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Harvesting grain and data

Press Photo By Lisa Miller Doug Maus, manager of West Plains Inc., demonstrates how precision agriculture equipment works outside of the West Plains shop in Dickinson Friday afternoon.

Precision agriculture equipment is growing in popularity, and farmers are finding it hard to farm without.

"We use it so much now we come to think of it as another piece of farm equipment," Stark County farmer Bob Zent said. "We have come to the point that if it stopped working we would consider replacing our system rather than going without it."

Precision agriculture equipment works by the use of satellites and sensors. A monitor collects the signals from the satellites and sensors, processes the information and provides readings. These readings get saved to a data card or memory stick which then plugs into a computer. Farmers use special software that maps the information received to see how well their crops fared.

Although precision agriculture equipment can be used year round, harvest is the most popular time it is utilized.

"Harvest is when the farmers collect data about the field, yield and interferences in growth," said Doug Maus, West Plains Inc. manager.

"The systems are very user-friendly," Maus said. "It gives the farmers an accurate look at what some of the factors were that affected the yield and how they might change some of their practices to get a better outcome for the next."

Zent's favorite thing about the equipment is that "it almost eliminates overlap and skips whether you are spraying, seeding or harvesting."

"It saves money because farmers are not wasting seed, spray or fertilizer because they hit all the areas they need once, instead of having missed parts or covering an area twice," said Dave Hoesel, customer support representative at Dakota Farm.

"Precision agriculture equipment can either be bought already in place in new models of farm equipment or you can purchase it separately to mount in your existing tractor or combine," Maus said.

"Systems start at about $4,500 to $12,500 for a complete unit," Maus said. The cost varies based on the age of the technology you purchase and the level of accuracy you want, Maus and Hoesel say.

"They are nice to have," Maus said. "All the new technological advances in agriculture a very exciting."