They also delineate areas with high weather-related variability, where “yields can be opposite depending on if it’s a wet or dry year,” Hopper says. These areas frequently benefit from drainage improvements. “Drainage is often our biggest limiting factor,” Hamlin says, “so it’s one of the things we are concentrating on.” Hopper does his own field grading, using Trimble precision land leveling software. His data showed that “in the first field we did, it took about five years to pay back the land leveling costs with yield increases.”

The numbers also showed Hopper that he was losing money by planting too close to adjacent woods. Along tree lines, “we weren’t even breaking even.” Hopper took those field borders out of production and planted perennial grass strips. “We didn’t see our production decline at all, and we turned those areas from a negative return to breakeven.”