Keeping up with tech key to independent farmers’ success

Viasat satellite internet helps independent farmers use technology to maximize profit margins, stay competitive and preserve the lifestyles they love


As he sips his first cup of coffee each day, Iowa farmer Brett Goecke checks crop prices on his smartphone. Since spring is calving season, he also surveys the video feed from his calving barn – looking for newborn babies, or cows struggling to give birth.

Then he checks crop prices. Again.

Later in the day, with the morning chores done, he does homework on his desktop computer, part of the continuing education courses required for his seed advisory business.

Once more, he checks crop prices.

In addition to selling seed to area farmers, Goecke grows and sells corn and soybeans. Grain markets are subject to wild fluctuations, influenced by weather, ethanol production, international demands and the strength of the dollar – among other factors. So maximizing profit is all about selling at the right time.

“Whether on my phone or laptop, I’m guessing I’m checking the markets every hour,” said the 39-year-old lifelong farmer. “Trading goes on almost 24 hours a day. I also get emails from marketing advisors. And I keep up with the latest government issues and information coming from trusted news sources. You’re putting all that together and trying to figure out the best time to market.”

He couldn’t make that call – or do any of those other daily tasks – without his Viasat Internet service. It serves both his farm office and the family home.

Despite the clear need for cutting-edge agriculture, the rural areas in which most farms are located remain underserved by traditional internet service providers.

Goecke lives in State Center, Iowa – literally the center of the state – and home to about 1500 people. The cost to build infrastructure to sparsely populated areas like State Center is simply too great for most ISPs. That makes satellite internet an ideal business partner for tech-minded farmers.

“Being out in the rural setting, we don’t have a lot of choices,” he said. “Viasat works; it’s the fastest internet we’ve had to date.”

Better tech for higher profits

For independent farmers like Goecke – with small profit margins and high costs – financial well-being is tied to efficiency. And technology can give them that vital edge. Estimates suggest 80 percent of U.S. farmers use some kind of smart technology, and these techniques can increase profits up to 20 percent.

Successful farming isn’t just about benefitting the individual farmer – it’s about feeding the world. As the global population grows and the availability of agricultural land lessens, every acre needs to produce more food. By 2050, food production must increase 70 percent to meet the needs of the expected population.

But the amount of usable land is getting smaller and smaller.

“In the 1900s, a good chunk of people in the U.S. were living off the land; now about 3 percent of the land is used to grow food we eat,” said Viasat’s Director of Sales Operations’ Brad Behmer. “Scaling systems and getting highly productive land is critical. And that’s where technology comes in.”

Consumer preferences are also shifting, accelerating the demand for organic and natural produce and meat, and sustainable farming practices.

Those trends are accelerating the already fast-paced development of smart ag tools, including:

  • Robots that can identify and treat diseased plants and weeds, harvest fruit and other produce;
  • Sensors in fields, on farm equipment and livestock to track the condition of crops, machinery and animals;
  • Trackers that follow food from the field or barn to the store, assuring both farmers and consumers that products are safe and have reached their destination; and
  • Agricultural drones with advanced data-collection ability that can check crop health, track livestock and survey fields.

Picking the right tech

Goecke regularly uses a drone, scanning his fields with a mounted infrared camera that monitors the heat each plant is emitting.

“If the plant is in stress, it’ll product more heat,” he said. “It could be an insect issue or a fungus. Whatever the problem is, knowing about it hopefully allows you to mitigate it. You can also tell where wet spots are, where plants may have lost their nutrients. It can be a red flag to go scout that particular area.”

While there’s no shortage of smart farming tools available, Goecke is selective about which ones he uses. The tools he integrates into his operation all have one thing in common: the financial benefit outweighs the technology’s cost.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes since the ‘80s,” said Goecke, who was born into farm life and relishes the independence. “Just because it’s new and they say it’s going to work doesn’t really mean it’s going to. You have to sort through what’s going to fit in your operation, use your own judgment and figure out, is there ROI (return on investment) on it?”

All this connected tech, of course, relies on internet connectivity. For areas where terrestrial providers can’t — or won’t — go, Viasat’s much more complete coverage is there to fill in the gaps.