When Heepke signed up for Monsanto FieldScript’s pilot program, available to about 150 growers in 2013, he was gung-ho to add sophisticated variable-rate seeding to his operation. After an unusually good growing season that largely masked variable-rate-seeding yield benefits, he continues to be enthusiastic about the program’s potential.

“Their system and equipment worked the way they promised it would, but the yield did not work out the way we all expected,” says Heepke. “It showed a 1.5-bushel increase compared to standard seeding rate. I believe in the science behind this. I hope this will help take me to another level, production-wise, in the future.”

Heepke notes that his main FieldScript-planted field, which rolls from heavy creek bottom soils to sands and clay hills, yielded 214 bushels per acre in 2013, significantly above its long-term average. In 2011 the yield was 150 bushels per acre, and in 2009, 185.

As part of an equipment update needed to qualify for FieldScripts, Heepke bought a new 16-row Kinze variable-rate planter. He outfitted it with three pieces of Precision Planting hardware required for FieldScripts. These included 20/20 RowFlow for variable-rate seeding and swath control, a 20/20 SeedSense monitor and an iPad with a FieldView Plus app. The iPad app displays planting maps on the go and streams planting data wirelessly to central Internet-connected computers.

After providing yield maps, soils, fertility and other data to FieldScripts, Heepke received prescription maps wirelessly via the iPad for several hybrid options for each field. Having options was important, since some hybrids were in short supply and wet weather forced replants.

“With the new planter, monitors and FieldScripts, I was very nervous about how everything would work out,” says Heepke. “Everything was user-friendly. I was very impressed.”

Heepke was not alone among FieldScripts participants in experiencing less-than-expected yield gains, says Dave Rhylander, who heads the Monsanto program’s launch.

“In many cases, we did not see the yield differences that farmers expected,” he adds. In addition to the impact of exceptional growing conditions, he says the company sometimes relied on yield, fertility and other data that wasn’t of high-enough quality to generate solid planting prescriptions.

“We learned that we have to say ‘no’ if the data isn’t good enough,” he says.

But where high-quality prescription-writing data were available, FieldScripts produced solid yield gains, says Rhylander. “Where we had high-quality data, average yield increases were 5 to 10 bushels per acre,” he says. “We tested FieldScripts this year to learn what we needed to improve for our commercial launch. We look forward to this year’s launch with the upgraded data requirements that provided higher yields for farmers.”

In 2014, FieldScripts will be open to about 1,000 farmers who work through Dekalb dealers, for $10 per acre.