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Crop Tech Tour: Putting data to work

Agriculture.com Staff 01/10/2008 @ 10:13am

Each corn or soybean field is home to reams of data. New technology in the last decade has helped farmers unlock that data. Now, the focus has turned to making use of that data in crop management and, more importantly, making it a profitable part of the farm.

Like many farmers, Lyle Mabus began collecting detailed data through yield monitors and field mapping a few years ago. Now that his data set has reached a mature age, he's looking to make it add to the right side of his balance sheet.

"To interpret all this data, that's where we're at now," says Mabus, who farms near Lakota in northern Iowa. "That's what we're after--we're trying to hone in on where we need this or that."

To this end, Mabus is working with certified crop adviser (CCA) Bryan Arndorfer of Precision Management Services in Bancroft, Iowa. He's got five years of yield data in hand, is gleaning more as he implements more precision technology in his operation, and is now looking to make it pay.

"Lyle's been working with some of the newer technologies and he came to us to help him sort out some of his information, try to keep track of the records and present the data in a fashion that he can use to make some of the management decisions he has to make," Arndorfer says. "Lyle came to us and he was looking to keep track of his records better. We take his information and present it in a useful format for him to sit down and look over."

For Mabus, it started with a yield monitor, and now with a field mapping program and precise fertility testing he's able to nail down his nutrient needs and direct fertilizer to specific spots in the field where they're needed. In addition to this method to save money on fertilizer, Mabus can now select corn hybrids and plant them where they'll be most effective.

"We set up all his fields on a productivity zone basis, then he keeps track of everything with his monitor," Arndorfer says. "There are definitely different hybrids that perform better across different soil types. He'll be able to select those hybrids to get the most productivity out of each field possible."

Another way Mabus utilized specific field data in 2007 was for variable-rate nitrogen applications. It's the first year he and Arndorfer tracked data for this purpose, so the jury is still out. But, the goal is ultimately to cut fertilizer costs through more precise applications based on specific data.

"We soil-sampled all of Lyle's fields based on productivity zones. We've been applying fertilizer accordingly for what those areas call for, then he'll come back in and variable-rate apply to level out the nitrogen credits. At the same time, we've been doing check strips throughout the field to determine if the applications are beneficial," Arndorfer says.

"The whole goal is to not apply any more nitrogen than what is needed. But, every year is different, so it could take a few years of data across different weather and environmental conditions to be confident about what the decisions are based on."

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