PrecisionAg: Know More; Grow More

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” — Dwight Eisenhower

It’s a confounding fact, and one that’s altogether too easily forgotten: precision agriculture, to bear great benefit, must be, well, somewhat precise.

Of course we all know this. Intellectually. It’s through experience that the fact is so profoundly felt. Walk in a few fields in different localities during harvest. Precision ag must not only be tailored to a field and coordinates within that field. It also must be tailored to you, the farmer. To your business mission. It’s not only “local” as is said about politics, too. Precision agriculture is “hyper-local.”

This fact, and the unique power of all that data adjacent to it, is the idea behind our sponsorship of “PrecisionAg: Know More; Grow More” at the upcoming Commodity Classic in Nashville, TN, March 1-3. Several growers we’ve visited at harvest time agreed to come and present information on their unique approach to precision in the hope that it might aid others in their quests.

Lon Bohn, B&B Partners, Gibbon, NE

For Lon Bohn and his partner Don Blaschko at B & B Partners near Gibbon, NE, guidance systems, precision irrigation, seed placement and nutrient management all fit on top of a clear foundation of soil and water conservation.

“In order to keep the soil in place, we need to keep the residue and that’s what led us to no-till,” says Bohn. “And with the rolling fields we have, a guidance system is critical for us to make the most of our seed.”

A customized planter system minimizes skips and avoids soil crust that can hinder root growth. Water capacitance moisture probes make irrigation more precise. Nutrient management is geared to the terrain.

“The old rate controllers were basically a valve that you turned open and you were supposed to take off and go with your tractor and maintain that perfect speed,” Lon explains. “But on these hills you may gain half a mile an hour going down hill and going up you might lose one or two mile per hour,” he smiles. New equipment now matches the application to GPS, compensates for speed on-the-go and applies according to the nutrients prescribed.

Don Glenn, Glenn Acres, Hillsboro, AL

We’re running a three-year rotation,” explains Glenn. “We run a full-season corn crop, we follow that with canola, then double-crop soybeans, followed by wheat and double-crop soybeans. That gives us a five crop rotation over three years.”

This intensive system, he says, allows the Glenns to remain profitable while farming fewer acres than they might otherwise farm and spread out their cropping seasons to avoid pinch times for people or equipment. Educated as an accountant, Glenn says precision tools and good records are key to making progress under this kind of system.

He continues to refine his recordkeeping in a way that enables him to become more and more precise in optimizing his inputs. Glenn says his area is highly variable in soil type, water holding capacity, and some rolling ground that’s highly erodible.

“Every dollar counts. We try to religiously track all of our costs, look at our return on our dollars,” he says. “Precision farming, with its data logging capabilities, just fits right into that scenario.”

Kevin Stoy, Stoy Farms, Ashley, IN

Knowing how much precision technology to apply and plotting the point of diminishing return to data is also key to developing a workable management game plan. But first you must be clear about the business you are in.

At Stoy Farms that means a unique blend of talent, equipment and technology geared to optimize about 13,000 acres near the town of Ashley in northeast Indiana.

“We are in the business of producing commodities,” says Kevin Stoy. “We work to be clear about matching our system to economically producing as much grain as we can.”

For Kevin and his brothers Ken and Tom, precision technology must fit with that primary mission. The scale of the operation means larger equipment to deal with the limitations presented by finite windows for planting and harvest. The Stoys, having started with GPS and yield monitors back in the mid-90s, have a level of experience that helps them iron out wrinkles and concentrate on only the data they need.

“We are going to take advantage of GPS, guidance and variable-rate technology,” says Stoy, “but we probably aren’t going to spend a lot of time breaking fields down into smaller and smaller sections.”

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