It is not the technology that makes a farmer a precision farmer, but the process of data collection, conversion of data to knowledge, and the application of the knowledge to site-specific management whithin field boundaries. Virtual Farmer A is attempting to implement site-specific crop management (SSCM). P.C. Robert, R.H. Rust and W.E. Larson in the proceedings of Site-Specific Management for Agricultural Systems, second conference, proposed the definition of SSCM “site-specific crop management is an information and technology based agricultural management system to identify, and manage site-soil spatial and temporal variability within fields for optimum profitability, sustainability, and protection of the environment.”
When is a producer actively involved in precision ag? When he is actively involved in the “process” of collecting site-specific (geo-referenced) data, analyzing that data and responding with variable rate/product management. Are you a precision grower the first time you use a computer to track crop production? No. Computers have been used for field level budgeting and management decisions for a number of years.
Do you need to take grid samples to qualify, own a yield monitor, or receive internet information from a land grant college? The foundation for site-specific nutrient management is soil testing. Some type of “systematic” soil sampling will be necessary to document soil test level variability. The profitability of site-specific nutrient depends on map accuracy. The yield monitor is an important tool for evaluating the response to a site-specific management program. The use of the Internet will increasingly become more valuable as a means for moving data and information between people and businesses. It remains to be seen if the land grant system provides anything other than copies of printed materials on the Internet.
The farmer needs to be asking the question, “Is the soil sampling program precise enough to ensure some level of accuracy?” This question needs to be asked and addressed independently of sampling costs. Perhaps the dealer/consultant has already sampled some fields on a spacing of 100 ft. to establish the best sampling program for their soil/geographic/crop practice area. If not, Farmer A might invest some money up front to establish the correct sampling program for his fields by sampling a field at a density that is greater than may actually be needed. If you want to manage half-acre areas then it may be necessary to sample on a quarter-acre density. Focus on pH, P and K initially.
Comparing side-by-side fields, one variable rate and the other constant rate will probably not establish anything other than to create confusion. At a minimum, a farmer or dealer should initiate side by side strip comparisions across the field. This can be done fairly easily on the product application maps that the fertilizer variable rate controller reads. In this case the producer only needs access to a weight wagon or scale. The more measurements (strips) the better.
If the farmer can cash flow a combine, chances are pretty good that the additional investment in a yield monitor and a positioning system can be justified. Some important knowledge may be gained by the operator studying the data coming up on the yield monitor as the combine travels across the field. This knowledge alone may lead to changes in management practices that will offset the investment in the yield monitor.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Premiere Issue 1997 of PrecisionAg Illustrated.