As more growers set up management zones in their fields, new technologies are coming online to help at every step of the process. AGCO experts discuss their favorites among the latest and upcoming innovations. By Marilyn Cummins
It all starts with the soil, and there are many factors beyond basic soil type to consider when mapping which areas of a field have the best or least potential. “Defining management zones within a field is a science, but it’s also a little bit of an art,” says Darren Goebel, AGCO Global Commercial Crop Care director. “It takes the grower and a trusted adviser, one who has walked the fields of his client in the past as well as other fields in the area.”
Web Exclusive: Goebel recommends the following as tools and resources to consider, beyond the basic soil test, when mapping soil productivity zones:
- USDA Web Soil Survey (WSS) database https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/
- The new SoilWeb apps from the UC-Davis California Soil Resource Lab https://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/soilweb-apps/ make it easier to access and link together soil data from SoilWeb https://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/gmap/, the Web Soil Survey and Google Earth Pro https://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html using smartphones.
- The National Commodity Crop Productivity Index–with its three current submodels (categories) for non-irrigated corn and soybeans, small grains, and cotton–and state soil-productivity indices found in the Web Soil Survey.
- Remote sensing with high-definition aerial imagery and LiDAR (light radar) for highly accurate topographical and other field data.
Collecting Field Data
When it comes to using telemetry (automatically collecting and transmitting data) to create and operate in zones, AGCO offers both its own AgCommand® tool and a new service, Farmobile.™ Farmobile’s Passive Uplink Connections (PUCs) collect agronomic and machine data every second and convert the data to electronic field records from the cab of a tractor, sprayer or combine during any and all field operations.
Ken Wagenbach, AGCO marketing manager for Farm Optimization Services, says that collecting and analyzing data for all passes in a field—not just planting and harvesting—can make a big difference when looking at things like the effect on yield of compaction from equipment. He once suggested that a grower invest about $1,500 to change the culverts at the entrances to three wheat fields “because his best soil, based on the soil map, was right where he went in and out of the field every time with heavy trucks and grain carts.”
When the grower moved the field entrances to poor soil zones with lower yield potential, the gain in yield more than paid for the costs of new culverts.
Fine-Tuning Seed and Fertilizer Application
Corina Ardelean, AGCO marketing manager, Commercial Strategic Initiatives, points out the importance of using tools like guidance systems and the fully integrated AGCO Fuse® Technologies AgControl® system for section and rate control when managing inputs like seed, fertilizer, herbicides, etc., in zones.
“Guidance and variable-rate section control will save input and equipment costs, plus reduce soil compaction,” she says. That starts with collecting highly accurate data with onboard monitors uploaded through a Farmobile PUC and run through a farm management information system (FMIS) to clean and smooth the data layers from all sources, resulting in field boundaries that are activity-specific.
Ardelean says a good rule of thumb is that overlaps in a field can add up to 10% to equipment costs. So if spraying, tilling, planting and fertilizing operation costs total $55 per acre, overlaps can add $5.50 to per-acre expenses. The cost of overlaps in seed, fertilizer and herbicides is usually lower than 10%, but not inconsequential, plus potential yield loss from doubling up crop rows or damaging crops with over-application of nitrogen or herbicide.
Exciting Breakthrough in High-Definition Field Mapping
While most variable-rate operations matched to management zones work from a predetermined prescription, Precision Planting is launching new technology that will put “eyes” in the seed furrow during planting.
The new SmartFirmer™ seed firmer is designed to allow farmers to map in high-definition the organic matter, soil moisture and furrow residue in a field row by row. It’s also capable of changing seed population and hybrid/variety on the fly based on the on-the-go readings its sensors take, says Bryce Baker, OEM lead for Precision Planting.
“Because the sensor in the furrow is measuring organic matter in real time, not only are the resulting zone maps going to lead to more accurate prescriptions, but a planter equipped with our 20/20 SeedSense® Monitor SRM system will be able to change planting population in real time based on organic-matter parameters the grower selects,” Baker says.
Similarly, by watching the SmartFirmer in-furrow soil moisture and residue readings in the cab, a grower will be able to adjust planting depth and row-cleaner settings. At AGCO, Ken Wagenbach is excited about the potential of the SmartFirmer. Whereas most growers using prescriptions have maybe three to five large zones per field based on soil types or larger swings in yield, “this new capability could lead to potentially hundreds of different zones within a field,” he says.