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Farmers Turn to Tech to Save on Water, Fertilizer

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From ground to cloud, technology is changing the way corn growers farm.

There are devices in the soil to monitor moisture levels, and cloud based data tools to track inputs like water and fertilizer.

It wasn't that long ago Nebraska farmers enjoyed record profits of $8.4 billion in 2013. During that time, many upgraded their technology.

Farmer Lon Bohn said, "We had a chance to invest in some of that equipment, now crops are low value so we're going to use it to maximize economic return on those things. Squeeze every last little margin to stay in business."

A University of Nebraska economic report shows farm income in the state dropped almost 40 percent last year. That's a decline of $3 billion.

At the Nebraska Agriculture Technology Association trade show, vendors showed farmers how to be more efficient.

Ben Fullner of irrigation company Hortau said, "In today's environment when input costs are so high, especially water and fertilizer, we can help guys manage those type of productions, maybe put out less water."

All the gadgets farmers have bought in recent years may do more than improve their yields.

Heath Gerlock of Farmobile said, "Farmers have been producing a lot of data, another crop in our minds, and we'd like them to be able to capitalize on that crop."

Gerlock put on a seminar, urging farmers to use the Farmobile service, which allows them to own their data and sell it to seed companies and others.

With GPS, yield monitors and other tools, technology gives farmers a look at their crops like never before.

Fullner said, "That's the great thing about today's technology. You can grab it on your cell phone, your tablet, from the internet, this real time data."

Farmers like Lon Bohn say it enables him to make sure he's not wasting seed or fertilizer, and especially water, knowing exactly when to irrigate.

He said, "Before it was by guess and by golly, by feel, and I think and the neighbor's got his pivot going."

Farmers say efficiency is about more than profits. They're also feeling the pressure to conserve because of environmental regulations.

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