Rain delays always impede timely planting in areas of the country every spring. But thanks to precision farming tools like GPS-guided auto steer, farmers like Johnny Verell near Jackson, Tenn. can make up for lost time.
“It takes a lot of the stress out of planting,” Verell told Monsanto Today. “We can cover more ground and work at night a lot easier because we don’t have to worry about seeing our markers.”
Since GPS-derived agriculture products were introduced in the late-1990’s many farmers have been adopting the technology because of the benefits—improved efficiency, higher yields and better environmental stewardship.
In the past, farmers would have to overlap their rows to prevent missing parts of their field. Now, with GPS-enabled auto-steer, growers don’t have to worry about human error in applications.
“Ten years ago we used a 20-foot planter,” Verell said. “Now we’re using 40-foot planters, farming the same 20-acre fields that we did 10 years ago. We used to have to overlap at least five feet with the 20-foot planter. Now, with the 40-foot planter, we are able to reduce overlap to a matter of inches. That really helps us be more efficient.”
GPS also allows farmers to apply fertilizers at variable rates based on soil test data collected from the fields in previous years. The data is loaded into an onboard computer that maps out the field and automatically drops fertilizer only where it is needed. With this technology, farmers can manage their fields spatially rather than on a whole-field basis.
“Variable-rating is a big cost saver for us,” Verell said. “Since we started variable-rating our fertilizer, we’re saving anywhere from $20 to $30 an acre just on our [potassium and phosphate]. And with nitrogen we just try to level out the field and make everything uniform.”
The technology is also available to allow farmers to fine-tune application rates on seed and chemicals in the same way. “We take a few years of yield data and then write a prescription for each field,” Verell said. “We’ll place higher seed rates where the water holding capacity is higher. Once you start increasing seed in those areas you’ll start pulling out extra bushel per seed. The numbers start adding up really quick. That’s when the technology starts paying for itself.”
Precision farming has significant impacts well beyond the individual farm. For example, more efficient use of chemicals and fertilizers means less runoff.
“With auto-steer on the sprayer we’re minimizing the amount we’re spraying on our field borders,” Verell said. “The new technology makes it easy for us to keep track of what chemicals we’re spraying. We’re able to see what we sprayed and on what day. If we are ever asked for our records, we can just print it off.”