Our example of precision technology success in the eastern Corn Belt was an examination of Ag-Knowledge, a program of the precision consulting division of Central Ohio Farmers Co-operative, headquartered in Marion, OH. Program Coordinator Tim Norris, still working through the division’s second year, discussed his relationship with Fred and Tom Miller, a progressive team of farming brothers.
The Millers are highly motivated to try new things to maximize yield and farm efficiency. They are also very hands-on, doing their own planting, variable-rate fertilizer and lime applications, and harvesting. Tim Norris and the Ag-Knowledge program gave the Millers a chance to use technology to learn more about their fields and make better decisions, and save money.
Last year, the Millers had utilized the Beeline real-time kinematic (RTK) base-station driven automatic steering system for tillage and application, with a plan to expand their use of the technology in planting and harvest in 2004.
Norris provided baseline data analysis using SSToolbox. The key variables included soil type, rainfall, and seed variety. Combined with yield data at the end of the season, the plan was to determine the highest performing yields within the predominant soil types in the Millers’ farms.
In 2003, examining the data led to better identification of high-yielding varieties by soil type, which caused some reconsidering of hybrids thought to be poor performers, says Norris.
“There were some varieties we would have written off based strictly on yield performance data, but when overlaid with soil type it showed that we had judged too hastily in some cases,” says Norris.
In addition to the total farm data collection and analysis, Norris initiated a nitrogen (N) trial on 150 acres in an effort to help the Millers to determine the most economical N rate for corn.
“One goal was to use variable-rate phosphorus and potassium and apply sidedress N based on diammonium phosphate applied,” says Fred Miller. “The 180 pounds of total N and sidedress N rate varies according to the DAP applied. Where a high rate of DAP was used, we applied less anhydrous ammonia.”
Last year’s data suggested that an optimum rate of 180 pounds to 200 pounds of N per acre for most soil types provided economic benefit, but more data is needed, says Miller.
After the harvest, Miller says, “I will have two years of data on variable-rate N and may look at using an optimal rate based on soil type and yield goals for different soil types.”
The verdict on automatic steering has been clearly positive. The Millers had decided to switch over to Trimble‘s Autopilot system along with an upgrade to Ag Leader‘s INSIGHT in-cab CAN bus computer. The INSIGHT is able to run the Trimble Autopilot, a distinct advantage over the Beeline unit they owned in 2003.
“We were looking to make the switch to something that would be seamless and allow us to utilize some of the equipment our customers already own,” says Norris. “Trimble will be fully compatible with Ag Leader. This provides a huge advantage when we can use a customer’s existing yield monitor and GPS unit. And Case — the Millers’ equipment manufacturer of choice — is offering its machines as “Trimble ready,” from the factory, if the customer chooses to order it so equipped. With the advantages that Trimble and Ag Leader offer, I think we are on the right path.”
The only frustration is that the transmission of data between Ag Leader and SST is not completely compatible — specifically, data labels don’t always match or are in one program and not the other. This creates more work for Norris in the data analysis stage — not insurmountable, but not convenient, either.
The Millers own three automatic steering systems at this point — two RTK systems and one that uses the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). In 2004, they used the systems in planting, sidedressing, and for the harvest.
“The automatic steering worked fine,” reports Fred Miller. “I think we found an increase in acres worked per day, but our spring weather was so lousy that we never really got a rhythm going — there were too many rainouts!”
Overall, the plan does allow the Millers to see their fields in a variety of perspectives, and challenges Norris to keep looking for answers.
“There is definitely more collaboration between the Millers and myself,” says Norris. “We get in touch with each other at least once every week, and it’s great to be able to be in such close contact with customers.”
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of PrecisionAg Special Reports.