9 Questions Every Farmer Should Ask Themselves About Precision Ag
Since the birth of precision agriculture in the early 1990s, the definition of “precision ag” has been continuously evolving. What started as yield monitors and grid soil sampling for variable-rate fertilizer (VRF) applications has rapidly evolved to include aerial imagery, variable-rate seeding (VRS), precision irrigation, “big data” and many other technologies. The International Society of Precision Agriculture recently conducted an online poll to assist in officially defining precision agriculture. The winning definition with 69% of the vote was:
This definition has yet to be set in stone, but it is important for every farmer to define precision agriculture for themselves and their operation to obtain a maximum return on investment (ROI). A farmer in Aberdeen, SD has different challenges and needs than a farmer in Town Creek, AL or Knippa, TX and precision agriculture can help both farmers better understand those needs.
There are many “tools in the toolbox” that can be used to address any issue a farmer might face in their operation. What is important is choosing the right tool for the job. Below are some basic questions every farmer should ask themselves when evaluating their operation to incorporate precision agriculture tools and management practices:
1. What are my current goals or needs/concerns for my farming operation (yield variability, soil variability, custom VRF and/or VRS, etc.)? What have I done to address these issues?
2. What are my current capabilities with machinery (variable rate seeding, yield mapping, variable rate nitrogen application, etc.), and are all pieces of my machinery equipped with these capabilities? Do I utilize these capabilities across all of my acres? If not, why not?
3. Do I soil sample on a regular basis? If so, how often?
4. Do I grid soil sample or zone soil sample? If grid, what grid size do I use? If zone, what are the zones based upon (normalized yield maps, VERIS data, soil nutrient, etc.)?
5. Are my fields irrigated? If so, how (pivot, furrow, flood, etc.)?
6. Do I have a fertility program for each crop, and am I splitting my fertilizer into multiple applications?
7. Am I treating my nitrogen with protection products, such as N-Veil® and/or Preserve N™ nitrogen stabilizers?
8. Do I use variable-rate seeding prescriptions? If so, what are they based on (normalized yield maps, VERIS data, soil survey map, etc.)?
9. Am I utilizing tissue sampling or aerial imagery in-season to monitor crop health?
One might feel overwhelmed when answering these questions, especially if they aren’t familiar with these practices or technologies. It’s always important to consult with your Pinnacle salespeople and pick one or two items to begin with. Remember, it’s maximizing your ROI.
Yield Data...not just colors on a map
After answering the questions above, but before purchasing precision agriculture technology or implementing a new management strategy, it is imperative that farmers examine their yield data . Yield data is the ultimate indicator of how a crop performed in a field. Rather than looking for “how the crop cut” or “what was my highest yield,” yield maps need to be looked at through the lens of profitability and utilized to determine the best use of investment dollars.
Instead of just seeing colors, yield maps need to be regarded as a key to where profit was generated and where it was lost. Dave Muth with EFC Systems gave a presentation at the 2018 InfoAg Conference in St. Louis, MO. During his presentation, he reported that their data showed 5%-20% of fields across the U.S. aren’t profitable. In Iowa alone, there are 2-3 million acres of non-profitable acres equating to over $1 billion in misallocated working capital. By working with your Pinnacle salespeople and utilizing precision agriculture tools, areas of concern can be identified and measures implemented to address the cause(s) of less profitability. These conversations should be ongoing to fine-tune the operation to maximize the crop’s yield potential.
Jonathan Hall serves as Pinnacle Agriculture’s Precision Agriculture Specialist. Since joining Pinnacle in 2012, Jonathan has worked closely with our retail locations and farmers to implement new technologies and management practices to maximize yields. He also works directly with research and development to evaluate new seed varieties and products to optimize their performance on our farmers’ acres.