Precision Myth Busting #1

Cindy Zimmerman

Raj Khosla Soil and crop science associate professor Raj Khosla with Colorado State University recently busted a few myths about precision farming in an article for CSU’s Agronomy Newsletter.

gridMYTH 1: Precision farming is grid sampling

While it is true that grid sampling was among the first few methods that the precision farming community (i.e., early adaptors) used to develop variability maps of crop production fields, precision farming does not rely on or even require grid sampling. What precision farming could do is precisely and accurately: (i) identify variability and its cause, (ii) quantify variability and its scale, (iii) record variability and its location, and (iv) map variability so that it can be managed. Grid soil sampling is only one such technique of quantifying variability; however, there are many other less expensive techniques available.

Currently there are several precision farming tools and techniques of varying input that do not involve grid sampling. These include, but are not limited to, site-specific management zones, remote sensing, apparent soil electrical conductivity measurements, yield mapping, and smart sampling. In fact, many of these methods were developed specifically to replace grid sampling. These methods run the gambit from low-tech and inexpensive to state-of-the-art sensors that can detect the nutrient status of a crop and vary the rate of fertilizer or other input on-the-go.

More myth-busting to come!

Education, University

The Five “R’s” of Precision

Cindy Zimmerman

Once upon a time, education was based on the three “R’s” – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. According to Colorado State University soil and crop science associate professor Raj Khosla, precision farming is based on five “R’s” – which really are R’s!

Raj KhoslaKhosla points out that precision farming is not a new branch or way of farming but “with increased globalization occurring in every sector of our economy, today’s farmer needs to produce better, greater, cheaper, and faster in order to remain viable. Precision farming can help today’s farmer meet these new challenges by applying the Right input, in the Right amount, to the Right place, at the Right time, and in the Right manner. The importance and success of precision farming lies in these five “R’s”.”

Khosla recently addressed some of the most commons myths about precision farming. We’re going to take a look at those in a series of posts coming up here on


Precision Ag In The News

Chuck Zimmerman

Those California wine makers sure seem to get it when it comes to precision agriculture. Here’s a story about how they do in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Did you know that precision farming played a role in today’s Wine of the Week winner, Iron Horse Vineyards’ 2005 Wedding Cuvée Blanc de Noir?

The winery has a plane fly over its vineyards twice a year to gather information with infrared photography about how the vegetation varies from block to block and even row to row.

Lawrence Sterling, operations manager, said from a winemaker and grower’s point of view, such variability is “the most challenging” aspect of making wine. The data collected helps the winery chart where and when to pick. It also helps with farming decisions such as irrigation and cover crop planting.

You can watch a video of the story with this link. Or right here:

Precision Ag in the News

Harvest Corn Cobs For Cellulosic Ethanol

Chuck Zimmerman

John Deere Corn Cob HarvestingUtilizing precision farming equipment when you’re harvesting corn will pay off even more once you can start harvesting corn cobs for cellulosic ethanol production. That’s what I learned at POET’s Project LIBERTY field day in Emmetsburg, IA this week. POET is working with ag OEM’s like John Deere to develop harvest equipment to collect cobs for the plants they plan on building in the near future. They plan to begin building a cellulosic ethanol production component of their Emmetsburg plant in late 2009 with production expected to begin in 2011.

Of the current options for harvesting/collecting the cobs, Deere is working on the corn cob mix kit (CCM) option. It’s basically an attachment to the combine according to John Deere’s Barry Nelson, who was attending the POET Project LIBERTY field day.

Barry says that this will allow farmers to produce up to 11 percent more ethanol per acre. That’s a pretty good gain in efficiency. He says they’re also looking at other equipment options including a special cart or new combine.

You can listen to my interview with Barry here: [audio:]

Project LIBERTY Field Day Photo Album

Audio, Equipment, Ethanol

Precision Cotton Farming

Cindy Zimmerman

Cotton Crop Management SeminarEd Barnes Cotton IncPrecision cotton farming will be a focus of the upcoming Cotton Incorporated crop management seminar and workshops.

Randall Weiseman with Southeast Agnet recently interviewed Cotton Inc Director of Agricultural Research Ed Barnes about the event being held in Tunica, Mississippi on November 11-13. “We’ll actually have a hands-on seminar on how to do precision fertility management, how to collect soil samples with GPS, ” said Barnes. “For someone who is more experienced we’ll have a detailed seminar on how to transition to zone management and cut down your number of samples.”

More information is available on the Cotton Incorporated website.

Listen to Randall’s interview with Ed here:

Audio, Events, General

Farming and Online Socially

Chuck Zimmerman

How many of you farmers are using social networking online? I get asked about this all the time. Of course I know you are or you wouldn’t be here on Let me know if you’ve got a blog, Facebook or Twitter account and I’ll point people your way. Here’s a farmer using precision ag who’s writing online that I just found out about today.

Let me point you to Tucker who writes The View From The Tractor. He’s following me on Twitter now and I’m following him (subscribed to each other feeds in case you don’t know about following). I’ve never met Tucker but I already feel like I’m starting to get to know him. I love his personal description:

My name is Tucker. My son’s are also called Tucker. We live on a farm in Nebraska. I drive a tractor. I also have the opportunity to spend a majority of my time intaking podcasts and reading in my tractor (I have GPS autosteer) and then I can come here and share some thoughts with you. It is my wish that you will see in my writings, I really do spend too much time alone think.

Feel free to write, call, email, or just comment. I love the socialality of all of this. Our community exists everywhere, even from a little isolated farm in western Nebraska.

So, “Yeah, farmers are using social networking and new media.” Just ask Tucker.


Best Farming Practices Includes Precision Agriculture

Chuck Zimmerman

Best Farming PracticesThe NFU (Scotland) is promoting a booklet called “Best Farming Practices” produced by Environment Agency, which mentions the importance of precision agriculture.

Farmer Philip Chamberlain found that an integrated approach using manure, compost, crop rotation and precision-farming techniques could significantly reduce his costs.

By using sewage sludge, well-rotted pig manure and compost from a green-waste plant on the farm, Philip saves the equivalent of £60,000 in fertilisers annually.

In 100 pages Best Farming Practices explains how wise stewardship of resources such as soil, nutrients, water and energy can help you cut costs while maintaining or improving productivity. It includes 15 case studies of farmers across England and Wales – from Pembrokeshire to Norfolk and from the Devon hills to the Yorkshire moors. Their stories show how a variety of farm enterprises can reap environmental and economic benefits from a range of simple, low-cost actions.

I’m not so sure about all the political policies of these groups but at least they seem to think precision agriculture is a good thing!

Ag Group, International

Cotton Inc Precision Management Workshops

Chuck Zimmerman

Cotton Crop Management SeminarIt’s less than two weeks to the Cotton Incorporated, 2008 Crop Management Seminar & Workshops. There’s a nice agenda of precision workshops included in the program in case you’re interested. It’s all going to take place at Harrah’s Casino & Resort in Tunica, MS, November 11 – 13.

Here’s the precision workshops agenda (pdf):


NOTE: Participants Must Choose Either Workshop #1 or Workshop #2


Getting Started in Precision Fertility (3 hours) 8:30 AM – noon
Hands-on Use of GPS/PocketPC Units — includes instruction and outside
demonstrations on how to take soil samples; map field boundaries; transfer data;
generate application maps and more!
Instructors: Will Henderson, Clemson; Shannon Norwood & Amy Winstead, Auburn; and Dana
Sullivan, USDA-ARS, Tifton, GA.


A. Transitioning to Zone Management (1.5 hours) 8:30 – 10:00 AM
How to Implement Zone Management
Discussion of USDA’s Zone Analyst
Reduce Samples without Loss of Accuracy
Instructors: Mike Bushermohle, University of Tennessee; Mike Cox, Mississippi State; Brenda
Ortiz, University of Georgia; Jeff Willers, USDA-ARS, Mississippi State, MS; Randy Taylor,
Oklahoma State

B. Sensor-based Nitrogen Management (1.5 hours) 10:30 AM – Noon
Making Field Level Recommendations from a Hand-held Unit
Hands-on use of the GreenSeeker® Sensor
Demonstration of a Crop Circle™ Sensor
Instructors: Brian Arnall, Oklahoma State; Brenda Tubana, Louisiana State; Philip Allen,
University of Tennessee; Earl Vories, USDA-ARS, Portageville, MO

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM LUNCH

Ag Group, Cotton, Education

Precision Irrigation at Sunbelt

Cindy Zimmerman

Sunbelt Valley IrrigationValley Irrigation was showing off its brand new line of GPS Ready irrigation control panels at the Sunbelt Ag Expo earlier this month in Moultrie, Georgia.

“We have our computer panels that are industry exclusive GPS ready,” Sara Sims with Valley said during an interview at Sunbelt with Southeast AgNet’s Randall Weiseman. The GPS Ready PRO2 Pivot Control Panel and GPS Ready AutoPilot Linear Control Panel currently are available from Valley dealers. The GPS Ready Select2 Pivot Control Panel will be available later this year.

“If you’re doing split crops or different crops during the growing season, you’ll be able to computerize and track your programming to change your water and chemigation throughout the field,” Sara said. She added that current customers can upgrade existing PRO2 panels for the new GPS ready panels.

Listen to Randall’s interview with Sara here:

Audio, GPS, Irrigation

Good Precision Info On Pioneer’s GrowingPoint

Chuck Zimmerman

Pioneer Growing Point WebsiteFarm Progress Companies Editorial Director, Willie Vogt, is writing a column for Pioneer Hi-Bred’s GrowingPoint website. His latest one is “Ramping Up Precision –
How much differential correction do you need? It depends.” You can find it on the website but will need to create a login to access the story. Here’s an excerpt:

Farmers have had a good year – despite the current economic downturn – and for some that means reinvesting in the farm’s technology. One area getting greater attention is auto-guidance, or perhaps a move to auto-steering. Part of that discussion will include your level of differential correction for that GPS signal.

Last week we looked at the value of yield maps. This week we take a closer look at the precision of the GPS tools you may want to use on the farm.

Precision Ag in the News