Tennessee: ‘Sharp’ening The Program

Precision agriculture practices are finally starting to show a clear payout for growers in the Cotton Belt, thanks to the hard work of many growers, consultants, institutions, and manufacturers in strong collaboration. One of these individuals, Tim Sharp, was the subject of an in-depth profile in The Power and the Promise.

Sharp created and shaped a cotton precision program from scratch at Tennessee’s Jackson State Community College, driven by his sheer determination and salesmanship derived from more than a decade of work for manufacturer DuPont.

He and 15 students at the college started the efforts in 1998 with an eye toward bringing greater profitability to growers. Recording the relationship between field variability and plant growth and determining how to best use inputs to increase yield based on this relationship was the goal for Sharp and his students. But the early years were all about getting started.

“Precision agriculture programs are brutally expensive to operate, and really cash hungry when you are ramping up,” said Sharp in an interview last year. “So, you need to fund it like a startup company — beg, borrow, find grant money — it took better than $1 million for us to really get started.”

He was able to garner a wide range of support for the program, including distributor/retailers Helena Chemical and MFA Inc., seed company Delta & Pine Land, and software maker SST Development Group. The Cotton Foundation, Cotton Incorporated, the National Science Foundation, and USDA also lent support.

Field Of Vision

Sharp’s research into cotton production revolved around the theory that every field can be broken down into three basic zone types — high, medium, and low. In high zones, cotton will not only grow faster, but also produce an excess of vegetation to the detriment of actual bolls. On the other hand, cotton in low zones tends to grow more slowly and mature earlier.

Sharp and his team used satellite and aerial imagery early on to determine the growth rate of cotton in experimental fields using an imagery variable known as NDVI. This factor is a reflection of the amount of vegetation across a given field, allowing an agronomist to make distinctions between high, medium, and low zones.

Through extensive imagery analysis and painstaking ground truthing, the imagery proved successful in predicting plant vigor. The next step was to determine whether the zones would remain stable from year to year.

This past year was the fourth for the project, and Sharp is completely confident in the stability of the zone. “Clearly, the imagery works, and zones are consistent year to year,” says Sharp.

With zones of vigor identified, Sharp looked at ways to influence the plants in the zones by varying the planting rates, as well as insecticides and plant growth regulators through good, basic cotton growing practices.

In Sharp’s experiments, seeding rates are increased in high zones vs. low zones to take advantage of the favorable growing conditions. It’s an important factor with today’s expensive biotech hybrids that often also feature seed treatment.

Insecticide applications are focused in high zones where pest insects tend to colonize first, and low zones may get no application, both saving money and providing a refuge for beneficials to develop.

Plant growth regulators (PGRs) also are reserved for the high zones to reduce vigor and encourage boll development, and low areas may receive no PGR at all, again reducing input cost.

The vigor zone profile is the engine that drives this precision machine, and after four years of consistency — 96% of zones do not vary — mission plans can be developed for the field to match the zones.

The “mission plan” is a piece of software programming that is used to guide the variable-rate seeder or applicator throughout the season on where applications should be made. Since the zones are stable, the same mission plan can be used essentially for as long as the farmer is planting cotton in that field.

Next Steps

Sharp recently announced that he’s leaving Jackson State and taking his precision program to another southern university, but he pledges that the work will go on.

And there is much still to learn. One of the biggest challenges has been imagery consistency, a problem that he is trying to alleviate by using the Green-Seeker on-the-go imagery system.

“With satellite and aerial imagery, the NDVI from shot-to-shot can vary in resolution,” says Sharp. “With the ground-based sensor, you get output that is georeferenced right off the machine that’s ready to use, and the system works well off our mission plans.”

Sharp also wants to examine the effect of nitrogen rates and hybrid selection on the total mission as part of future research.

Another challenge is in trying to make the system as accessible and easy to use as possible, but Sharp says nearly all growers will need help implementing the system regardless.

“The grower does not have the time to learn this system — there really needs to be a technical expert in the loop to use the GIS system and build the mission plans,” says Sharp.

Even the consultant that implements Sharp’s program needs some special skills. “There are really three skills that a person needs to run this program — agronomy, computer skills, and some background in electronic engineering,” he said. “Even with my students, they are challenged in the electronic components area — you have to know exactly what to do when any of these components fail on you.”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of PrecisionAg Special Reports.

Leave a Reply

Service Providers Stories
Farmer Advisor
Service Providers2018 Plan: Engaging the Next Generation of Ag Service Professionals, and More
December 12, 2017
Here at Meister Media Worldwide (MMW) HQ we’re deep in the throes of content planning for 2018. Our rookie season Read More
Farmer and computer
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team in 2018
December 10, 2017
About The Opportunity: PrecisionAg.com is looking for people to join our team in 2018 and submit original content to our Read More
Grower-Field-iPad-Connectivity-Photo-Credit-VLab
Business ManagementOpinion: Agtech Boom Is Yet To Come
December 6, 2017
Many agronomists, farmers, and VC groups monitoring the agtech world are proclaiming the startup boom is over. Investments are down, Read More
John-Deere-Connect-Mobile
Service Providers10 New Mobile Apps for Precision Agriculture
December 5, 2017
Ag professionals continue to reap the rewards of new smartphone apps. And perhaps no segment of farming is benefitting more Read More
Trending Articles
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More
Africa/Middle EastPERSPECTIVE: Is Bayer’s Highly Anticipated xarvio App the Next Uber for Ag?
November 22, 2017
As many of our CropLife IRON readers might know, every summer at MAGIE we award the most popular product featured Read More
Used Combine
Service ProvidersFinding New Precision Ag Opportunities in Older Equipment
November 15, 2017
Whether to buy new or used equipment has been and continues to be an important topic for growers. When it Read More
Blue River Tech See and Spray prototype in CA
Business ManagementIs the Agtech Startup Boom Over?
November 13, 2017
In the past few months there has been a flurry of acquisitions of agtech startups by major players in the Read More
Spray Drift
Business ManagementProtecting Your Business with Ag Data: What Dicamba Can Teach Us (Guest Column)
November 9, 2017
All over the country, in ag communities large and small, farmers are reporting crop damage, neighbors are fighting, lawsuits and Read More
Latest News
Drones-belong-in-the-hands-of-growers
Industry NewsPrecisionAg.com’s 17 Most Read Stories in 2017
December 13, 2017
Roughly speaking, we’re a little over two weeks away from blowing out the candles on 2017. It’s been a bizarre Read More
Farmer Advisor
Service Providers2018 Plan: Engaging the Next Generation of Ag Service P…
December 12, 2017
Here at Meister Media Worldwide (MMW) HQ we’re deep in the throes of content planning for 2018. Our rookie season Read More
Field
Decision Support SoftwareCeres Imaging Details New Pest, Disease Detection Produ…
December 12, 2017
Ceres Imaging, which provides science-backed aerial images to growers, will offer Midwestern corn and soybean farmers an early warning system Read More
Claas RTK Field base
Industry NewsCLAAS Taps Syncron for Cloud-Based Spare Parts Manageme…
December 11, 2017
Syncron, a provider of cloud-based after-sales service solutions, today announced CLAAS, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, has selected Syncron Inventory – Retail Read More
Farmer and computer
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team i…
December 10, 2017
About The Opportunity: PrecisionAg.com is looking for people to join our team in 2018 and submit original content to our Read More
american-robotics-Scout-Drone
DronesAmerican Robotics Unveils Fully Autonomous Drone System…
December 7, 2017
American Robotics, an industrial drone developer specializing in agricultural automation, has unveiled its flagship product Scout. It is a self-charging, Read More
Industry NewsJohn Deere Upgrades Generation 4 Display Capabilities
December 6, 2017
John Deere has introduced its latest advanced guidance and machine data sharing technology with the addition of three new AutoTrac Read More
Grower-Field-iPad-Connectivity-Photo-Credit-VLab
Business ManagementOpinion: Agtech Boom Is Yet To Come
December 6, 2017
Many agronomists, farmers, and VC groups monitoring the agtech world are proclaiming the startup boom is over. Investments are down, Read More
Data ManagementAgritechnica 2017: Executives Discuss Europe Ag Tech Ad…
December 6, 2017
While North American growers slog through yet another season of depressed farm incomes and commodity markets, across the pond it’s Read More
Bitcoin-for-Agriculture-Source-TheJavaCoincom
Data ManagementWill Bitcoin Work in Agriculture?
December 5, 2017
If you checked the Internet lately, you’ve probably seen the words, Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain. I won’t describe them in Read More
Vineyard weeding Robot-Naio-Technologies
Robotics/Labor SaversRobots Are Coming for Your Crop Protection (and Other I…
December 5, 2017
The market for agricultural robotics market is small but burgeoning, and their impact is likely to be quite a bit Read More
John-Deere-Connect-Mobile
Service Providers10 New Mobile Apps for Precision Agriculture
December 5, 2017
Ag professionals continue to reap the rewards of new smartphone apps. And perhaps no segment of farming is benefitting more Read More
On-Farm-Trials-Brazil
AmericasOn-Farm Trials in Brazil: The Way to Improve Agronomic …
December 4, 2017
The idea of using on-farm trials to gather data about the performance of any crop input has been in place Read More
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Longford-Silt-Foam-map
Data ManagementUnderstanding Precision Farming and Soil Morphology
December 4, 2017
The USDA Soil Conservation Service, now Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been charged with creating the country’s soil survey. This Read More
Spensa platform
Industry NewsSpensa Adds TerrAvion Aerial Imagery
December 4, 2017
Spensa Technologies announces today its partnership with TerrAvion, a California-based start-up that provides aerial imagery for agriculture. As customers of Spensa Read More
Industry NewsCase IH Announces Updated AFS Data Transfer Capabilitie…
December 4, 2017
Case IH has announced seamless data transfer capabilities between its Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) Connect farm management system and six Read More
Data ManagementCropLife: FBN CEO Appears at ARA 2017 Conference (Recap…
December 2, 2017
Right on the heels of news it has raised $110 million in a Series D funding round, Farmer’s Business Network Read More