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DIY zone maps

Agriculture.com Staff 12/15/2010 @ 8:55am

By John Dietz

Growers and ranchers who want to do their own zone maps now have the option of using a pair of public access websites to augment their precision farming technology.

Available through www.umac.org, the sites are part of the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium (UMAC), which has an office at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. The office functions as a public access resource center for integrated earth sciences, including agriculture, forestry, and education.

UMAC launched Digital Northern Great Plains (dngp.umac.org) in 2003 as an online system for public access to a collection of several thousand satellite images and related geospatial images. 

DNGP is constantly updated with new satellite images of the northern Great Plains and some aerial photo images as frequently as weekly during the growing season. Most have been acquired in the past 10 years, but the oldest images date back to 1972.

The images are supported by a matrix of conventional maps for soils, topography, crop production, and population.

In 2008, UMAC released ZoneMap (zonemap.umac.org) to extend its outreach. ZoneMap is interactive and utilizes the DNGP platform. Tutorials and hands-on training classes are available.

ZoneMap overcame one limit of DNGP, says John Nowatzki, ag machine systems specialist and instructor, North Dakota State University in Fargo. Before this he could only download images from DNGP to study the history of a field.

With its interactive function, ZoneMap can produce usable field maps broken into management zones for purposes such as variable-rate application, drainage work, and weed control. It will accept GIS-based data uploads for yields, electrical conductivity, and soil nutrient analysis. Confidential information is password protected.

“ZoneMap does the analysis for you, without having to do anything else, from the home computer,” he says.

Using ZoneMap one field at a time, growers and ranchers can locate fields, compile layers of images, upload their own field data, and watch the system generate accurate maps of management zones for a field. They can even download the maps to the farm computer as shapefiles at no cost.

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