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Data management technology improves efficiency

Alaina Dismukes data-management-photo-CSCPG.jpg
Information generated from yield monitors, field characteristics and production practices go into the computer, where Steve Skelton can access it from anywhere with a tablet and make management decisions based on accurate data.
FieldView puts data to work and improves field efficiency.

Until three years ago, Steve Skelton of Shaw, Mississippi, set a goal to regularly move data from a notebook on the dash of his pickup onto his computer.

It never worked out as planned, he says, and he found himself entering days or weeks of data to catch up.

He added Climate FieldView to his data management program, and “now it’s all available at the push of a button from anywhere.”

“FieldView rep Fran Deville taught me to draw field boundaries and download maps, — CEC, for instance — and to use FieldView’s split-screen option to view two maps at once to identify problems,” Skelton says.

“When I learned to do that, a lightbulb came on. I solved a lot of farm problems with this technology.”

Drainage is the first suspect. “If it’s not drainage, I toggle between fertility maps downloaded on my iPad, starting with pH. If it’s not pH, I move to N, P and K. When I identify the problem, I spend a lot of money on that one yellow spot on the yield map to correct it. Now, I produce a crop where I had never made one in my life.

“When you figure the technology out, you can make money. I was reluctant at first, but adopting this technology made me money.

“I still use pen and paper occasionally,” Skelton says, “but that has mostly gone away.”

He’s raising corn and cotton this year and has grown soybeans. He planted DEKALB 6744 and 7027 corn hybrids, DPL 1646 cotton and AG48X9 soybean (AG46X6 last year). 

“I am not a Bayer employee,” he says. “I test a lot of varieties; these work on my farm. Competition is important, in my opinion.”

Improved efficiency

FieldView puts data to work. Information generated from yield monitors, field characteristics and production practices go into the computer, where Skelton can access it from anywhere with a tablet and make management decisions based on accurate data.

“When I make a furrow irrigation application, I manually enter it on FieldView with a simple click of a button,” he says. "Field-
View records the date and how many times I irrigate annually.

“I used to put off entering my data. It’s so easy to do now, I don’t procrastinate anymore. I use a season summary button on my iPad to look at everything I’ve done on each field by date to determine when I irrigated last and how many times I irrigated.

Field by field

“I can split a field, farm part of it conventionally and part with a cover crop and reduced tillage. I look at annual digital records; everything is there — spray records, fertility, varieties, seeding rates, all my records.”

He says his biggest “aha moment” was identifying soil variability. “I know in my head that I don’t make as good corn in heavier ground as in sandy land. But pulling up yield and CEC maps at the same time with the split-screen option showed the yield drag was the same as the CEC map. That’s when I bought the mSet option.”

Seeding rate

“I use the FieldView custom scripting tool to pull up a CEC map. I can draw a line to select one hybrid for high CEC and another for low CEC to create a custom seeding script for my field.

“I realized that saving 1% on seed every year adds up. When I draw a field boundary, FieldView talks to the Precision Planter and the planter v-Drive option to automatically turn off when it crosses any row I intend to destroy anyway. I don’t double plant.

“Seed is expensive, so saving seed is worthwhile. The recommended rate may not be the most profitable. In the past, I planted 140,000 soybean seed per acre. With FieldView and multiple tests on multiple soil types with multiple varieties, I’ve found that 90,000 seed per acre on my farm saves money and improves yields. That’s rare in agriculture.

“The Precision Planter dealer, New Day Logistics, West Point, Mississippi, helps me choose gadgets to put on my John Deere planter,” Skelton says.

Soils vary across fields, so Precision Planting’s v-Drive, FurrowForce and mSet allow Skelton to do things he couldn’t do in the past. “DEKALB 6744 does best on heavy land, and 7027 likes sandy soil,” he says, so the planter flexibility makes a difference.

“FieldView and swath control allow me to spray with a 90-foot rig and turn it on and off as I enter the field boundary. I’m not fertilizing the ditch and the road,” he says.

Skelton cooperates with Mississippi State University on variety trials.

“With FieldView, we plant test plots on the go. During the hectic harvest season, I don’t have to relocate flags and don’t have to use a weigh wagon to gather test plot data.

“The planter automatically seeds plots as written in the FieldView prescription. I use the analysis tool for instant results. After harvest, I see on my iPad which plot made better yields.”

Fertility

FieldView improves field efficiency. “For instance, how much nitrogen do I need in the cornfield? Can I use less and make more profit? We’re putting out fertility plots, altering rates on the go, based on FieldView prescriptions — nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and starter fertilizers at various rates. The iPad communicates with the John Deere monitor and changes nitrogen rates on the go. I can check results and decide what to change. FieldView offers a lot of options and turned my operation into a research farm. The sky is the limit.”

He can test tillage systems, cover crop performance and variety results — “whatever I take a notion to test. It is so easy, there is no reason not to look at it.”

He’s planting cotton for the first time in years in 2020 and using FieldView and variable rate technology to apply a plant growth regulator. A weekly satellite imagery report provides an up-to-date scouting map of crop vegetative growth, which he uses to apply the PGR. “The map shows where we need no PGR or a heavy rate, based on map colors.”

He’s improving moisture management, too. “Eric Larson, MSU corn specialist, taught me how to irrigate corn,” Skelton says.

“I used to think I had to keep goldfish alive and never see my young corn roll in the early vegetative stage. I started irrigating at signs of drought. I was watering eight-plus times. Eric installed soil moisture sensors at 6, 12 and 24 inches. He taught me how to read data to see rooting depth and moisture availability.”

Larson divided a field in half and had Skelton irrigate normally on one side and use moisture monitors to water the other half.

“When corn showed drought, I started irrigating,” Skelton says. “He watered twice, and I thought his yield would suffer. I watered eight or 10 times. He outyielded me three years in a row. 

“I thought it was a fluke, but I started trusting and learning from him. He taught me how to irrigate corn using soil moisture sensors. Now, I have probes scattered across the farm and am adding more every year. Ideally, I’d like to have one in every field.

“I was watering corn way too early and way too much. Early irrigation makes root systems lazy, so they have no reason to go to 24 inches. This system forces roots to search for moisture.

“This year I irrigated twice. Rarely do I find something that saves money and increases yields." Surge irrigation and sensors changed his irrigation program. “Larson and FieldView taught me to watch weather forecasts. I save a lot of money by being patient.”

He’s also improving conservation through FieldView. “I’m finding practices that cut costs and improve yields.”

He collects data on yields, spray records, herbicide use, rainfall, furrow irrigation and weather. “The MSU variety trials are archived in there, too. One button brings up yield results after harvest.”

He credits others for much of his success. 

“The most important things in life are in this order: God, my wife Janet, my family, my friends and my work. It’s taken me 60 years to learn that. Janet is my best friend and partner in Tricotn2 farms.”

He also credits his farm manager, Wyot Skelton, a second cousin; financial analyst Zack Smith; marketing consultant John Beasley; crop consultant Wes McPherson; Grossman’s Gin in Quito, Mississippi; and his on-farm crew for doing things he can't do by himself.

Skelton says successful farmers will adopt this kind of technology. “I’m a little slow on computer technology,” he says, “but I picked it up.

“It’s a learning curve,” he adds. “I have to be teachable, get my ego out of the way and learn new ways to farm. When I poke out my chest at the coffee shop to brag on my yields, it is not helpful. I need to look at profit. This technology made me a better manager of my farm.”

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