Precision farming for the future

Published 11:42 am Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lynn Lagerstedt, owner of GPS Services, explains how a fertilizer tank applies varying amounts of liquid to fields when it is run by a computer and global positioning system. -- Matt Peterson/

As each season passes, a group of men from Adams discovers a little more about the future of crops.

Lynn Lagerstedt, owner of GPS Services in Adams, and his team are constantly gaining knowledge of farmers’ fields and how technology can improve crop production. Though Lagerstedt isn’t a farmer, he grew up on a farm, taught agriculture classes and has been a business owner for 35 years. While teaching ag, he saw a need for improved farming practices — and an opportunity to start his own business.

Carson Bergstrom of GPS Services in Adams explains how he uses a UTV, computer and GPS unit to monitor soil and plants in fields.

“At that time, there wasn’t a lot of technology out there,” he said about growing crops.

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So Lagerstedt, his son, Dave, and several other experts at GPS now sell products and provide services that help farmers achieve better results. And if they could use one word to describe the future of agriculture, it would be “precision.”

“We’re utilizing the research data that’s out there to do a little more precision job of growing crops.” Lagerstedt said.

Lagerstedt refers to a combination of global positioning systems, aerial imaging, field mapping and soil sampling to achieve two main goals: fewer input costs and better yields. One new technique involves applying fertilizer directly to field rows and planting on top afterward. By using GPS units that control auto-steer systems in tractors, the farmers can plant within an inch of the applied fertilizer.

“A lot of people would look at GPS guidance as steering a tractor and having nice rows, but it goes far beyond that,” Lagerstedt said.

He added the equipment he sells has another practical use. Because GPS Services also tests soil, its employees find sections of fields that require more fertilizer than others. When farmers plug that data into their GPS units, a built-in computer will govern how much fertilizer is applied to specific areas of fields. The whole process becomes more efficient and achieves exactly what farmers want: fewer inputs and better yields. Dave added the precision approach results in less runoff, so ditches and waterways don’t receive as much fertilizer, meaning less pollution.

Overall, Lynn enjoys the work because he gets to meet new people and help them improve their own businesses, too.

“I enjoy working with the people — no question about that,” he said.

Lagerstedt and his son are surprised how far technology has progressed — and continues to improve.

“There’s nothing static about this industry at all,” Lagerstedt said. “Changes are coming along very rapidly, and it’s fascinating to see some of these changes.”

The improvements should be exciting for farmers, too. Dave said some equipment is now one-fifth the cost it was when it was released about eight years ago. According to him, crop farmers of any scale can benefit from that precision equipment.

One thing that won’t leave the farming industry, however, is a farmer’s passion to do his own work, Lagerstedt said. Even though technology is making the farmer’s job easier, machines aren’t going to take over quite yet.

“The farmer is still going to have to be very much in involved,” Lagerstedt said. “The technology isn’t gong to replace him.”

GPS employees expect more people to switch to guidance systems, as well. They currently have several units sold, waiting for pick up.

According to Dave, crop production should increase on a large scale as technology increases in the fields, too. The worldwide demand for food, fuel and other grain materials is calling for it.