At the Hoober farm store in Middletown, DE, there’s all the usual machinery – tractors, generators, sprayers, planters. But outside salesman Dave Wharry’s office, there’s also a stand with a couple of screens on it that look like fancy GPS monitors, writes Irina Zhorov on NewsWorks.org.
The computers actually are GPS enabled but they go onto farming equipment rather than cars. He turns on the computers and illustrations of fields appear on the screens. It’s pre-programmed to simulate a tractor driving through the field. The computer flashes tons of information: the speed of the machine, fuel use, moisture of the crop, how much it’s harvesting.
When the farmer is done harvesting, the computer makes a yield map showing which parts of the field produced best, and which ones returned fewer bushels. A farmer can use that information to make site-specific decisions. Instead of treating an entire field homogenously, they can say: maybe this weak area needs more fertilizer, or perhaps this productive section can support more seeds.
Each field is a snowflake, with different qualities and needs. The technology – called precision agriculture – allows farmers to take that into account in managing their operations. “Commodity prices aren’t growing, they’re dropping, costs are continually rising, so there’s a big push for efficiency,” said Wharry.
Savings In The Details
Baker Farms, about ten miles from Wharry’s office, spreads over 1,700 acres and produces corn, soybeans and wheat. Its owners have been dabbling with precision ag since 2002, and got serious about adopting it in 2008. Ed and Dave Baker have been farming the land there since the 1960s, but they say it was one of their farm managers who kept up with technology in the industry and convinced them to try it. Before that, they usually made management decisions based on prior experience.
“There’s an old farmer saying that goes: 10 years to know a wife or a farm. You just farm the same ground for years and years and you know where the most productive fields are,” Ed Baker said. He said that piece is still important, “but now that we have the data we can make decisions that are based on real numbers and real science.”
The Bakers use their yield maps, along with soil maps, to vary seeding rates. They used to plant each field with a constant number of seeds. Now, in very productive areas, they plant 34,000 seeds per acre and on the poorest soils they plant 28,000, with gradations in between. In all, they have seven management zones. Seven snowflakes.