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Accurate Data Is Key to Seed Selection

If you’re a seed variety, you’ve got one season to prove yourself to Bruce Rohwer.

“If it doesn’t perform, it’s gone,” says the Paullina, Iowa, farmer. “When my dad was farming, he believed that until a variety had been out at least three years, no one really knew what it was capable of.”

Passing the test hinged on how well a variety averaged over a three- to five-year period. “At the pace seed companies are releasing varieties today, three to five years and it’s likely obsolete,” he says.

“What I’ve seen in the last 10 years is that a product has about a three-year lifespan,” says Kelly Niewenhuis, Channel Seedsman. “If it’s around longer than that, it’s mainly because seed companies haven’t developed anything better.”

Admittedly a seed salesperson’s dream, Rohwer tends to gravitate toward newer varieties when making seed selections. “I believe seed companies don’t put out a new variety just for the sake of putting out a new variety. They put it out because they thought it would do better than the older one,” he says.

“New products have the research and testing to say they are better,” says Niewenhuis. “I have to make sure the grower is putting that seed in the right place, because today’s products are designed for certain conditions, and placement is huge. I don’t think it was as important five years ago.”

Location, location, location
Vetting varieties means ensuring that the technology Rohwer utilizes pulls together the most accurate information possible for proper placement.

“Investing in technology that can tell you what you’re getting out of these newer varieties will help you keep moving forward to best utilize what’s available,” says Niewenhuis.

For Rohwer, the best preparation for achieving that is making sure his planting maps are accurate. “I use my Integra monitor to map my planting so I know what varieties are where in which fields,” he says.

Recorded as he plants, the information gives him the ability to make every field into a large test plot.

“I’m able to track varieties throughout the growing season,” Rohwer notes. “Come harvest, I move the monitor to the combine, and it knows what was planted where and records accordingly.”

Once in the combine, the next step is ensuring accurate yield data is being gathered.

Calibrating his yield monitor as conditions change is key.

“If I start harvesting early enough, I may have high moisture content. It dries as I’m going along, and periodically I need to go through the process of recalibrating to maintain accuracy,” he says.

“In the past, I’ve calibrated yield monitors, and within a few hours they were way off again,” says Niewenhuis.

Improving tech
With today’s technology, Niewenhuis believes there is a minimum of a 4% margin of error at least 50% of the time. However, he says great strides have been made from past versions.

“Technology has improved drastically in the last two to three years,” he notes. “If we continue at this pace, we should almost have it perfected in about five years.”

In the past year, Rohwer upgraded the technology in his combine and has seen tremendous improvement.

“If I have a monitor that stays more accurate, I’m more likely to keep it properly calibrated,” notes Niewenhuis.

Yet, he knows technology can only do so much and that much of the onus must be placed on the farmer.

“I would speculate that more than 50% of farmers do not properly calibrate their yield monitors,” he says.

“I have about 57 customers, and I would say about 45 of them have yield monitors. Of those, about six calibrate properly. Farmers have the go mode. It’s very hard to get them to slow down and actually calibrate to make sure it’s accurate,” he says.

“Many producers only calibrate once a year,” says Matt Darr, Iowa State University. “When you consider how broadly available yield monitors are today, you often think of the upper end users who are paying attention to data quality. These users are calibrating as needed.”

He recommends a minimum of once per year per crop plus added calibrations when moisture content changes by ±4%.

“For a typical Midwest corn/soybean producer, this is usually three calibrations per year. Not too much of a burden to maintain good data quality,” Darr says.

“As margins get tighter, details become more important,” says Rohwer. “Instead of just painting with a broad brush, the yield monitor lets me fill in every detail, which will give me an edge in the future.”

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