In February, the University of Missouri, USDA-ARS and DuPont Pioneer announced an innovative collaboration to pool soil mapping resources, predictive technologies and expertise. The collaboration offers growers a step-change in sustainable crop production through better recommendations for nitrogen application management and other field input planning, which can help deliver improved crop yields.
A team at the University of Missouri and USDA-ARS used yield data from more than 400 corn fields in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Indiana to compare county soil maps with Environmental Response Unit (ERU) maps developed in collaboration with DuPont Pioneer. ERUs are high-resolution soil mapping units that can then be used to develop a variety of management zones for individual fields or larger tracts of land.
“The study found that ERU maps provided better representation of corn yield environments than soil maps did in 80% of the fields,” said Brent Myers, Ph.D., an agronomist with the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri. “This indicates that Environmental Response Units provide growers with a better base on which to develop management programs, including nitrogen/fertility, water and seed.”
The collaboration is building on the 80-year library of field-level soil data known as SSURGO (Soil Survey Geographic database), which is produced and distributed by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The project uses proprietary analytics from DuPont Pioneer and expertise in soil characterization, topography and watersheds from University of Missouri and USDA-ARS, in combination with high-resolution elevation data to better explain yield variability. The resulting ERUs produced from the collaboration significantly improve an already valuable public soil database through use of high-resolution topographical attributes, while also retaining important information from the database such as soil depth, texture, organic matter and water holding capacity – all factors that can dramatically impact crop productivity and input management.
ERUs are used exclusively by DuPont Pioneer in its Encirca Yield input management services. Nitrogen is one of the more difficult crop inputs to manage efficiently and mismanagement can be costly. Pioneer agronomists estimate growers can lose $50 to $60 per acre by applying too much or too little nitrogen. The Encirca Yield Nitrogen Management Service gives growers information to help them limit these losses and secure more profit from each acre.
“In today’s environment, growers can’t afford to manage every acre the same,” said Steve Reno, DuPont Pioneer vice president, business director – U.S. and Canada. “This is cutting-edge technology being put to use in growers’ fields to help maximize yield and productivity. Our Encirca Yield Nitrogen Management Service utilizes this high-resolution approach for input management – but does it with the help of an Encirca certified services agent to ensure the service is completely customized and turn-key for growers.”
“Management decisions strongly depend on how crops respond to the soil and landscape, therefore the development of the ERU was a prerequisite for higher-resolution nutrient prescriptions,” said USDA-ARS Soil Scientist Newell Kitchen. “The procedures developed from this collaboration will be submitted to a scientific journal for publication so that technology for creating improved soil maps is available to the academic community. Our intent is to bring the best of this public-private collaboration to bear on the challenge of sustainability and productivity for U.S. growers.”