Precision farming and technology revolutionizes crop management in mid Michigan

This story on agriculture in the mid-Michigan region is sponsored by Krapohl Ford & Lincoln.

Constantly changing weather conditions and patterns can cause a big headache for those in the agriculture industry. Farmers’ livelihoods can drastically be impacted by these changing weather patterns, such as droughts. Luckily, advancements in technology help farmers make data-informed decisions that lessen the likelihood of poor crop outcomes—plus, allow additional perks. 

Sam Moeggenborg is a third generation cash crop farmer. He’s an operator along with his father, uncle, and cousin at Moeggenborg Farms in Isabella and Gratiot counties.

With implementing technology such as auto-steering tractors and precision-planting tools, he says the use of technology not only helps them save costs on their corn, soybeans, and wheat, but it decreases wear on their equipment, and it allows them to overcome issues they face in the field. 

“Technology in seed hybrids are constantly adapting and overcoming issues we face in the fields, such as drought-tolerant seeds which hold up better in our constantly changing weather patterns,” he explains, also adding “problematic weeds genetics are used to to help fight those issues.”

Moeggenborg says that they’ve been using auto-steering tractors and equipment for over ten years. 

“Auto steer uses a GPS signal to provide very accurate guidance on our equipment,” Moeggenborg explains. “How this works is you set a line in your field and it repeats the same process throughout the whole field. The benefit of this is there is less overlap, which in turn, makes our operation more efficient by saving fuel, wear and tear on equipment—which hopefully equates to cost savings, and in the end, being more efficient and profitable.”

“Auto steer also reduces operator fatigue and allows us to operate longer days and work later into the night,” he says. “A farmer takes a lot of pride in planting straight rows. Auto steering takes a lot of the hassle out of that.”

“Auto steer also allows us to map fields in areas where we have already covered. This is very beneficial when we run our sprayer,” Moeggenborg explains. “How this works is after we have applied chemicals to an area, the sprayer will automatically shut off once we reach the area we have already covered—which in turn, saves cost on spray, and makes it a lot easier to do the job. This also allows us to keep better records of our operations.”

Supporting wind power, Moeggenborg Farms leases land on their property for a wind turbine. Courtney Jerome / Epicenter Mt. PleasantAnother form of technology used at Moeggenborg Farms, Precision Planting, impacts how they plant their crops’ seeds.

“We also utilize the latest technology on our corn planter. Our corn planter is equipped with Precision Planting’s VDrive and Delta Force,” says Moeggenborg. “This allows us to keep very consistent seed spacing.”

“With corn this is especially important because plants too close together will not produce a healthy corn plant, and plants too far apart are not efficient, because you're not using all the availability,” he explains. “This also allows us to maintain a precise seed depth which is very important for corn, as all the plants emerge out of the ground at the same time, which is very critical for a healthy corn crop.”

“The added benefits of this technology is as you plant the crop, it is mapped out, which allows everyone in our operation to track what is planted on certain fields,” Moeggenborg says. “There is also a lot of other data that it produces, such as what hybrid of seed is planted in which field, and the population of the seed … We are also able to scout fields and ‘drop a pin’ in problem areas, and our agronomist is able to scout fields and leave notes of things they see or things we might want to watch.” 

“The planter being equipped with this technology also allows us to plant at a variable rate,” he adds. “This is beneficial because you can lower the population of seed where the ground might not be as productive, leading to seed savings, or you can increase the population on more productive ground for a chance at higher yields. The best part of all this data is it is all accessible on smartphones or iPads.”

“The added benefit of mapping and collecting this data is that our combines are also equipped with this same technology, allowing us to map and track harvest data such as yields and moisture of the crops,” shares Moeggenborg. “Having all this data allows us to see what seed hybrids perform the best in certain areas and what might not work as well to make better decisions in the future.” 

Moeggenborg Farms has about 1,000 acres in Gratiot and Isabella counties, with rooftop solar panels to support electrical needs. Courtney Jerome / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant
Down the road from Moeggenborg Farms in Shepherd, the Bryant Family Farm is also utilizing similar technology. 

“We grow a lot of cash crops, cut flowers and mums, and right now we’re making maple syrup,” says Ben Bryant of their multi-sector farm. 

All the main pieces of equipment which they do their primary work with on the farm, utilizes technology. 

“The biggest [use of technology] is the GPS in the tractors for auto steering,” Bryant says. “With the auto steer it’s a cost savings, as you’re not overlapping ground. It also helps a reduction in operator fatigue. You tend to work extreme hours, so anything you can do to alleviate some of that, there’s value in that. It’s a real improvement.”

Bryant also benefits from being able to variable rate their planter and fertilizer, noting the yield mapping gives them a map of moisture in the field, the sprayer can be controlled better so they don’t overlap fertilizer they’re applying, and they’re also able to save money on seed thanks to the technology.

“Not all fields are consistent,” he explains, noting that when there's a difference in ground height, it’s helpful that the technology helps them save on seed and fertilizer costs in certain areas. For example, “Sandy ground that you know is not going to produce a crop, you can cut back on the seed and fertilizer to accommodate the ground conditions.”

Another way they make data-informed decisions on their farm is by getting samples of their soil and analyzing them. 

“We do grid sampling—pull soil samples—send them in and get an analysis, so you know what you need to apply,” he says. “That and with the yield maps, we can really figure out where the ground is more productive than others and how to handle that—it call comes together in the end.”

Cathy McCune, Isabella County Farm Bureau president and membership captain, who owns McCune Centennial Farm with her husband in Midland County, is also seeing the trend of utilizing technology on farms throughout the mid-Michigan area. 

“We see a lot of tractors that are on computers; they can tell the depth they have to plant the seed,” McCune explains. “With the GPS, it’s amazing to me what a good friend to the agriculture community technology can be.”

“My husbands’ dad farmed with horses,” she continues. “We’ve come so far because we need to feed a lot of people.”

“The cost for farmers this year alone is up because of everything going on in the world. Seeds are up, diesel and gas prices [are up]. Farmers are environmentalists and they’re not going to put anything more on their field than what is needed,” McCune adds. “The new tech is exciting!”

Moeggenborg shares McCune's excitement.

“I have seen huge advancement in technology just in my generation,” he says. “I can't imagine what technology will be introduced in my childrens’ generation. As a farmer, I enjoy all of this technology which allows us to be more efficient—which in turn helps us do a better job. If that helps us be more profitable at the end of the year, great. If not, it hopefully allows us to make better decisions for the future.”
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Read more articles by Courtney Jerome.

With 15 years of professional media experience, Courtney Jerome has found a passion for storytelling and showcasing our region in a positive light. She's written stories for television broadcasts, numerous magazines, and digital publications. In addition, she owns a boutique creative marketing agency that focuses on social media, photo, and video storytelling for small businesses across Michigan and the country — Contact Courtney, the managing editor of Epicenter, at