Precision Ag Technology: Use It, Don’t Lose It in 2018

With the start of the New Year, I always find myself reflecting on the past year and identifying what worked well and what didn’t to focus on opportunities missed in the previous year. As I looked back in the world of precision agriculture, I was excited with the opportunities producers have with equipment, software, analysis tools, and agronomy insight that new and existing precision agriculture platforms and organizations can bring to each farm. As I thought into this, the one thing I wanted to drive home was that for these tools to work to the top potential, we must make sure we’re giving them the opportunity to succeed. For 2018, my message to producers is to make sure and use it, don’t lose it, in working with precision tools this upcoming season. To ensure success, it is critical that each tool is set up for success to perform at the highest return.

Seed Choice

Many options are available for planters today, and the amount of precision and accuracy these machines can deliver is endless. Before placing that high-tech and state-of-the-art planter in the ground, I believe it is critical to make sure that planter can succeed, and this starts with the seed. We only get one choice (exception of multi-hybrid or variety planting) of seed to put in the ground, and even if we have the best planter equipped with all the works, if we don’t have the right seed for the conditions of the field, we may lose out on opportunity.

Field Work Conditions

Like seed choice, with many field work conditions we only get one chance before we move on to the next, or before weather can get in the way. For planting, it is critical our planters are set up correctly for the seed and soil conditions to reach maximum opportunity. If we are working the ground with tillage passes, ensuring soil isn’t too wet to create compaction for later headaches is critical. Even with high-tech precision equipment, if we struggle with seeding, create compaction layers, or plant with skips or uneven emergence, our planter or tillage pass can’t save us from losing out on opportunity in 2018.

Irrigation Management

For irrigated producers, it can be a struggle to determine when to irrigate, where to put water, and how much water to put across a field. Luckily, many irrigation management technologies and tools are available for producers in precision agriculture. Even with the best seed, fertilizer, and precision equipment money can buy, if irrigation is off by under- or over-watered applications, fields can lose out on maximum opportunity. Make sure to not miss opportunity by washing away investments such as fertilizer or chemicals, and giving the crops you grow optimum environments to do so.

Soil Testing

Before precision applications occur, or decisions are made on what to apply, a solid foundation of what is going on in each field is critical for efficiencies and maximizing opportunity this season. When we know what is in the ground and what is available to our crops, we can maximize efficiencies across the field with whatever precision application equipment we get to work with. Don’t leave fields with missed opportunities due to a small deficiency that has been unknown, or lose out on profit due to over application in other areas.

Imagery

A popular tool the last few years, imagery can provide quick and detailed insight across fields without large expenditures. Being able to check on a problem, and identify it quickly can make in-season decisions easier and maximize opportunity before problems can cause yield and/or profit loss. Whichever imagery provider or type you use, be sure to continually check and consult on what is happening in-season, to make quick decisions without missing opportunity.

Test Plots

One of the biggest opportunities I see with precision agriculture tools is to learn on your farm what works and what tools have the most impact on your acres with high accuracy and ease. With precision equipped planters, try different seed rates, or strip trials to see what works best across variations in the field. With different input application equipment, what rates or methods work best for different crops or fields? Test plots can be done at high precision with today’s tools, and can help answer many questions. What type of fertilizer do I apply? When do I apply it? What seed rate is right for this specific soil type? What happens with row spacings in my field? What irrigation rates respond best across field variations?

In low commodity price times, decisions can always feel pressured. With precision tools, decisions can be made easier, but be sure to give those tools every opportunity to succeed by setting them up for success. A sports car wouldn’t work well in a mud bog, where a more suitable vehicle would do, but a sports car works very well on a smooth, paved road. This analogy is like many of the struggles I have seen with tools not performing due to outside influences that didn’t help set the precision ag tools up for success.

Whatever precision agriculture technologies or tools you are using in 2018, make sure they are right for your farm and the support behind them is right for you. There are many options out there for whatever precision equipment you are using or are interested in. Efficiency is key to these times, and ensuring applications, inputs, and decisions are made without wasting or losing these opportunities will lead to capturing success in 2018. I for one am looking forward to this season, and I hope you are as well. Happy New Year!

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