PORT REPUBLIC, VA — The Rodes family at Rivehill Farms have long embraced innovation on their dairy and turkey operation.
Years ago, the Rodes incorporated a dragline and tractor-driven manure spoon as a way to spread liquid dairy manure on their crop fields. They would hook up the dragline at hydrants attached to underground hard pipes connected to the lagoon.
The Rodes have also long used a wood-fired boiler in their turkey house, and have also recently installed a poultry litter furnace to help reduce their use of propane.
For the past two years, Nelson Rodes and his family have also been using a suite of precision agriculture technology of the like that has become increasingly common on the farms of the Midwest and West.
The suite of technology they use records and maps yields, regulates the flow of inoculants applied to chopped silage and provides auto-steering.
“It all fits together amazingly well,” said Nelson.
The technology is the John Deere GreenStarTM suite of ag management systems. The Rodeses have two GreenStarTM units which they are able to use across a forage harvester, a sprayer, three tractors and a recently purchased 9660 STS combine.
“It’s a big investment to buy these systems,” said Nelson’s son Gary.
Taken individually, the benefit of any one advantage provided by the technology might not justify the cost. To the Rodeses, taken together, the benefits do make the investment worthwhile.
The system’s ability to provide yield mapping “makes record-keeping easier,” said Nelson.
The Rodeses provide their customers — they harvest throughout Shenandoah, Rockingham and Augusta counties, from Mt. Solon to Mt. Jackson — with a record of how their fields are performing.
“It gives a customer an idea of what’s out there in his field,” Nelson said.
The Rodeses’ chopper is outfitted with a Dohrmann Dohrect Enject inoculant application system. As the GreenStarTM unit measures the yield flowing through the machine, it communicates with Dohrect Enject applicator to modulate the amount of inoculate being applied based on yield.
With this setup, Gary knows the silage being harvested is receiving exactly the right amount of inoculant. Previously, he had to estimate how much inoculants to apply, and make variations by hand within the cab of the harvester.
“It’s a big plus, given the cost of inoculants,” Gary said.
Another big plus is GreenStarTM’s auto-steer function. “Once you get use to auto steer,” Gary said, “the fatigue factor goes down immensely.”
“And efficiency goes up,” Nelson added. By reducing the amount of overlap, the Rodeses can minimize the cost of excessive fuel and other inputs.
At present, the Rodeses are not using the technology for prescription applications. Their sprayer is not equipped to allow variable rate application. Because of that, the Rodeses aren’t paying for RTK (real-time kinematic), which would minimized overlaps to about one inch. At present, the Rodeses technology permits no more than six inches of overlap.
“Our equipment’s a mix of old and new,” Nelson said.
“If we bought a new applicator we would set it up for precision spraying,” Gary said.
In the future, they may also use the technology to changing varieties on the go while planting, to take advantage of changing field and soil conditions, but “we’re not there yet,” said Nelson.
Even though the yield mapping and auto steering does save times in some ways, in other ways it provides new tasks — dealing with the data generated by the system.
“In one way it’s a time saver,” said Nelson, “but in another way it takes time.”
Farming can still be done without this level of precision technology, Gary said, but once you get used to using it and reaping its benefits.
“Is it necessary?” he asked. “No. But an air-conditioner in a car isn’t necessary either.”
“It has a lot of advantages,” Nelson said. “It adds up if you have enough