Precision Farming Data Will Pay

Kurt LawtonCorn, Farmers, GPS

The early pioneers of precision agriculture technology were often frustrated–not unlike the initial stages of any technology. The data gathered could produce impressive yield maps, but the knowledge base to glean better management decisions from them was lacking.

Today, those pioneering growers have a treasure trove of data that can possibly be manipulated into zones–leading to improved management decisions. Corn & Soybean Digest magazine recently profiled Wisconsin grower Mike Cerny, who has GIS-mapped data since 1994, after buying his first yield monitor in 1987.

Cerny worked with University of Wisconsin agronomist, Joe Lauer, to layer soil data, nutrient maps, elevation maps and real-time planting maps to analyze his 12 years of data. Then they developed 50-meter data cells within 300 acres to find ways to improve his bottom line.

“We wanted to find out if, by doing this, we could predict what the yield would be in the sixth year in each cell,” Lauer says. “Bottom line, we found that we could predict the next year’s performance.”

In corn, for example, the six-year analysis showed a consistent, 26-bu. difference between high-yielding and low-yielding cells. That was a bit of a surprise, Cerny says, because the cropland was “all one soil type, with little elevation variance and fairly uniform fertility. That’s not where you’d expect to see much difference, and yet we did.” So these stable-, high- or low-yielding zones could be candidates for special management, Lauer says.

Cerny is using the data to vary corn plant populations within fields. “We do know that plant density influences yield dramatically,” Lauer says. “And we know there are different optimum populations in different yielding environments.”

What decisions helped Cerny improve efficiency using precision ag technology?

  • Changing seeding rates given high and low producing areas (but not sure if adding profits yet)
  • Adding tile (big profit improver)
  • Variable rate fertilizer (good environmental benefits, and perhaps added profits, but jury still out)

For all the details, check out this valuable story.