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Precision Technology Moves Into the Conservation Space

Irrigation enables Tyler Stewart to boost his corn yields far above dryland ones. Still, the conservation-minded Fairbury, Nebraska, farmer wants to best use limited water resources on the 20% of farmland he irrigates. 

So he decided the farmland he and his wife, Michelle, bought in 2010 was an ideal location to install a 19-acre pond. He pulled the trigger this summer and construction began in the fall. Rather than pumping limited groundwater to irrigate, he’ll use captured rainwater to water a share of his farm. 

“With natural rainfall, there’s no reason the pond shouldn’t fill itself and collect enough water and start irrigating next spring,” Stewart says. 

The ultimate goal is to catch enough rainfall so he can run up to three pivots from the pond in the future. There’s no guarantee sufficient rainfall will result. Due to the location and the yield increase of 30 bushels an acre of irrigated corn over dryland, Stewart believes the pond will be a worthwhile investment. 

How he started

He worked with Agren’s PondBuilder software through Land O’Lakes to develop a plan that would help him best manage his resources. Besides providing him a water source, the pond has potential to reduce sediment and nutrients moving downstream. 

Precision technology allowed Stewart to design a pond that would help his crop productivity plan. It’s that technology that is becoming a larger part of conservation plans, says Tom Buman, CEO of Agren.

Erosion control

Agren partners with service retailers to provide precision technology tools to farmers. “We have to make conservation fit into farmers’ agronomic plans,” says Buman.

One tool the company has developed, SoilCalculator, could do just that. It maps soil erosion so you can see what is happening across your fields. 

“The map helps you understand where and how much erosion is occurring,” says Buman. “You generally know where your more productive areas are. The map gives you a tool to go back and review, and to help you understand where the erosion hotspots are located.”

You are able to enter your various management practices into the program, such as:

  • Crop rotation
  • Tillage system
  • Conservation practices

It then combines that data with other information, including:

  • Soil type
  • Steepness of the field slope
  • Climate information

Once all of the information is collected, a map that’s similar to a yield map is created. The map helps you pinpoint areas with excessive erosion.  

“Then you have to convert that into decision making on how you are going to make a difference,” says Buman. “If you know that one area is highly erodible and not productive, you might want to put it into the CRP.”

Other options include adjusting management practices or installing additional conservation practices. 

The erosion map is another layer that helps you supplement tools like yield maps to help you make decisions.  

“You can use it for correlation of your yields and erosion,” he says. 

Ultimately, it’s an information tool to help you make decisions about your land, says Buman. 

Unlike a yield map, which changes every year, an erosion map stays more consistent over time. It won’t adjust over a small management change during a growing season, but it will give you an opportunity to check how you are doing at managing a finite resource – soil.  

Options abound

Buman’s goal is to drive down the cost of conservation through tools such as the PondBuilder software that Stewart used and the SoilCalculator. With less expense, he believes you will be able to see multiple options that could benefit your farm. 

“If you don’t like this option, what’s another option that fits more into your objectives? There’s more than one way to keep nitrogen out of water,” says Buman. “We have to help you, the farmer.”

He thinks precision technology is the best way to do just that. 

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