From automatic guidance to variable-rate control, precision-agriculture technology is helping soybean farmers increase sustainability performance, according to John Fulton, a precision-ag specialist with Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension.

With so many customers demanding sustainably produced ingredients, U.S. soybean farmers can consider sustainability a way to maintain and expand markets. Additionally, in response to these demands, the soy checkoff and other farmer-led organizations developed the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol to demonstrate U.S. soybean farmers’ excellent sustainability performance.

In a recent interview with Beyond the Bean online, Fulton shared five of his favorite precision-ag products that can help maximize on-farm sustainability performance. His top-five list focuses on reducing inputs by burning less fuel in equipment, reducing fertilizer applications and minimizing runoff. Here’s what he had to say:

“Guidance control on planters, and more specifically on sprayers, has enhanced a farmer’s ability to more accurately place inputs and reduce overlap. We’ve been able to use technology to become more accurate and minimize over-applications of inputs in areas of the fields.”

“Wireless data transfer, or telematics, is having a tremendous impact on a farmer’s sustainability. This means that farmers can now get data transferred wirelessly between machines, or more importantly, between machines and to an online database for easy access back in the farm office. That data can then be utilized either by that farmer, his or her crop consultant or possibly by an ag retailer who is generating prescription and application maps for inputs. It will be important that we can take that data off the machinery so we know not only know how the machinery is operating, but also have yield information and other data available for analysis.”

“Site-specific input management, particularly soil fertility, is one practice that many farmers have already adopted. At the end of the day, when we consider things like the management of nitrogen and phosphorus, we want to use it as efficiently as possible and minimize environmental impact. We want to push the 100-bushel barrier on soybeans on these farms, but at the same time, we want to use our nutrients properly so we don’t have off-site transport into water bodies.”

“Utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, will be important so we are able to identify the early presence of soybean diseases, and able to best identify when we need to time a fungicide or other applicationa. Drones could be utilized to get continuous shots of soybean fields that we can be watching more closely, versus sending someone out to do scouting. We can also be very proactive at managing things like fungicides.” (Editor’s note: Currently the Federal Aviation Administration is considering regulations that would allow the use of drones in U.S. airspace. They are not currently allowed for most agricultural applications).

“Data-management software is important for soybean farmers moving forward, and right now I think we are still in the development stages. The idea that as a farmer, I’m making sure that I’m selecting the right varieties or using best-management practices for my soybean crop that would be considered sustainable. I believe there are a lot of things that we can start to learn by using this software. The data will allow us to progress and fine-tune our management systems for soybeans to successfully reach and sustain the 100-bushel range.”

Fulton encourages farmers who want to keep up with precision agriculture technologies to stay engaged through social media, attend precision-ag conferences and ask questions of equipment and technology manufacturers at farm shows.