Precision Problem-Solving Out West

Precision agriculture may not have caught on as quickly in California as it has in other parts of the U.S. because the growing of fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops is done on a generally smaller scale than grains, but now it is quickly becoming entrenched. “They used to come out and make rows for us,” John Diener, a San Joaquin Valley grower, says of retailer Western Farm Service. “Now they do that — in a more timely fashion because they can run at night — and they do variable-rate application.”

Tony Oliveira, the operations supervisor for the Five Points, CA, office of Western Farm Service that Diener uses, agrees that farming in this area southwest of Fresno, one of the richest agricultural regions in the world, has changed dramatically in the past four years since the first global positioning system (GPS) units were used. Prior to that, he often could only run the tractors used to prepare the beds for planting for four or five hours a day. They had to stop at night, of course, but even in the morning the thick Tule fog often hampered visibility and made “listing” impossible. “Sometimes it got to the point where the fog wouldn’t clear up at all and we just wouldn’t move,” says Oliveira, shaking his head at the memory.

Today Oliveira keeps five AutoFarm GPS units — mounted on Caterpillar Challengers of various horsepower — busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from September through November. It is then that the soil beds must be listed, before the winter rains hit the Golden State and make the ground too wet to work.

This year a $14,000 variable-rate unit has been added to one tractor, allowing for the precision application of fertilizer. And just as it was with GPS, Oliveira is starting to find it difficult to believe how he and his grower-customers ever got along without it.

“This variable-rate is the coming thing because it allows for the right amount of fertilizer in the right spot, based on a grid soil analysis, for whatever crop the grower’s going into” he says. “The bottom line is this will help him increase his yields.”

Hold The Salt

Being able to vary the amount of fertilizer according to the needs of various crops is crucial for a grower like Diener, whose Red Rock Ranch is extraordinarily diversified. But beyond that, Diener is taking the use of precision agriculture to levels previously unexplored in the region.

The San Joaquin Valley’s West Side, as it’s commonly known, may be a rich agricultural region, but it is plagued by water and drainage problems. That in turn has led to the buildup of selenium, boron, and — most importantly — salt; the problem has gotten so bad that some land is no longer suitable for farming. But, with the help of precision agriculture, Diener is taking the land back.

“We took ground that wouldn’t grow anything, the salinity was so high, and we’re reclaiming it,” he says, pointing to a field of alfalfa. “This field is now 300% to 400% better than it used to be, because we’ve leached the salts out.”

The benefits can be enormous. Driving along one of the West Side’s dusty roads, Diener points out some cotton that is being grown in salty soil that looks awful. The grower will be lucky to get a yield of just one bale an acre.

Not far down the road are some much nicer looking fields that Diener says should net three bales an acre. “Same variety (Pima), same farmer,” says Diener with a sigh. “Holes in field put holes in wallet.”

Diener is desalinating his ranch through tiling, the installation of tubes that push water through the soil. With enough water and enough time, the soil is leached of salt and can successfully be farmed again.

Tiling isn’t cheap, however; installing just a half-mile’s worth costs $5,000. At that price, it’s crucial to use a GPS unit in combination with an instrument that measures soil electrical conductivity, essentially mapping the soil salinity in a given region.

Dr. Florence Cassel-Sharmasarkar, a soil and water scientist at the Center for Irrigation Technology, California State University-Fresno, has been mapping Red Rock Ranch for the past couple years. Her work is part of a study for a CalFed program, a partnership aimed at solving water and drainage problems in the state, and especially the West Side. Right now, the benefits are difficult to project. “It’s new technology,” she says. “We’re just at the research level.”

But Diener says that it doesn’t seem like that long ago that applying GPS to farming was at the “research Level.” And perhaps it won’t be long before soil salinity mapping is just another of the services that California PCAs will provide to their grower-customers.

“The issue is ‘How do you integrate this technology into farming?'” says Diener, who then answered his own question: “It may be better to hire someone — hire expertise and equipment — that way you can leverage the technology.”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the December 2003 issue of PrecisionAg Special Reports.

Leave a Reply

PrecisionAg Institute Stories
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More
Bruce-Erickson-video
Excellence AwardsPassion for Teaching: Purdue’s Bruce Erickson
August 1, 2018
PrecisionAg Award of Excellence recipient Bruce Erickson is driven to share his knowledge of precision technologies and techniques with students, as well as the larger agriculture community. Read More
Trending Articles
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower-Retailer
Imagery/SensingAgtech: 10 Things I Hate About You!
September 4, 2018
Before you get bent out of shape from the title, remember if you’ve read my articles before you know I Read More
Kansas State University
Industry NewsKansas State University, Topcon Form Precision Ag Research Partnership
August 30, 2018
Kansas State University and Topcon Agriculture are collaborating to develop tools and systems to advance precision agriculture and support farmers. Read More
Blockchain building block graphic
Specialty CropsIs Blockchain the Future of Food Safety?
August 24, 2018
When the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized in 1982, permitting the worldwide proliferation of interconnected networks and eventually the Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Latest News
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
PenelopeNagel
Business ManagementWhy Is Funding a Challenge for Women-Led Agtech Compani…
September 17, 2018
When it comes to women-led agtech companies the funding discussion never seems to cease. In June after the The New Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Decision Support SoftwareWhy Are 570 Million Farmers Not Yet Using Agricultural …
September 17, 2018
Until recently, using agricultural apps and software was a rare practice among growers. This is now changing. The mass adoption Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsDeere-Granular Collaboration Produces New Profit Maps T…
September 14, 2018
The newest development from the ongoing John Deere-Granular product development and marketing collaboration is Profit Maps, now available to farmers Read More
Wingtra
DronesOpinion: Combining Two Pluses with the WingtraOne UAV
September 13, 2018
For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the Read More
Farmer-tablet
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to…
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for PrecisionAg.com’s sister site, AgriBusinessGlobal.com. This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
ICON-Link-Licensing_featured-image
Industry NewsValley Irrigation Adds Remote Irrigation Management Opt…
September 11, 2018
Valley Irrigation, an industry leader in smart irrigation solutions, has announced enhancements to its remote management technologies. Multi-Year Licensing In Read More
Reflex-Connect-Agri-Inject-featured-image
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable Rate Fertigation System Expands with Mobile Co…
September 10, 2018
Building on the success of its Reflex Variable Rate Fertigation system, Agri-Inject has taken fluid injection to the next level Read More
Industry NewsTeralytic Earns Ag Data Transparent Certification
September 10, 2018
Soil analytics company Teralytic has completed the Ag Data Transparent certification, affirming that their data use is private, secure, and Read More
Business ManagementTop 20 Two-Year Colleges for Precision Agriculture
September 10, 2018
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. Read More
Industry NewsRaven, Topcon Announce Slingshot API Agreement
September 6, 2018
Raven Industries and Topcon Agriculture announced today a licensing agreement for Topcon Agriculture’s use of the Slingshot Application Programming Interface Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
DronessenseFly Launches eBee X Drone, Breaks Through 1,000 ac…
September 5, 2018
senseFly today reportedly sets a new standard in mapping tools with the launch of the eBee X. Launched with the Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
EventsAg Experts Discuss Big Data Challenges in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Agricultural experts at a Houston conference praised the advancements in unmanned aerial vehicles, sensors, and data-collecting technology used in precision Read More
Pest-Monitoring-Map
AmericasStrider, Syngenta and Trends in Digital Agriculture
September 5, 2018
I recently attended Strider Day in São Paulo, an event hosted by Brazilian agtech company Strider. The event offered two Read More
Agworld
Industry NewsAgworld Strengthens Team with Key Appointments
September 5, 2018
Agworld, a global leader in farm management software and collaborative data solutions, has announced the appointment of Mike Betts as Read More