Sweating the Details is Worth it

Mar 10, 2015

Precision Agriculture -- the practice of producing more by being specific

By Denise Faguy, Farms.com

According to Chris Creek from Precision Planting, precision agriculture is the practice of producing more by being specific about what we are doing.  It’s really that simple.

Sensibly applying the resources we have, not over-applying in certain areas, is key he says.  Creek says not all parts of a farm are created equal.  By carefully evaluating each area, or zone, of your farm, you will get better results.  For example, evaluating the soil and growing potential of each area, it may become evident, that no matter what applications or techniques you apply in one area, Zone A, it simply will not perform better.  But in another zone, Zone B, these same applications and techniques may produce dramatically improved results.  Careful analysis allows you to better utilize your resources (money, inputs, time, etc.) because instead of wasting these resources in Zone A, the resources can be applied in Zone B – where they will show significant results, without costing more.

Creek says it takes a combination of Data Management, Equipment Management and Land management; it is not all about spending more money, but about paying more attention to the details.  He says you don’t have to make multiple changes at once – he knows precision agriculture is intimidating to many people.  Like anything, he advises farmers to start off slowly and carefully.

Getting Started
Creek advises farmers to start with agronomy; start with the seed and the seed environment, followed by making carefully evaluated adjustments to planting equipment and then properly maintaining that equipment throughout the growing seasons.  Once farmers have made these basic adjustments and focused on appropriate maintenance of technology, they are ready to get to the next level.

The Next Level

Performance – help your existing equipment perform better for you.  Creek explains this may mean reading the owner’s manual, watching an online video, or visiting your local dealer, but the goal is to ensure you understand the equipment you already have and to make sure you are getting every benefit out of the existing bells and whistles you have on your equipment.  Farmers may have paid for a number of cool gadgets – but do they know how to fully exploit them to their specific farm’s advantage?

Monitor – Evaluate your current data.  Keep track of the adjustments you are making. Be sure to make necessary changes – and know how they affected your crop.

Control – be sure to control the machinery so that it is executing your plan, for your soil, and for your inputs.   Adjust downforce, seeding rates, etc. according to your data. On board computer systems can make these adjustments automatically, but be sure to monitor and evaluate these to make sure you have made all the necessary adjustments and input the data correctly. No technology is a replacement for digging seeds.

It’s worth sweating the small details
Creek says he says it is not about spending unnecessary money on equipment and that it may not sound sexy, but small performance adjustments can lead to an increase in yields.

  • 1 more ear on 1/1000 of an acre adds up to an additional 7 bushels per acre.
  • An additional two rows of kernels per cob will lead to 9 additional bushels per acre.
  • Two more kernels per row adds an extra 18 bushels/acre

Creek advises purchasing new equipment is not required.  “Let’s face it,” he says, “the technique for putting seed in the ground hasn’t changed that drastically over the years.”  Creek recently worked with a dairy farmer who had a 30-year-old corn planter.  Based on Chris’s suggestions, the farmer made a few adjustments to the equipment, ensured proper set-up and maintenance and achieved dramatically better results.

In the first year, the farmer said with all of the evaluation, preparation, and extra time it took to plant, he estimates that it took him twice as long as usual to plant his crop, but that he dramatically increased yields.  In the 2nd year, he invested  the extra money from the better yield in some precision technology that allowed him to perform at the same level, with much greater speed. It took him about the same amount of time to plant as he had in years before, because he had reduced his learning curve, invested in some new equipment and understood what he was doing, and was running well-maintaned equipment. All of this was achieved by properly managing 30-year-old equipment.

Creek advises that, while well-planned investments in new technology can be helpful, farmers don’t always need the newest fancy equipment to make adjustments while they are planting.

  • Are row-units bouncing up and down on the field?  Slow down; the planter is likely not making good contact with the ground if this is happening.
  • Get out of the tractor and lift up on your gauge wheels. Any lift indicates that you are not planting at your set depth. Consider increasing downforce or slowing down to get your planter in the ground. If the wheel is in contact with the ground, it should turn with some effort. If not, you may be causing sidewall compaction.
  • Dig behind your planter and take a look at what you just planted.  Does it look right? Is the seed at the right depth?
  • Check your spacing and seed-to-soil contact. Are you planting a high-yield potential, or a potential disaster?

You’ve only got one chance to make your best planter pass, and the results of this pass set the maximum yield potential of the field. A little preparation and attention to detail can pay big dividends come harvest time.

Chris Creek, Precision Planting, was a speaker at the 2015 Farms.com Precision Agriculture Conference: http://www.farms.com/precision-agriculture/conference-2015/




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