Students in Annie Erichsen’s Ag Technology classroom had maps of corn fields with red and green blurbs on their computer monitors Thursday morning.
Erichsen instructed her Southeast Community College-Beatrice students to various seed levels -- ranging from 20,000 to 22,000 seeds per acre -- to determine which areas of the field historically fetched the highest yields, thus would receive a higher seed content.
The exercise is one of many ways computer technology has worked its way into the everyday curriculum at SCC, as well as becoming a common sight in many Sunland farms.
“We collect all of our data out in the field, then we bring that data in and the kids can manipulate that to write prescriptions based on what our yields are and things like that,” Erichsen explained while her students worked on the exercise. “It allows them to make better management and financial decisions. Resources are limited at times, so it allows them to determine if they need fertilizer here or if the soil isn’t as good over there.
“It’s a money management and decision making tool.”
SCC’s fields are entirely operated by students, from planting to harvest.
Between data collected by yield monitors during harvest as well as soil samples and pest tests, students are able to determine and diagnose problem areas in fields, thus maximizing production.
“Ultimately, over a period of time you’re going to make better management decisions that will allow your land to go further and better use your resources,” Erichsen said. “It’s something that more and more farmers are starting to use.”
Technology in the crop industry includes GPS units, auto-steering technology that allows the tractor to follow the rows and variable-rate seeding technology that plants different seed rates based on an areas yields, just to name a few.
One farmer who uses the technology on his own land is SCC instructor Mark Duffek.
Duffek said the equipment -- a complete setup can fetch as much as $17,000 -- has made a noticeable difference on his own farm ground, which is less than 500 acres.
“I farm myself with this technology at home and it saves me money,” he said. “A lot of the students are already utilizing this technology on their family farms as well, especially the auto-steer applications. Not very many are using the variable rate seeding yet. We’re working towards that.”
Duffek said the majority of farmers are using some kind of computer technology in their fields, making it crucial that SCC students are familiar with the equipment.
“What we do here is mainly for students to get that hands-on and try to utilize it,” he said. “They focus on how to set it up, how to drive the tractors, how to use the equipment and then be able to capture the data that we’re trying to get and use it to be more productive on their own farming operations.
“You can actually see in the field what soil conditions will boost yields. We can change our seeding rates to compensate for those different soil conditions and types.”
From seed rates to fertilizer management, more and more farmers are beginning to use computer technology through the season, though Duffek said harvest season is when most farmers take advantage of the resources as they prepare for the next season.
“From the harvesting side, pretty much everyone is using the yield mapping in their combines,” he said. “Then they’re using the software to take the information from the field and use the data with the tools that we have, such as the mapping, to write prescriptions for variable rates.
“It’s really helping farmers get the most out of their crop production.”