the emerged stand and by that time it’s already too late to make any adjustments as the seed has been planted and the furrow is already closed. Issues with planting technology are common and not completely avoidable so the best we can do is accept this fact and consider taking steps that can help avoid some of these issues as well as prepare us better to tackle the ones that may occur during the planting season.
Timely Technology Inspection: This is probably one of the most important things you can do to avoid any technology surprises, especially on the first day of planting. It is easy to skip technology while you are checking all other mechanical parts to get your planter ready for field operation. 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 (if possible earlier) before you intend to plant. During this inspection, make sure to check the GPS, seed monitor, seed meter drives, seed tube sensors, and other planter technology (hydraulic downforce etc.) for proper functioning 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 before they become big enough to stop you right in the middle of the field. Additionally, this will also be a good time to check for GPS correction subscription, firmware updates, and unlocks for prescriptive seeding applications. Spending little time and effort upfront on a thorough technology inspection can save you a lot of time and frustration in the planting season.
Good Customer Support: Unlike purchasing some other agricultural equipment or implements, investing in ag technology is much more than just buying a product that fit your needs and works for you. In ag technology market, good customer support from a technology company, dealer or service provider is valued lot more than the product itself. 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 – in-person or over the phone – when you actually need it. Remember, a great product does not always guarantee a good customer support but a great customer service can save you from lot of frustration and help make an ok product work great for you. 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? Specific answers to these questions can vary from one company to another but the 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) to help resolve your technology issue and get you back in the field. Find contact information for this person (company or dealer) for your planting technology, if possible try to meet him personally before beginning of the season, and save his phone number. Having good customer support and knowing the right person can help make dealing with technology frustrations a lot easier.
Take Pictures and Notes: If there is any technology on your planter, you probably already have encountered some issues during planting in the past or recently. While some of these issues on planting equipment are pretty common and occur more often, some of them are unique and only occur once in a while (may be once in every two to three years or even more). As many equipment and technology issues a grower deals with every year on his farm, it is hard to precisely remember all the steps required to fix each one of them. Something that I have learned from working with ag technology and have seen few growers do this as well is taking pictures and notes on the technology issues, and most importantly the troubleshooting steps that either you or the technician/consultant/dealer followed to fix that issue. Of course, fixing some of these issues require 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 in the season. Generally, a good practice is to take before and after pictures with detailed notes on each issue that occurred during the planting season and keep that information where it can be easily retrieved and accessible. 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) and will again save you a lot of time and frustration in the field.
Use Internet: Smartphones and internet are becoming more common among the growers these days. For some growers, internet especially social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) 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. Use these resources appropriately to your advantage to save yourself from technology frustrations.
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. And please remember especially you are new to using technology, it is going to take some time and patience to get use to technology and reap the benefits so hang on in there and don’t give up too early!!