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Data Provides Insight for Input Selection, Land Improvements
Data can provide insight for seed selection, fertility, and other management practices to help increase yields, save costs, and provide soil health benefits. One farmer, Randy Collings, Nevada, Iowa, used data he collected throughout the years as evidence the ground he rented would benefit from additional tiling.
“I only have a few growing seasons left, and I want to do it right,” says Collings. “I don’t want to penalize myself.”
Yet, because Collings rents the ground, he had to prove to the farm manager and the farm’s landowner that the additional tiling was a justified decision. In this case, Collings was able to show them that the improvements would make a positive, long-lasting impact to the ground with the data he’d collected.
Collings provides the data to the farm manager, who, in return, provides it to the owner. Having solid evidence from the data gave the landowners the confidence to make the investment in the ground, says Collings.
“It’s information for the owners, and they like to be able to see that the areas they spent money on did improve,” says Collings. “The numbers tell the story.”
While it does take several years to recoup the investment, if you improve the treatment of the ground, you’re going to see the payback, he says.
It really helps Collings in the fields where he grows seed corn.
“One example is where I used the existing tile and then also pattern-tiled it. It had a big return,” he says. “The difference was astronomical.”
Two years ago, the field yielded 165 bushels per acre, and this year, with the additional tile, it was at 281 bushels per acre, says Collings. Figuring the price at $3 per bushel, the 116-bushel-per-acre increase translates to a $348-per-acre improvement in one year, says Collings.
He also takes grid samples for his fertilizer program. Collings credits the improved yields and field conditions to the combination of applying the correct amount of fertilizer and having the fields tiled, where needed.
Like Collings, Owen Heetland, a farmer from Ackley, Iowa, believes in the power of data. Heetland uses it to confirm he’s selecting the best inputs for his fields.
“I try to use the precision technology to grow the best crop on each field,” says Heetland.
He uses services from Innovative Ag Services, his local co-op. The Gold program and Innovative Advanced Solutions Platform tailor products to soil types and management practices. The technology allows Heetland to see, on a mass scale, yield data for specific hybrids on different soil types. This information allows him to make better informed seed decisions.
“I get the benefit of seeing more acres of a product,” says Heetland.
He also tries different products on his operation. In the past, he’s looked at biologicals, fungicides, and starter fertilizers.
He keeps the application data and then lays the yield map over the top of the as-applied maps at the end of the year. This evaluation of the data allows him to see if the products pay.
However, just having data won’t benefit Heetland, and he has to collect good, clean data.
“I make sure I have good data because I’m only going to get out what I put in,” he says.
The most important step to having good, clean, and usable data is making sure the yield monitor has been calibrated, Heetland adds.
Another key is to make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for failure.
“If I’m going to variable-rate my nitrogen or seed, I have to make sure everything is working properly,” says Heetland. “I can learn a ton about different products, but I have to make sure that I do a fair trial.”
In the middle of planting or spraying, it can be easy to forget to check that everything is working properly. Be sure to evaluate your precision equipment, and if something isn’t working, take the time to fix it. Don’t turn it off and keep going, he says.
The bottom line for Heetland is yield and return on investment. Utilizing data allows him to mix and match practices and products to see what works best on each of his fields.