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Variable planting is the future

New tech at work offers range of current and forward-thinking options.

Farmers are on track to push yields ever higher, but to break away from simple trend-line increases, they’re going to have to look at a range of options that fine-tune exactly what’s happening in the field. Matching the exact hybrid to the right location at the right population could be part of that solution.

There are already technologies in the works that will allow not only variable-rate populations across a field, but also changing hybrids on the go. For now, however, a farmer’s best tool may be varying populations as they plant, and recently, a group of 150 farmers tested the idea as part of Monsanto’s FieldScripts Groundbreakers program.

With FieldScripts, which is a cloud-based data service, farmers provide a minimum of two years of field data. Monsanto generates a “script” that provides the farmer with a selection of hybrids and an optimized planting rate for each one.

As harvest was getting underway, Monsanto claimed growers would see yield increases of 5 to 10 bushels by matching up the field’s yield history and soil quality with customized planting populations and hybrid choices.

Gear up

To make use of the technology, Pam Strifler, Monsanto’s Integrated Farming Systems lead, notes farmers must have a planter equipped with the proper Precision Planting equipment. Tremont, Ill.-based Precision Planting is now a subsidiary of Monsanto.

The FieldScript is loaded onto an iPad, which integrates with Precision Planting’s 20/20 SeedSense technology.

Dave Rhylander, FieldScripts launch lead, says prescriptions can be written for 30-, 22- and 20-inch rows. With the mainstream launch next year, the technology will only be available in conjunction with the Dekalb seed brand. FieldScripts will be sold on a per-acre basis separate from the bag 
of seed.

Seamless integration

As one of the FieldScripts Groundbreakers, Maple Park, Ill., farmer Steve Pitstick was impressed with how seamlessly the technology integrated with his planting system. In the 20 years Pitstick has experimented with new technology on the farm, this was the most painless new-tech integration yet.

“FieldScripts did a fantastic job of making it so simple and easy to use,” he says. “I don’t know what they could do to make it any better.”

Pitstick denoted five fields for FieldScripts testing. The iPad software developed six hybrid and planting-rate prescriptions for each field.

“When I got to the field, I could choose the hybrid I wanted, and it would provide the script,” he adds.

Some hybrids came with a prescription that called for minimal seeding-rate fluctuations. Other hybrids saw a variable planting rate of +/- 6,000 plants per acre. Pitstick says the overall amount of seed used was approximately the same.

“We just positioned it differently across the fields,” he adds.

Missing component

Pitstick has been using variable-rate planting technology since 2008. He’s been able to incorporate soil data, fertility, planting populations and yield. However, he’s never had access to data on an individual hybrid’s potential. With hybrids lasting only a few years in terms of longevity, that’s a key piece of the equation, Pitstick notes.

With FieldScripts, Monsanto’s breeding and test data varied populations from 32,000 to 39,000 plants per acre within Pitstick’s trial fields. To benchmark yields from this first year, he planted test strips at his typical population (36,000 plants) in two different spots within each field.

Pitstick chose where the test strips were planted. He picked average spots to give him a better idea of FieldScripts’ yield potential.

Of course, boosting yields is the overall goal. Without that piece, FieldScripts is just another fancy bit of data analysis. Pitstick has yet to put an actual number on how many bushels will make it worth the price.

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