This is the second in a series of my reflections on my 30 years of covering Indiana agriculture as a writer and editor. If the 1990s will be remembered for anything, it should be for the breakthroughs in technology that finally reached the farm. These were both on the mechanical side, and on the biological side, through biotechnology. This decade issued in fundamental change that some tried to write off at first as fads. The tide soon proved so strong that no one would hold it back. The technology flat out works, and is here to stay.
Not everyone realized what they had their hands on when the first yield monitor appeared in 1992. At long last, farmer could actually tell what a spot within the field was making, and what the entire field made, without weighing spots or fields individually. Most of them were aftermarket at first, except for Greenstar on John Deere, which started with its own system and has stayed true to it through the years.
Suddenly you could know that the low spot made 180 while the high spots made 80 bushels per acre in the same pass. I rode a combine in northern Indiana back in those early days and saw it with my own eyes. I rode a combine in Vigo County a bit later and was surprised to learn how far out into the field the effects of ponding and flooding affected soybeans.
Tying it to GPS, many began printing colored maps of their yield reports. Some still thought they were fads. Others used the maps to convince landlords that the farm needed tile drainage or other improvements, including lime. Variable rate lime application took off at about the same time, and remains one of the simplest, but most effective ways to improve corn and soybean yields in many fields.
Farm Progress Companies editors sensed this was a fundamental change. We sponsored a precision ag conference for farmers in Champaign, Ill., and attracted more than 400 paying customers. Early adopters, innovators and perhaps even some farmers on the bleeding edge shard their experiences with precision farming. The following year the company sponsored three conferences, form Omaha, Nebr. to Indianapolis, Ind.
At the same time, the company sponsored research at Purdue to see just how accurate these technologies were. Purdue ag engineers were concerned if designers were taking shortcuts. They were especially concerned when some consultants began to 'normalize' data, making a lot of assumptions based on data that could have some error in it. As a result of their work, some companies paid more attention to how their system's worked, and eventually improved the accuracy of on-the-go yield monitors.