Emens is in his second year with the service and plans to evaluate its benefit after second-year results are in. This gives him a look at what it has showed over a full two-year corn-bean rotation. “I'll spend the money up front to evaluate the value of this service, but in the end it will have to pay.”

Welch urges growers not to judge the service solely on being able to find problems, such as areas missed by spraying or a clogged tile line. Farmers will find that its greatest value is in helping them determine the most profitable long-term management practices for their fields, such as the best tillage system and matching fertility programs with corn hybrids.

Welch explains that each corn hybrid has a distinct preference as to when it needs the most N. Some hybrids or families of hybrids need a lot early in the season, some later. You can optimize yield by selecting hybrids that dovetail with your N application schedule.

By using IR imagery, Welch says you can watch the corn crop develop throughout the season and see if the hybrids you selected are getting the N they need when they need it. He also recommends planting check strips to compare hybrids and fertility programs.

Over time he says you can fine-tune hybrid selection and soil fertility by field for optimum yields.