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Keith Roberts has collected yield data from his Morral, Ohio, fields for many years, but says he doesn’t want to rely too heavily on that alone for his agronomic decisions. “The R7 Tool results don’t always match up completely with yield data,” he says. “I like that this new system takes other things into consideration. It’s another piece of the puzzle to help maximize yields.”
Mounds of data and layers of field maps are common elements of precision farming systems. A new web-based tool simplifies variable-rate technologies, combining historical field satellite imagery with test plot data to field-tailor seed selection and prescriptions for planting and fertilizer application.
The R7 Tool was introduced 1½ years ago by WinField, the seed and crop protection products arm of Land O’Lakes. Since then, the company has trained more than 3,000 cooperative and retail agronomists to use the tool with farmers to evaluate their fields’ variability.
The process starts with satellite photos of a specific field, including a bare soil image, USDA soil survey map and crop images from two recent dry years and two recent wet years. Used to measure plant biomass, four crop images are all chosen from the same time of year, when the crop’s vegetative level is the highest, (between the VT and R4 stages).
“Those images measure greenness, or health, of the crop, which has been shown to correlate with yield potential,” says Dave Gebhardt, WinField director of agronomic data and technology. It works extremely well with corn and cereal crops, he says, helping identify agronomic issues and variation in a field’s yield potential.
The satellite images and vegetative indices are used to create a map of different management zones within a field. That map is then used to develop variable-rate seeding and fertilizer prescriptions for that field.
“You don’t need historical yield data or soil test results, but if you have those things, it’s great to layer them into the process,” says Gebhardt. “If you don’t have data, or have a new field to manage, you can create a map on any field in the U.S.”
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The other part of the R7 Tool is a proprietary database of hybrid information based on years of field trials conducted at WinField’s 197 U.S. Answer Plots. “From the Answer Plot data, we provide the grower with calculations for hybrid responses to changes in plant population, nitrogen levels and crop rotations,” says Gebhardt. For example, hybrids differ in their response to corn-on-corn versus corn-on-bean rotation. Data drives all those scores, on every hybrid in the Answer Plots, he says.
Data is collected on Croplan brand hybrids and varieties, as well as the latest numbers from partner seed companies like Mycogen, NK Brand, DeKalb and Asgrow, as well as competitive brands, such as Pioneer.