October 30, 2017
By Joel Johanningmeier
Have you incorporated variable-rate technology into your operation?
Now is a great time to use your fresh-from-the-combine 2017 field data to zero in on your most and least productive field areas, and then make the adjustments needed to achieve better results in 2018.
Precisely managing your fields helps your operation become more economically and environmentally sustainable by optimizing the resources you apply to each field. Using only the inputs you need, when you need them most, is the core of variable-rate technology. If you spend the next couple of months creating your zone management plan for next year, you will be set to go come spring.
Learn from your data
Work with your agronomist, retailer, agriculture technology specialist or other trusted adviser to review your farm’s historical information, such as calibrated yield data from the combine or in-season satellite imagery. Look at yield patterns and plant health and biomass trends. This year-over-year data will help you identify management zones based on productivity and yield potential.
Next, calculate each field’s average yield rate to use as your prescription basis. For example, in corn, if certain areas are consistently high performers, you may want to bump up the population by 1,000 or more seeds per acre. On the flip side, if historically low-performing areas are identified, you can save on seed costs by lowering the seeding rate in those locations.
ZONE PIC: This is a screenshot of WinField United’s R7 Tool, showing the ag technology available to create field zones.
Look for these same trends with nitrogen. If the plant population has been increased in higher-producing areas or if high-yielding racehorse hybrids are selected for these zones, nitrogen rates need to rise accordingly to capitalize on yield potential. By cutting back on nitrogen levels in underperforming zones, more nitrogen becomes available for areas with the highest yield potential.
Add variable rates in soybeans
If you grow soybeans, zone field management can also result in big benefits. Soybean prescriptions are typically the opposite of what is used for corn. That means populations are usually lowered in areas of good emergence and early plant growth to promote more high-yielding areas. This increased plant vigor will help establish the stand count needed to deliver optimal yield potential.
Conversely, in areas of the field that have iron chlorosis issues or challenging soil types, increasing populations can help ensure adequate stand establishment to meet yield goals. By making these adjustments to population, you eliminate highs and lows across the field for more consistent yields. Using a high-quality seed treatment is strongly recommended to help the soybean crop reach yield goals in variable-rate soybean programs.
Be sure to follow through
After variable-rate prescriptions are established, make sure your planter is properly calibrated prior to planting. In-season follow-up should also include taking a stand count to verify planter performance and to check on emergence. If the intended plant count is 36,000 but only 32,000 seedlings emerge, other issues such as pest control and nutrient levels may need to be addressed in that zone.
Continue to check corn and soybean crops for other opportunities or challenges throughout next season. The first year of using prescription management provides a base plan that can be tweaked in subsequent seasons, providing a stepping-stone for increased crop performance in the coming years.
Take full advantage of your variable-rate technology capabilities. You spend a considerable amount on technology and crop inputs every year. Make sure those investments represent money well spent by using precision tools, high-quality data and the counsel of your crop adviser to support your zone management and prescription strategies. It’s never too early to plan for next season.
Johanningmeier is a technology manager with WinField United in southeastern Minnesota.
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