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Here's a Way to Use Crop Inputs More Efficiently

When it comes to precision farming, Marc Hasenick has a unique problem. Winters aren’t long enough, he claims, to analyze all the data collected during the year.

“I guess we should farm farther north so I have longer winters and more time to deal with the data,” he jokes. “We bought our first yield monitor in the late 1990s, so we have a lot of yield history, which I put a fair amount of weight on. However, there comes a point where I have to accept what is physically possible to manage and do the best I can.”

To that end, Hasenick Brothers Farms, located near Springport, Michigan, was one of the first to adopt precision farming techniques on the entire farm, based on soil type and past production history. In the meantime, the crop mix consists of corn, wheat, and soybeans with a percentage of the corn following corn.

The farm’s origin dates back to Marc’s grandfather and great uncle. Today, it is managed by Marc, parents Dennis and Cindy, and brother Drew.

They all bring their own unique knowledge and experience to the operation. While Dennis has the longest track record with crop production and precision farming techniques, Drew has a degree in business and Marc has a degree in crop and soil science.

“When we first started mapping and using Ag Leader’s SMS software to write prescriptions, our first thought was that we’d be able to cut back on expenses,” Dennis explains. “We have been able to do that to some extent. The greater benefit, though, is being able to place the nutrients where they are the most productive and efficient so they provide the greatest return on investment.”

Zoned in
The Hasenicks haven’t been content to just manage plant populations and soil fertility on each field, though. Instead, they’ve divided the farm into management zones, with each zone essentially becoming its own field.

“In our area, soil types change rather quickly, so we have zones that are as small as 1.5 acres and others that are as large as 10 acres,” says Marc, noting that soil type makes a good starting point for a zone. “I find it hard to accept creating a variable-rate map for seed or fertilizer when the zones for each don’t follow the same management boundaries. It’s hard to quantify and to learn anything from that. There are too many variables to validate the results.”

By the same token, the Hasenicks don’t accept traditional formulas for calculating fertilizer needs and variable-rate fertilizer applications.

“We can have many different companies telling us how much seed or fertilizer to put on a certain area, but those companies don’t have the factors only we know. We must be able to ground-truth all applications and note the results,” Marc says. “Those factors are much more critical than past weather maps and yield data alone.

“Consequently, we use proprietary algorithms that we wrote, which are based on equations for our specific soils,” he continues, noting that the rates are based heavily on the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of their different soil types.

“We already know that a crop in low CEC areas with sand and gravel doesn’t respond in the same way to fertilizer applications as it would in Iowa, for example. So we came up with our own formulas for CEC levels of zero to three, four through six, and seven through 11,” he says.

Explaining that low-CEC soils require more spoon-feeding, since they don’t have the holding capacity of higher CEC soils, they apply a straight rate of stabilized nitrogen in several stages from preplant through postemergence. In the meantime, phosphate, potash, and lime are all variable-rate-applied to match the zone requirements, as well as the micronutrients applied with the corn planter.

“Once we establish a zone, we try to stick to it,” Dennis says. “If something changes and there is an area inside that zone that is not responding like the rest of the area, we need to either figure out why or make that spot its own management zone.

“The nice thing about having Ag Leader’s Integra display in the combine is that it lets us import all our hybrids and guidance lines from when we planted, so we can easily compare the different hybrids and varieties as I go through the field,” he continues. “There are also the little things, such as being able to find the guess rows and starting on an established A-B line.”

Dennis says the display also allows him to collect moisture levels in different areas of the field, as well as field elevation, time of day the area was harvested, and how fast the combine was traveling – all of which can be used to help analyze combine performance, variety response, and crop inputs. Of course, that, in turn, requires RTK guidance and a means to variable-rate-seed the crop.

“We basically took a new 24-row John Deere corn planter and created a machine that not only variable-rates the seed, the 2×2 fertilizer, and our in-furrow fertilizer, but also has automatic shutoffs on the row units to auto-swath the seed and fertilizer on point rows and overlaps,”

Drew explains. “In fact, it may have been the first planter of its type in the area in 2008, when we added all those different capabilities.”

Most importantly, the planter allows the Hasenicks to adjust the seeding rate to match the management zones.

“Let’s say we normally plant a field at 30,000 seeds per acre except we drop the worst areas to 27,000 and push the better areas to 34,000,” Marc says. “However, every once in a while, we plant a full pass at what we normally plant to verify that the decision to run 34,000 or 27,000 instead of 30,000 was worth it.”

The Hasenicks are working on equations to variable-rate nitrogen, and they’re trying different cover crops.

“I know a lot of farmers already put on more nitrogen per bushel than we do, but we don’t try to use those levels. People are starting to forget that the soil will mineralize nutrients. It’s not like we’re farming Styrofoam. We have to keep the soil healthy enough to kick it back to us,” Marc concludes.

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