Variable-Rate Fertilizer Technology Adoption Needed

Kurt Lawton

With tighter margins and higher input costs, now is the time to implement the best management practices (BMPs) for fertilizer use, says Bill Herz, VP of Scientific Programs for The Fertilizer Institute.

Herz, who spoke at the recent Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association convention, promoted technology adoption–as reported by FarmweekHe urged farmers and fertilizer applicators to use available tools — such as precision agriculture, variable rate technology, soil testing, and on-farm strip trials — to ensure optimal fertilizer application rates.

An advisory board to the Environmental Protection Agency recently called for a 25 percent increase in nitrogen efficiency in row-crop systems, Herz reported.

He called on members of the fertilizer industry and farmers to act now before regulations are implemented later.

“We need to show we’re willing to do the right thing voluntarily or mandatory systems will be imposed on us,” Herz said. “We need to promote BMPs to make sure we’re using nutrients as efficiently as possible.”

Education, Equipment, Precision Ag in the News

Farm Machinery Show Will Go On

Cindy Zimmerman

Despite the icy weather that recently affected parts of Kentucky, the 2009 National Farm Machinery Show and Championship Tractor Pull will proceed as scheduled.

More than 150,000 Kentucky residents were still without power this week after ice storms the last week of January, prompting President Obama to declare more than 90 counties a major disaster area and order federal aid to supplement local recovery efforts.

Still, the 44th National Farm Machinery Show will return as planned to the Kentucky Exposition Center February 11-14. The nation’s largest indoor farm show features the future of farming with row after row of the newest products and services, hands-on demonstrations of the latest technological advancements, and a variety of free seminars. will feature reports during and after the event, so stay tuned!

Displays, Education, Equipment, Industry News, National Farm Machinery Show

NRCS Precision Farming Initiative

Cindy Zimmerman

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Alabama has announced a new Precision Farming Incentive for farmers in that state.

The Precision Farming Incentive is designed to encourage the adoption of variable-rate application of nutrients and pesticides and promote the use of GPS-enabled precision agricultural technology and equipment. The goals of the Precision Farming Incentive include improving water quality by targeting areas for reduced nutrient and pesticide application, reducing runoff and leaching of pesticides, enhancing soil quality through reduced erosion and soil compaction and energy conservation through accurate and efficient application of crop inputs.

A poster promotion for the incentive reads: “Want to save money? Want to reduce input costs for nutrient and pesticide management? Want to reduce the risks of these entering streams? New precision farming technology is proving that it can be done.”

The program is available this year to producers in 22 Alabama counties. Read more about it here.

Listen to a story about the program here from Julie McPeak with Southeast Agnet:
[audio: Precision Farming Incentive.mp3]

Audio, Conservation, Precision Ag in the News

Robotic Tractor and Sprayer Technology Coming

Kurt Lawton

Spraying orchards is a messy but necessary job. And if Cornell researchers succeed, a driverless tractor and sprayer could simplify the task.

This fruit tree sprayer, fitted with sensors to determine location and height of trees, is part of a $3.9 million USDA-funded project at Cornell–in collaboration with the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University. The objective is to develop, test and evaluate a fleet of autonomous tractors designed for precision agriculture applications–and John Deere is delivering four tractors for testing at Southern Gardens Citrus in Florida.

Goals for the project include developing tree-level precision agriculture applications that leverage, at very low cost, autonomous mobile platforms and supporting infrastructure; reducing the cost for wide-scale adoption; and soliciting feedback from growers, regulators and technology suppliers. The researchers will also study such questions as how disease detection, yield estimation and precision spraying can be most effectively deployed from the mobile platform; how many platforms one operator can safely monitor and what the installation, setup and support issues are associated with the system.

Stay turned to as we explore more robotics work, being undertaken at John Deere, with an eye toward the future of automation.

Precision Ag in the News, Research, University

Precision Technology Can Reduce Global Warming

Kurt Lawton

A group of leading and innovative companies have joined together to recommend national legislation to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. And a national cap-and-trade carbon reduction system using precision technology is at the heart of the program.

Robert W. Lane, chairman and chief executive officer of Deere & Company, joined other business leaders in Washington D.C. recently to unveil the U.S. Climate Action Partnership’s “Blueprint for Legislative Action.” The blueprint is a comprehensive and detailed set of integrated policy recommendations for developing legislation that would create an environmentally effective and economically sustainable national climate protection program.

“We are pleased that USCAP has reached consensus on a comprehensive Blueprint for Legislative Action which reinforces our commitment to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  In order to effectively address climate change internationally, the U.S. must play a leading role.  Significant cost savings to the overall cap- and-trade system can be realized by utilizing robust levels of offsets, both domestically and internationally, as this Blueprint reflects.  

“The agriculture, forestry, and land use sectors have the potential to reduce and sequester a significant portion of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions, as well as generate renewable energy and produce low-carbon fuels.  A robust emissions offset program established from the outset of cap-and-trade will create opportunities to reduce emissions or increase sequestration practices that can generate revenue for rural communities, provide multiple environmental and social benefits, improve air quality, and ensure cost-efficient emissions reductions.” 

This effort includes 26 companies and five environment groups as members. Business leaders from these committed companies participated in Congressional briefings and a public press conference to announce the blueprint.

For more information, visit

Company Announcement, Conservation, Tillage

Precision Boom Control Saves 5 to 30% Input Costs

Kurt Lawton

Yes, investment spending isn’t easy. The “pay now save later” approach was easier to swallow in 2007 than right now, but even stubborn bankers and lenders should be able to grasp saving money every year on expensive inputs!

Auburn University biosystems engineer John Fulton says their preliminary research on GPS-based spray boom control technology shows a savings of between 5 and 30% depending on the size and shape of the field.

“Especially in odd-shaped fields, you’re going to see a bigger saving because there is typically more overlap associated with spraying,” says Amy Winstead, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System precision farming agent, who adds that a lot of growers who have already adopted the technology have expressed satisfaction with it.

Winstead says she already has noted substantial savings among farmers who have adopted the technology.

“There’s been a huge saving,” she says, “and farmers, depending on the application, can pay off the system after only one or two growing seasons.”

Boom-control features are easy to acquire as add-ons, according to Shannon Norwood, a precision farming agent who, along with Winstead, is based at the Tennessee Valley Research and Extension Center in Belle Mina.

“There are a number of boom-control products for growers to choose from,” Norwood says. “They can order new sprayers equipped with the technology, or they can purchase a third-party product.”

With the right product selection, retrofitting of older sprayers is also possible, she says, adding that adoption rates are likely to climb as growers replace older sprayers in the next few years.

John Deere offers one such technology, Swath Control Pro, which we’ve covered in a variety of stories here at 

Variable-rate fertilizer applications of P & K are also a viable profit-making option, when soil tests lead the way. “With fertilizer costs running higher, variable-rate applications of phosphorous and potassium are now a viable option,” she says, adding that soil testing is a critical first step.

“Your soil test really should be the first step in making sure nutrient rates are at their proper levels,” Norwood says, “otherwise, you won’t know if the variable rate applications are justified.”

In fact, in especially lean crop years, soil testing should be viewed as an especially valuable economic tool.

For additional cost savings, Winstead says farmers also should consider the merits of guidance systems.

Lower-end products can be purchased for as little as $2,000 to $3,000, she says.

“They’re more affordable than they used to be and can go a long way in reducing overlap in the fields and saving on fuel costs,” she says.

Guidance systems enable producers to work longer days and may also help them better manage other resources, especially labor costs.

General Improves Search For Used Equipment

Kurt Lawton

Similar in scope to the overhaul of a tractor, John Deere has completely overhauled and redesigned its website. It is now easier than ever for customers to find and review pre-owned equipment…including precision agriculture technology.

“MachineFinder not only provides improved user interfaces, but new functionality that will better assist customers in acquiring used equipment from John Deere dealers,” says Michael Gause, division manager of John Deere Remarketing Services.

The redesigned MachineFinder includes features such as Google Maps to view equipment location and obtain one-step driving directions, detailed gallery views for higher quality equipment photos and comprehensive equipment information. The site offers more accurate browse-and-search functionality, which improves the overall usability goals for the MachineFinder website.

Several other new features round out the improved functionality of the site. One feature is integration with (, an online shipping marketplace with a network of specialized tractor and heavy equipment haulers. The uShip integration on MachineFinder provides customers with the ability to obtain immediate shipping cost estimates and receive competitive bids for transporting equipment purchased through MachineFinder.

If you register a profile, you can save selected equipment, searches and user settings. Plus you’ll also find news and blogs, plus a connection to John Deere Credit to check out financing options.

And don’t forget these other valuable links:

View Operator’s Manuals and Parts Catalogs

JDParts – Your Online Connection to Your Dealer’s Parts Counter



Company Announcement, Dealers, Equipment

Precision Irrigation With Remote Sensing

Kurt Lawton

Imagine visiting a website to check your crop canopy measurement, which would tell you exactly how much water the plants need. It’s being worked on right now.

With water becoming a more valuable resource when growing crops, especially high-value vegetables like this pepper field, researchers are exploring futuristic methods to measure crop canopy from satellites to save water and satisfy plants’ thirst.

“A bell pepper with a canopy cover of 40 percent may use, in a week, an inch of water—the amount you might want to replace the next time you irrigate,” says USDA-ARS research leader and agricultural engineer Tom Trout. Canopy-cover estimates, used in a standard equation for irrigation scheduling, provide a fast, accurate, dependable, and affordable way for growers to avoid overwatering their crops.

Overirrigating can be wasteful and can lead to unwanted leaching of fertilizers and other potential pollutants into underground water supplies, Trout says.

The concept of using canopy-cover measurements to estimate a plant’s water requirements isn’t new, he says. But ARS’s California-based studies are perhaps unparalleled in scope, encompassing an extensive assortment of in-demand orchard, vineyard, and vegetable crops of various age classes, growing in various plant and row spacings, in 30 different California fields.

For more details, check out the story “Canopy Cover: The Secret to Gauging Plants’ Thirst,” from the January 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Irrigation efficiency is one of John Deere’s latest investment areas, called John Deere Water Technologies, along with wind energy, as mentioned in their 2008 annual report. In fact, John Deere Green Tech just announced receiving top honors at a recent irrigation industry show for its MHG (Micro Hydroelectric Generator), a revolutionary water-powered irrigation control system.


Hands-free GPS Precision Harvesting On Sale

Kurt Lawton

Growers looking to upgrade their harvest performance for 2009 should take a hard look at the new John Deere 70 Series Combines–and get special pricing before the February 2 deadline.

Contact your John Deere dealer to check out these prices and equip a combine that best fits the way you farm. One of the best options on the market for hands-free harvesting is AutoTrac RowSense — which can help the combine steer itself in down corn, around terraces or on pivots — to save every bushel.

Other popular options include PowerCast Tailboard, which gives a controlled spread of residue up to 50 feet wide; and the Self-Leveling Cleaning System, which helps achieve level-land efficiency on sidehills of up to 14% slope (available on the 9870 STS only).

Act soon, and you’ll be in a new combine before harvest this fall.


Precision Ag Needed To Aid Coming Food Shortages

Kurt Lawton

Half the world’s population could face severe food shortages by the end of the century as rising temperatures are predicted to rob yields of rice and maize by 20 to 40% in tropical regions–so says a study in the journal Science.

“The stress on global food production from temperatures alone is going to be huge, and that doesn’t take into account water supplies stressed by the higher temperatures,” said David Battisti, at the University of Washington, who led the study.

Given that prediction, and given how precision technology is redefining the efficiency of how we grow crops–doesn’t it make sense that US farmers continue to feed even more of the world?

The tropics and subtropics, which stretch from the southern US to northern Argentina and southern Brazil, from northern India and southern China to southern Australia, and cover all of Africa, are currently home to 3 billion people. Future temperature rises are expected to have a greater impact in the tropics because the crops grown there are less resilient to changes in climate.

“When all the signs point in the same direction, and in this case it’s a bad direction, you pretty much know what’s going to happen,” Battisti said. “You’re talking about hundreds of millions of additional people looking for food because they won’t be able to find it where they find it now.”