When we think about technology advancement over the past 20 years a good example is our electronic devices. Smart phones, hand held tablets, sleeker computers; all these devices having data/software storage by the gigabyte and increasing. We live in a technology-driven age with demand for real time information. We have the ability to carry much of our work and current news with us on our smart phones. This technology is common place in our society, but has also incorporated itself quite extensively into production agriculture over the past few years.
Prescription Farming at the Beginning
When thinking about prescription farming, variable rate fertilizing and/or seeding, generally comes to mind. Ag retail had the first major push into technology, through variable rate fertilizer application. Soil samples were taken with GPS technology, creating grids in a field. Sample information was input into software generating a fertility map by zone in the field, thus a prescription was created. Variable rate seeding began with the advent of hydraulic motors serving as the drive or transmission on the planter, giving farmers the chance to change seeding rates on the go. At the same time farmers were also putting GPS receivers and equipment on and in their tractors and combines for auto-steer and yield mapping capabilities. The adoption of this technology gave the farmer the ability to variable rate seed by generating a prescription. The complexity we first faced was creating seeding population zones. Soil maps were logical and easy to use at first, but were not always drawn to scale nor did they account for micro-environments within the zones.
Prescription Farming Today – Nutrient Application
The evolvement of prescription farming has become more of a streamlined process in farming today. Incorporation of the “smart technologies” into the farm, along with modern GPS/rate controlling equipment has led to more fine tuning of seeding prescriptions and nutrient application. Nutrient management has seen an influx of aerial imagery from satellites, airplanes, and now unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s). These aerial devices capture imagery or photographs of the current vegetative condition of the crop. These maps can be used for supplemental or rescue treatments of nutrients, irrigation, or future drainage needs. Side dress nitrogen application has seen the use of optical crop sensing equipment attached to a nitrogen applicator, spreader, or sprayer that can sense crop health and vigor, adjusting rate needed on the go.
Prescription Farming Today – Variable Rate Seeding
Many growers that have updated to newer planters the past few years have the capabilities to do variable rate seeding. But most are unsure on how to create the “script” for the hybrid and field. With past history of yield maps, fertility tests/maps, and topography/soil information for a field, we now have the opportunity to layer different data points on top one another to create more precise seeding zones.
Recently, LG Seeds parent company, AgReliant Genetics, began to do additional hybrid testing beyond traditional strip tests and randomized research yield trials. Testing includes population trials in high, medium, and low yielding environments along with larger strip tests over multiple soil types and topography changes, allowing for multiple data points across hybrid entries at one location. In the future, this data can be coupled with the grower’s yield history and soil tests to get more accurate seeding rates, in the right locations of the field.
Benefits of the Technology
Strengthening of the bottom line is still important in regards to adopting precision agriculture. Success is measured in increased bushels a lot of times. With precision agriculture we strive for increased bushels, as well as efficiency. Applying the right amount at the right time can stop over application of nutrients, irrigation, or seed, allowing savings on expenses and adding to the bottom line. Just as our computer and smart phone software need to be upgraded over time, so will precision equipment and practices. Each year of data we can collect will allow us to upgrade our prescriptions and recommendations.