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Serving: IA
Adam Gittins, with son by his side, collects yield data and other information gathered by precision ag tools in the field. Courtesy of Adam Gittins
HARVESTING DATA: With his son by his side, Adam Gittins collects yield data and other information gathered by precision ag tools in the field.

Use data to improve efficiency

Precision ag technology helps farmer save time, build soil health and reduce fertilizer expense.

He lives and breathes precision ag. Iowan Adam Gittins uses multiple tools on his Pottawattamie County farm and puts that hands-on experience into action as the general manager for HTS Ag. Based at Harlan in western Iowa, HTS Ag is a company providing precision ag technology products and services for farmers statewide.

Because he works full time off the farm, Gittins leans heavily on precision ag to farm more efficiently and profitably. “For me, time is critically important. With precision ag, I have huge time savings, which is also important to farmers who don’t work off the farm because sometimes they are farming between weather events,” he says. “It’s important to get the most out of the ground and the time we have.”

Through technology, he’s able to target 4R Plus practices to protect the soil and Iowa’s natural resources. 4R Plus is a program that combines the 4Rs of nutrient management — right source, right time, right rate and right place — with conservation practices to increase the resilience and health of soils.

Valuable lessons learned

In 2004, the year Gittins began farming, Mother Nature taught him an important lesson about the invisible dangers of soil erosion. “We had enough rains throughout the year that it eroded a very deep ditch that wasn’t apparent from the surface,” he recalls. “We drove over it with the combine. The front axle went through it, but the back axle was literally swallowed by the ditch. We dropped the combine to the frame in this ditch.”

That event got him thinking about how to improve and protect the soil. He quickly added 12,000 feet of terraces to that quarter section of ground. Now, on all the land he farms, he no-tills corn following soybeans, and uses a vertical tillage tool to lay cornstalks flat, while doing little to disturb the soil. In the fall, he modifies the vertical tillage tool to seed cover crops.

Cover crops are used to protect against erosion, build organic matter and suppress weeds. Data helps him determine where cover crops would be most beneficial. “Where I see erosion starting or want to improve soil health based on data, I can target smaller areas and seed the cover crop,” he says. “I also have a record of where cover crops have been applied and can track soil health improvements.”

He’s still perfecting his cover crop recipe, but he sees the best results with cereal rye. “Covers do a tremendous job of holding back erosion,” says Gittins. “I spent a lot of time doing tillage through the years, and where I’ve added cover crops, those areas are completely healed.”

Field data tells the story

Gittins uses precision ag tools and grid soil sampling to farm more efficiently, target acres with conservation practices and determine a prescribed 4R nutrient plan. “Precision ag provides my operation with huge time savings. At the same time, I’m collecting valuable data that I analyze to do a better job on the acres I have,” he notes.

“The more layers of data you have, the more complete story you have to improve for the next year. Every single pass across the field is cloud-connected, and the data is transferred in real time. The combine has a monitor and the grain cart has a monitor. All the data is transferred to the cloud and available at any time.”

Analyzing data allows him to target 4R Plus practices on acres that aren’t as productive. “I can’t afford to keep pouring inputs into the acres that pull productivity down,” he says. “We do a multiyear analysis, and I can target my really low-producing areas to create a variable-rate planting and nutrient prescription.”

Data has also helped Gittins more efficiently balance soil pH, so nutrients aren’t tied up in the soil. “We don’t do a blanket application of P and K. If soil tests come back indicating one or both is high, I can adjust application rates throughout the field. I don’t think we need to keep spreading fertilizer where we already have it if we don’t need it.”

Customizing technology

Gittins says there’s a piece of technology to go into every application and he encourages farmers who haven’t made a precision ag investment to take a first step. “For me, technology on my planter pays the most rapidly, but the harvest data provides invaluable information on how we did and how to improve each year,” he says.

Using drones and getting an aerial view of the crop in season has also helped him fine-tune farming practices. “I’ve seen so many things from a drone that caused me to go back and look through data in other ways — cross-compare — and make adjustments,” he adds.

Precision technology is here to stay, Gittins says. “It’s a tool that will help you be more competitive and can be used to protect the soil. It’s setting my farm up to leave it in better shape for the next generation.”

For more information, visit 4rplus.org.

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