Hopper’s operation sprawls across 10 miles of bottomland in the northern Mississippi Delta. “We see a lot of spatial variation farm-wide,” he says. Soil types differ from sandy to heavy clay, and productivity ranges from 80 bushels of corn per acre to over 200 — sometimes within the same field.

Hopper, a self-taught techie, got his first yield monitor in 1996 — the same year he started farming full-time with his dad, Terry. He uses Pioneer’s MapShots software to document all field operations, integrate soil-test results and generate variable-rate fertilizer prescriptions. MapShots’ EASi Suite add-on programs track grain movement, seed and chemical inventories and financial performance.

Over the past 17 years, Hopper has accumulated a solid database of relative yields, the foundation for each field’s management zones. Hopper also incorporates soil maps, aerial imagery, topography “and our own knowledge of our fields.”

He and Hamlin divide most fields into zones of average, below average and above-average productivity. “Three or four zones seem to be sufficient, given our current understanding” of site specific management, Hamlin says.