Home / Connected To The Land Ep. 17: John Deere Agriculture Technology (Zach Carpenter)

Connected To The Land Ep. 17: John Deere Agriculture Technology (Zach Carpenter)

Connected To The Land Ep. 17: John Deere Agriculture Technology (Zach Carpenter) In this episode of Connected To The Land...

Connected To The Land Ep. 17: John Deere Agriculture Technology (Zach Carpenter)

In this episode of Connected To The Land with 4Rivers Equipment, host Fred Eichler speaks with Zach Carpenter, a certified crop advisor and integrated solutions specialist, about agriculture technology and its benefits for farmers across all areas of farming.


Connected to the land with 4Rivers Equipment and John Deere.

Fred: Welcome to the 4Rivers podcast. We are your working partner and we mean it. Well, today, I’m sitting here with Zach Carpenter, and he has got a pretty cool job title, it’s Precision Ag Specialist. Now, it just means basically, he knows a whole lot about technology, but he looks like an MMA wrestler, he’s a big dude, but he’s pretty smart with a little bit of everything. So, Zach, thanks for coming today.

Zach Carpenter: Thanks for having me, Fred.

Fred: Man, I appreciate it buddy. So, let’s talk… There are so many ways technology can help people out, but let’s start off with talking about how did you get started working with technology and agriculture?

ZC: Sure. I started out working for a local fertilizer outfit when I was in college, I interned there one summer, I was working towards an Ag degree, worked there one summer and… Well, excuse me, that was before I started working towards an Ag degree, but I just took it as a summer job and really wound up liking it, playing a role in a farmer’s production for a year. That’s a heck of a thing. And getting to see and meet some amazing people in the process, it was just something I kinda fell for and have done it ever since.

Fred: That’s pretty neat. What attracted you to it, was it being able to see what you did or make a difference, or what do you… What did you think was… Where did your passion lie there?

ZC: I think it was partly making a difference, working in Ag’s kinda almost a family tradition for me. It was actually my dad that got me into it, and I never really knew what dad did. I knew what his job title was, everything when I was growing up, and that summer, I just kinda started to realize all the things that he loved about it, and I just kinda fell for it the same way.

Fred: That’s awesome. Now, what is it technically like, if you were thinking… How would you describe a crop advisor?

ZC: Basically, it’s someone who’s involved in the production process, in most cases, the way that you describe a Certified Crop Advisors, an agronomist, basically someone who scouts farmers’ fields week after week throughout the growing season, finds the problems, makes…

Fred: Whether that’s bug infestations or whatever, right?

ZC: Bugs, weeds, diseases, makes recommendations to that farmer, takes soil samples, basically involved from the minute that field is planted till it’s harvested.

0:02:43.2 Fred: Now, how do you help guys out, as far as the technology goes? And we’ve used it on our place, like the New Baylor that we’ve got, you know what I mean? John Deere, it’s unreal, being able to read moisture and give you a weight, an average weight, break it out from field to field. Talk a little bit about how technology can help farmers out, because I think a lot of guys… I had no idea some of the stuff was out there, you know what I mean? I don’t know, 4020 was my first tractor, you know what I mean? It wouldn’t do anything but start and run hard, you know? [chuckle] But now there’s stuff that’s just unreal. So talk about how guys are utilizing technology, I guess, to not only help them out to make things easier, but also to increase their profit margin?

0:03:27.2 ZC: See, and there’s a lot of ways that guys can use this technology in their operation, the most basic instance is probably using some form of auto-steer in the machinery, keeps you from overlapping where you’ve already planted seed or spread fertilizer, stuff like that, all the way to yield monitoring with a combine or like you said, getting bale weights, getting bale moisture. And then on the other end of things, there’s also things like drone imagery, satellite imagery that can pinpoint problems in a field, or at least give you an idea of how that crop’s doing throughout the growing season. And if you wanna go all the way into the spectrum, there’s sensors on pivots to where a farmer can know whether a pivot is running at a certain time of day, what position in the field it is. I mean, it’s just however far you wanna get into it really.

0:04:27.5 Fred: Well, I think it’s important because you just mentioned a couple of things like, you know, the automated steering, for example, you know, when it’s easy to make mistakes. I think I’m driving perfectly straight, you know what I mean? [chuckle] And then, if you ever look back, you’re going, what in the heck? You know? Why am I getting to the end of this snub and making a big, huge half moon? So, it’s not straight at all, but you mentioned some key points here, like, when you run fertilizer or planting seed, how much more money that is, and a lot of people don’t realize you put too much fertilizer, you half lap where you’re putting fertilizer, it can get too hot, you can kill that crop. So, you may lose a good portion of your field depending on how much you’re overlapping, and the seed is the same way, you’re either not putting the right amount of seed in the field, because you’re skipping gaps or you’re overlapping seed, and the problem with that is, now it may not get enough water, it’s gonna be stunted, or it’s gonna choke… Either choke out, but the sun’s not gonna get to it like it needs to.

0:05:23.5 Fred: So, just that to me is huge, and that’s where technology helps guys take advantage. What are some of the other things? I mean, let’s go into that rabbit hole a little bit more. [chuckle] Let’s talk about some other things like that that can help people out.

0:05:40.5 ZC: One thing that really comes to mind is section control on a planner, an air seeder, sprayer, fertilizer applicator. Section control, even overlapping six inches on a crop can just yield some tremendous difficulties, I guess, is the best way to say that. I mean, if you put too much seed too close together, you probably won’t match up with the fertilizer in the case of strip tilling on corn, and the further away from that fertilizer band the seed is, the longer it takes those roots to get to it, and thus, you’re losing yield. I mean, you want that seed perfectly placed with that fertilizer, so… But you don’t want it so close that it burns the seed, but you want it to where it gets there quickly, ’cause the sooner those roots start uptaking fertilizer and other nutrients, the more yield is impacted.

0:06:39.7 ZC: And also, I mean, with herbicides and fungicides and other crop protection chemicals, if you overlap too much, that basically has the effect of putting too much of that input on the crop, so you can stunt plants, you can outright kill them if you get too much, and that rarely happens. But getting too much on, you could violate a law on rate. I mean, if there’s too much of that material on the seed at harvest, and you just so happen to get tested and have too much residue, that can be a big deal…

0:07:24.8 Fred: Yeah.

0:07:24.9 ZC: Depending on the crop. And overall, it’s just being more efficient, you wanna put enough, but not too much, because everything we put in the field costs money.

0:07:36.8 Fred: And that technology… I mean, how much have you seen it change? In the past, let’s say, five, 10, even 15 years, how much since you’ve been involved in it, but even year to year, how much change have you seen in the technology that John Deere offers?

0:07:52.3 ZC: Oh, it’s down right incredible. And not just John Deere, but even seven years ago, when I really started working in Precision Ag, stuff wasn’t standard from the factory, we weren’t having the displays, the receivers, all that stuff integrated from the factory quite to the point we have today. And it’s coming direct from the factory, so there’s an incentive for a farmer to use it, it’s not just a simple, “I don’t need that.” Now it’s in the cab, so I mean, it’s opening doors for guys who probably never would have ordered it before.

0:08:29.2 Fred: Right. Now they’re learning the advantage of it. How long… The thing that’s amazed me is how quickly… Or I guess, how menu-driven and how easy some of it is. I mean, at first, and I’m a lot older than you, but at first some of that stuff was really like… I was like, “Oh boy. What am I gonna have to learn here,” but you don’t really have to be a computer programmer to learn how to run this stuff, and it’s gotta be fun for you sitting guys down that are older guys and going, “Here’s what you have to do,” and isn’t part of your job going out there and setting it up for them?

0:09:02.2 ZC: It certainly is. I mean, we do a lot of different things here. Our Precision Ag department is incredibly varied, so we don’t just work on the AMS equipment and the tractor, we handle everything to moisture probes, to drones, to everything, but it’s awesome getting to work with some of these… Especially the older farmers that maybe don’t know, or just any farmer that doesn’t quite know the full breadth of the technology. It’s really cool to be sitting in the cab with them and then they say, “Oh, I can actually do that. [chuckle] That’s awesome.”


0:09:42.1 Fred: You can see the light come on.

0:09:43.3 ZC: Oh, heck, yeah. And it’s so much more simple than people think it is. I mean, if you can work a smartphone, I mean, you can probably figure out how to auto-track in a machine. [chuckle] I mean, just a little bit of common sense. I mean, a little bit of persistence, ’cause there will be times where it can be a little frustrating, but anybody can figure it out.

0:10:08.9 Fred: And you guys always have guys online, that’s what I love when I have a question, I’ll just call up 4Rivers. [chuckle] And I know a lot of other guys that do the same, like, “Okay, I got a question here, help me figure this out.”

0:10:18.5 ZC: Oh yeah.

0:10:18.8 Fred: And even to the point of issues, right? I mean, that technology not only helps with Ag but also letting you know, “Hey, here’s an issue that’s cropping up.”

0:10:28.9 ZC: I mean, one of the things I think that gets lost a lot of the time thinking about all of this technology is how much easier it makes everyone’s life. ‘Cause if you spend 12 hours a day turning around looking at the planner [chuckle] or the disc or whatever, I mean, if you’re spending all day turning around in that cab, by the time you get to the end of the day, you’re probably gonna be sore…

0:10:52.8 Fred: Gonna have back issues.


0:10:54.3 ZC: You’re probably gonna be tired. And some of the best stories I’ve heard about Precision Ag adaptation, especially in the early days, where people would… It was still a new technology, it was pretty expensive. I remember reading a story about a guy who sold a auto-steer system to a farmer, I wanna say this was somewhere in the Midwest, but as he was leaving, he saw the guy’s wife hop in the truck and follow him down the driveway and he’s thinking he’s gonna get chewed on, because…

0:11:26.7 Fred: He just spent a lot of money.

0:11:28.3 ZC: Her husband just spent a lot of money, and it was awesome, ’cause she came up and told him, “Thank you for giving me my husband back.”

0:11:36.5 Fred: Oh, wow.

0:11:37.4 ZC: He was able to make it home to dinner at 6:00 PM.

0:11:40.9 Fred: ‘Cause he was helped out.

0:11:42.9 ZC: ‘Cause he was so much more efficient. That’s an incredible story.

0:11:47.6 Fred: That is awesome. See, that’s cool, and that’s where the money is worth it. And you brought up a point I hadn’t even thought about, who hasn’t… You turn around all the time to make sure it’s running and doing what it’s supposed to be doing, that’s huge in itself. What are some of your favorites? Like, let’s talk about the GPS. On the GPS systems, which helps you out with the auto-steer, helps you out with everything else. What are some of your favorite features, I guess?

0:12:16.5 ZC: I would say… I mean, one of my favorite features on the new Gen 4 displays, for instance, is boundary fill, it’s basically a line optioned where if you have a boundary of a field, rather than having to go drive that exterior… ‘Cause I mean, if you got a circular field, you’re gonna have to drive in a perfect circle all the way around, but with that boundary fill, it basically sets a line based on your implement width to where, excuse me, you’re running with the outside edge of the implement on the boundary of the field, and it just sets it right off your boundary without you having to do anything.

0:12:53.9 Fred: So then you’re golden.

0:12:54.0 ZC: That is just convenient. That… It’s a simple feature, but it’s one of the ones I think was one of the better ideas.

0:13:01.9 Fred: Well, and being able to… Isn’t it true? I’ve heard other farmers talk. It’s nice to be able to see what the tractor is doing. If they’ve got hands in the field running equipment. Or in my case, the boys, a lot of times are running equipment. You know, it’s nice to be able to see, is that tractor running? Is it not running? Where is it at in the field? You can get… There’s a lot of advantages, like you say, that you don’t even think about. StarFire. Let’s talk a little bit about StarFire.

0:13:26.9 ZC: So the receivers… The current one is the 6000. Previous was the 3000. We’ve had kind of an interesting year with that. Long story short, the government changed the satellite frequencies, so we had to do a massive update on everybody’s receivers.

0:13:45.4 Fred: So, everybody that had a StarFire had to get this upgrade, basically, to be able to communicate with the satellites.

0:13:51.1 ZC: Yup.

0:13:51.7 Fred: Okay.

0:13:52.9 ZC: And, I mean, luckily, it came at a time of the year… It came in January.

0:13:57.8 Fred: Oh, perfect. Nobody was out.

0:14:00.5 ZC: Nobody’s really that busy in the field at that time of year, but that was certainly interesting. Trying to figure out how many receivers we needed to update, knowing the time frame that we had to get done. But in StarFire receivers, they… Overall, I think they’re one of the better setups as far as features on the market. I mean, we have the ability to program them in about 10 minutes since they have a USB jack on the receiver to update them. And just the pulling time, from the time you turn that tractor on, you should have GPS in about five minutes and get up and running, whereas previous receivers, it might take you 15-20 minutes.

0:14:46.6 Fred: Wow. Everyday. That makes up a lot.

0:14:48.9 ZC: And that just aggravated the snot out of people, man. [chuckle] When these guys get these new receivers and they realize, “Oh, I can start a lot quicker, I don’t have to sit here.” I mean, you would not even believe how many times I’ve heard that from growers.

0:15:04.4 Fred: That’s great. Yeah, saving them time. Anything that saves them time. Nobody likes to sit there and not run.

0:15:08.0 ZC: Yeah.

0:15:10.4 Fred: Where do you see some of this technology headed? I mean, I know you probably have a field for some of the new stuff in the works… And where do you think we’re going with it? I guess, at what point… It’s crazy to me, it’s all a plus, but as automation not only increases profit margin, as it increases yield, and a lot of guys, it’s great to have less people to do certain jobs.

0:15:37.2 ZC: Oh, exactly.

0:15:38.0 Fred: So, where do you see it headed?

0:15:40.4 ZC: Out here, I mean, it’ll be interesting because with our growers, we have a lot of guys raising more conventional crops, corn, alfalfa, wheat, pinto beans, sugar beets. But we also have a lot of customers that are raising specialty crops, mean anything from peppers to lettuce, onions, potatoes, stuff that is really not very common. So, on that end of the spectrum, I think like robotic weeders, most likely will become much more popular.

0:16:13.4 Fred: And ones that are smart enough to spot the weed and spray it, that’s amazing to me.

0:16:17.9 ZC: Exactly. Or even just pull it out of the ground.

0:16:19.9 Fred: See, I’ve heard of that technology. That’s absolutely amazing.

0:16:23.0 ZC: I think with those guys, that’s gonna become a lot more popular, probably in the next three to five years. Especially with Ag labor laws being a point of concern for that specific type of grower. On the other end, we may see… I mean, the specialty grower may see some autonomy, especially, as far as machinery goes, but with the bigger grain or hay operations around here, I think we may start seeing some autonomous tractors, especially, for grain carts.

0:16:58.4 Fred: Oh, wow.

0:17:00.3 ZC: I mean, just take one whole operator out of that equation and let the computer do it. It’s one person you don’t have to feed, give time off to, all that sorta thing. So, I think that’s kinda where it’s going, and also, more control over inputs and how they’re applied. We’re seeing now, these planters that are able to control each row of the planter. So on row 1, you could be applying 30,000 seeds, on row 2, you could be applying 36, and so on and so forth, but I think the control aspect and autonomy or robotics will play a big part.

0:17:39.3 Fred: Yeah, especially as farming gets more expensive, you know what I mean?

0:17:41.7 ZC: Yeah.

0:17:42.2 Fred: You need every… Profit margin is huge. And that’s interesting to me on the planters, ’cause I’ve heard guys talk about that as well. You don’t really… At first you go, “Why would you wanna do that?” And then people talk about, “Well, it’s sandier soil here, so we know that we’ve got to spread it out a little bit further. Or we’ve got… Here the soil is really good in our field, and that matches up with our soil test, so we can put more seeds here. Or this part of the field gets wetter, and… ” It’s amazing to me when you start looking at technology and how they’re working that into the Ag side. So, Zach, you work with a lot of people, you help a lot of people out in the field with your position here at 4Rivers, but if I was to ask you your favorite part of your job, what do you enjoy the most? Is it the technology? Is it the programming? Is it the people? Is it watching things grow? What’s your… If you were to go, “Man, when I’m doing this, that’s probably my favorite part of the job.”

0:18:37.6 ZC: Probably it comes down to the people. ‘Cause you won’t find better people, better hard working, quality people than in farming. I mean, I’ve heard for years from family members that farming is the best way to raise a family, ’cause kids learn hard work, they learn that, “Hey, you’re gonna fail sometimes, but that’s just a part of it.” And probably my favorite part is when I’ve worked with the growers throughout the year, then if I talk to them around harvest hearing, “Hey, this piece of equipment we bought, or this feature, that helped us raise the best crop we ever had,” that’s down right cool, and that’s what makes it worth it.

0:19:19.1 Fred: See, that’s awesome. Alright, well, I’m gonna close this with one other question, what’s your favorite piece of equipment to run? Bar none. Across the board, what’s your favorite piece of John Deere equipment to run? What do you like the best?

0:19:29.8 ZC: Probably the 9RX. [chuckle] I mean, who doesn’t love the big tractor?

0:19:34.4 Fred: Right. Oh yeah, nice to get out there and see what you’re doing.

0:19:37.8 ZC: Oh yeah.

0:19:38.6 Fred: So Zach, thanks so much for talking to me. I love… I think the technology has made such a difference for so many people, that it’s great to talk to somebody that understands it, and knows it. And you know, heck, who knows? They’re in Colorado and they’re getting set up with some technology, you may be the guy out in the field that’s actually helping them out.

0:19:56.7 ZC: Let’s hope so.

0:19:57.3 Fred: Well, thanks for sitting down with us today, man, I appreciate it.

0:20:00.1 ZC: Absolutely, Fred. Thanks for having me.