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Doing more with less labor, expense

By Staff | Jul 4, 2015

TERRY BACKER, owner of T&B Grain Services LLC, in Jefferson, speaks to the crowd about a Programmable Logic Controllers system that has been installed on the David Ausberger farm, south of Jefferson, during a June 25 Practical Farmers of Iowa field day.

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JEFFERSON – Through conservation practices and innovative automation, Steve Ausberger said he’s able to farm his 1,700 Greene County acres with less labor and expense.

Getting more chores done with increased safety and less expense for energy through environmentally friendly practices were the salient points covered on June 25 on Ausberger’s farm south of Jefferson.

A field day hosted by Practical Farmers of Iowa gave attendees to learn about what is new and upcoming in the field of automation.

In addition to highlighting his new Programmable Logic Controllers system, Ausberger showed how he is using solar energy to power his shop, and the Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District brought its soil health trailer for the use of conducting demonstrations.

PATRICK CHASE, a soil scientist with the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, gives a presentation during the June 25 PFI field day near Jefferson.

No-till began for the Ausbergers in 1981. That and other environmental practice earned Ausberger an Environmental Stewardship award from PFI in 2013. He was also given the 2014 National Conservation Award from the United Soybean Association.

Ausberger said that although his family has been using conservation practices for more than three decades, he still looks to the experts for help.

“Whether it’s for solar, my PLC system or no-till, I surround myself with experts,” he said. “I don’t have to be an expert on everything … I can rely on them.”

Most recently, Ausberger said, he’s taken advantage of automation on his farm, which has allowed him to take on a work load by himself that may usually take more than one person.

The PLC system automates and monitors the farm shop, grain bin and other processes on the farm.

Steve Ausberger mug

Although the technology of automation isn’t anything new, what makes it more innovative is it can be coupled with Wi-Fi and an app on a smartphone so it can be controlled from practically anywhere.

This system is allowing Ausberger to be more self-sufficient and safety conscious for his employees as well.

The more he automates, Ausberger said, the better he removes the element of danger and inexperience for his workers.

“If I hire someone that doesn’t have a strong farm background,” he said, “I can take some of that guess work out of the things for them.”

With the spring’s wetter-and-cooler-than-normal conditions, Ausberger said having things automated helps him to remain productive.

“This spring has been a perfect example of having to be expedient and having things done on time,” said Ausberger. “Anything I can do to streamline my operation is helpful.”

Ausberger lives off the farm, so he needs to monitor his automation while away.

“I live in town, so if something is going on out here, I want to know it,” he said.

Terry Becker, owner of T&B Grain Services LLC, of Jefferson, outlined the features of Ausberger’s customized PLC system.

Some of the features, Becker said, include sensors that measure moisture and temperaturei inside and outside grain bins, wireless components; a touchscreen in the shop and automatic shut off of the auger.

Ausberger can control the unloading process of grain into his grain bin from his combine seat, and, using his phone, load his truck when it comes time to move grain.

“I can see from the combine what is happening at the grain bin,” Ausberger said. “That is a whole new monitoring system.

“And I have automation to keep me legal, so I won’t over load the semi.”

The PLC is also a safety advantage, Becker and Ausberger said, in slowing sweep augers. when getting down to the last few bushels and someone is in the bin.

On-farm energy

Besides Ausberger’s automated system, visitors also viewed his on-farm produced energy.

Ausberger has equipped his shop with solar energy.

Twenty-two SolarWorld 270-watt solar modules, 11 with Enphase M215s; 11 with Enphase M250s; 2 Envoy Communications Gateway are the components that make up the 5.94 kilowatt system that provides power for Ausberger’s shop.

Randy Skeie, with Eco-Wise Power, defined the benefits of solar energy as tax incentives that are only available until 2016 and low maintenance of a solar system, compared to a wind turbine.

Skeie said solar systems’ return on investment, “average three years in agricultural situations with grants, or up to five years

“That’s pretty good on a system that’s going to last 25 years.”

Solar, he said, is low maintenance with warranties ranging from 10 to 25 years.

Skeie said for those that may be considering installing a solar system, his company offers free site assessments, and they will also work with the local utility company to determine if solar is a good investment for a specific farm.

Soil structure

Patrick Chase, a soil scientist with the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, offered demonstrations of water runoff and infiltration with the use of the Greene County Soil and Water District’s soil health trailer.

Chase said tillage destroys soil structure, so the main focus should be keeping soils intact.

Recent heavy rains, Chase said, have been destructive to soil structures. Conservation practices, such as no-till and cover crops, keep the “glues” in soils unbroken, so particles stick together and resist high-impact rains.

This can be done, Chase said, by increasing organic matter. One pound of organic matter, he added, can hold up to 20 pounds of water.

Chase said cover crops are less of an above-ground benefit and more of a below-the-surface advantage.

“It’s the root system that offers the advantages,” said Chase. “If you only see 2 inches of growth up top, the roots have probably grown 36 inches down.

“That busts through the plow pans and helps increase pore spaces which help get (subsoil) water up into our (topsoil).”

Chase said the best indicator of soil health is to grab a shovel and dig up a sample, then choose the proper management after that.

“Management can affect how soils develop and how we can maintain them,” said Chase.

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