Farmers know there’s no silver bullet approach to keep crops free from weeds, disease, and insect pests. No two fields are alike. Each has so many different variables, and what works for one field may not work for another.
That’s why one ag consultant recommends to his farmers to perform their own on-farm crop research trials to glean insights on their specific fields, especially with seed, chemical and fertilizer. Doing so provides the ability to make better immediate decisions on things like in-season applications instead of waiting until the following season to make improvements.
“Nobody’s going to be able to replicate your soil conditions, irrigation capabilities and technology better than you can on your own farm,” said Rees Bridges, engineer with InformedAg, an agronomic consulting company based in Auburn, Alabama. “You can go back and review varieties, seed placements, which traits are performing best, and then decide how to manage a spraying program to maximize the output of the varieties planted.”
Examining those variables as they specifically apply to an individual farm will explain how each field performs under different conditions, said Bridges. Plus, that level of field-level data can enable farmers to make specific decisions during the growing season, especially when layered together with historical information on which weeds and pests have pressured their crops the most in the past.
And, what if you could save five percent on your chemical bill? What if you could make the same improvement to other parts of your crop management?
That kind of incremental change can make a considerable difference to profit potential in the long run.
Chad Swindoll, a precision agronomist with Ag Leader, recommends taking small steps to make improvements by using the “five percent rule,” which means to look for changes that improve one aspect of your operation by a five percent margin.
Start with the right data
The process begins with identifying the early-season variables that can influence the efficacy of in-season chemical applications, and then start collecting the data. Variables such as:
- Planting date
- Plant populations
- Varieties/hybrids and locations
- Soil/environmental conditions at planting
- Crop yield history
“Focus on the big four: seed, pesticide, fertilizer and equipment,” Swindoll said. “If you can move the needle on one of those things, you just made a financial difference on your farm.”
As important as these variables are, even more critical is how you collect the data using precision ag tools, and it starts with accuracy. It’s important to double check that the varieties being planted are correctly reflected in the display.
“Good preparation on the front end goes a long way,” Swindoll said. “Ag Leader has some really great products, and you can do a lot with them, but if you put ‘Brand X’ in the planter hopper and record it as ‘Brand Y’ in your yield monitor, the quality of that data is diminished. Just a few steps on the front end pays off tremendously on the backend in terms of the value of the data.”
Having accurate planting data can have value during the immediate growing season, well before you’re looking to buy seed for the following year in the fall.
Today’s technology allows growers to view field information and maps from all machines on-the-go on iPads, or mobile devices, and then use that information in season.
The planting and early-season data they collect and manage can help better guide in-season applications. For example using AgFiniti, growers can:
- See how a variety is responding to application practices as they’re scouting.
- View planting maps right from the sprayer and evaluate how different varieties, populations or other planting practices impacted the crop mid-season.
- See which variety was planted displayed next to the incoming yield results.
“It’s important to approach the integration of that data into in-season decisions with a “quick wins” philosophy, Swindoll said. “If we can help a farmer move the needle positively on his fertilizer or pesticide application costs, then I just impacted the whole enterprise,” Swindoll said.
Putting data to work one step at a time
The idea of individual farmers conducting their own on-farm research is nothing new. But, add in the full farm connectivity capabilities provided by the technology and cloud-based mapping and analysis tools like AgFiniti, and that field-specific research takes on a significance beyond simply noting which crop varieties and management practices perform best on specific farms.
Bridges said that kind of technology not only adds to the research results you’re able to collect, but also streamlines the process of obtaining those results.
“If they start conducting a lot of variety trials, for example, these tools allow them to go back and easily review the results and specifically manage a spraying program, for example, to maximize the output of those varieties,” Bridges said.
Overall, he believes incremental changes lead to improved efficiency and ultimately to an improved bottom line.
“Everybody likes to think in terms of maximizing yield, but you have to think in terms of business decisions,” Bridges said. “If our maximum profitability comes with a lower yield, I encourage farmers to make decisions to support that profitability. Let’s manage to that rather than manage to maximize yield through inputs and the possibility of diminished returns.”
Learn more here about how to design on-farm research. If you’d like to get your own trials started, contact your local Ag Leader dealer or university extension agronomist.