The more “irregular” your fields are and the “finer” your application and planting resolution, the bigger the benefit. That’s the essence of research findings out of Auburn University in Alabama to gauge the cost savings possible using automatic control technologies. John Fulton, assistant professor, biosystems engineering at the school, worked with his team to develop a computer model to run tests of automatic control technologies over typical field to calculate the cost savings based on a reduction in overlapping and overspray.
In Alabama, where irregularly shaped fields are the rule rather than the exception, Fulton was compelled to find a way to test the potential benefit of the recent technology growers and custom applicators were considering to add greater control to planting and application work.
The computer model was designed to test three types of field operations: over the top crop protection application, sidedress nitrogen application, and seed planting. The model can test any configuration, from section-based control all the way down to individual nozzles and clutches to measure the benefit of different resolutions of control.
Auburn University’s published production costs for “traditional” field operations were used as the basis for comparison, says Fulton, and all known costs (including seed technology fees) were included in the equation to present the clearest possible picture of benefit.
The verdict? Irregularity of field shape is the thing that generates the biggest benefit to the technology, as well as “environmental barriers” such as wooded areas, structures, and waterways. And in comparing “trials” at different resolutions from section to individual nozzle/clutch, the benefit increased significantly. On 20 fields tested, the benefit ranged from a low of 2% cost savings on overapplication to a high of 10%.
Spray control at the nozzle resolution is not widely available yet, but Fulton says that the payback being demonstrated through the model indicates that its adoption will be strong once it becomes more available to end users.
For more information, contact John Fulton via email or visit the Auburn Precision Agriculture web site. A Precision Agriculture and Field Crops Conference is scheduled for December 8, 2009 in Atmore, AL. Visit the Auburn precision agriculture web site for the latest information.