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New technology impacts price of Iowa farming

BY CASSIDY RILEY | MARCH 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa farmers are entering the modern age and seeing an impact on their pocketbooks.

Input costs for Iowa farmers have risen in the past few years, including costs for new technology. Experts say this is making the industry more expensive to get into, but it also helps farmers save in other areas.

“As a young producer, it’s hard to come up with the capital to buy some of these things, let alone the technology on top of it,” said Ben Bader, a farmer from Black Hawk County.

Bader uses GPS and auto-steer technology as part of his crop farming. He can use the technology in several different ways to make his work more efficient, including making sure he doesn’t overlap where he plants and mapping out how much fertilizer is needed in different areas of the field.

Kurt Steward, a farmer from Dixon, Iowa, said the technology helps him to be more efficient so that he does not waste resources, which are increasing in price. He said the price of the technology does make the industry more expensive but that the hope is that within a few years it will pay for itself in how much he saves.

“The sheer cost of everything is driving people to use technology to raise better crops and be more efficient,” Steward said.

Rick Eckermann, a salesman for Farmers Supply in Kalona, said a new tractor could cost as much as $280,000 and new technology added to it, such as auto-steer, could cost anywhere from $10,000-$20,000 more.

Other input costs, such as seed and fertilizer, have also gone up in the past few years. In 2003, corn seed cost $1.06 for every 1,000 kilograms. Currently, the estimated cost for this year is $3.64 for every 1,000 kilograms. 

“The idea behind the technology is to make the farmer or organization more efficient,” he said. “Everything’s getting more expensive.  That’s why it’s catching [on] so fast.”

In 2007, more than 30 percent of Iowa farms had adopted Precision Guidance auto-steer systems, one of the more popular forms of new technology in farming. Iowa State University agriculture-engineering specialist Greg Brenneman said adoption has likely increased even more since then.

“Of the acres being farmed, I would say its well over 50 percent,” he said. “I would say the rate of adoption has really increased in the last five years.”

Cost of new technology and farming costs in general are primarily an issue for newer farmers, Steward said.

“Not only the technology but I think the cost of equipment, the cost of the land, the rental costs, [make it harder] for the younger generation to get involved unless they have first hand connection with agriculture somehow,” he said.

Steward said that in the long run, technology will save farmers more than it costs them. The first piece of new technology he ever invested in was electronic clutches on the planter that used GPS technology and would turn off if he was over an area that had already been planted.

“I think it paid for itself in the first couple of years easy, bar none,” he said. “It’s the best thing we’ve probably invested in.”


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