Not all site-specific farm equipment will pave the way to increased profits, but some high-tech instruments are almost a sure bet to boost efficiencies and add to the bottom line. That's the gist of advice gleaned from Dave Harms, owner of Crop Pro-Tech Crop Consulting Firm, Bloomington, IL, and Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, Extension agricultural economist at Purdue University.
They have identified which precision farming tools show the most profit potential for corn and soybean production. Here's a list of their top five picks:
- Computer queries
“You can save dollars in management decisions provided you keep good crop production records and have the right computer software,” says Harms. “The query ability can be useful if you have enough years of data. For example, you can ask the computer which hybrids yielded best in high-fertility fields, in dry years or with a specific herbicide program. The adjustments you make from good recordkeeping and planning can add 2-4 bu. or more per acre to your bottom line each year.”
- Auto-guidance equipment
“This technology allows farmers to cover fields faster and more accurately,” says Harms. “It eliminates overlaps, gaps and skips from any product that you apply.” As a result, fertilizer and crop protection products are only applied where and at the right amount needed.
Time is money and auto-guidance technology saves on both, agrees Lowenberg-DeBoer. How much time and money you'll save depends on the size and scope of the farm, and the type of auto-guidance equipment it is, he adds.
Auto-guidance can also provide a yield benefit for farmers using it in a strip-tillage system or to establish a controlled-traffic pattern that reduces compaction problems, says Lowenberg-DeBoer. Both he and Harms agree that lightbars are a good alternative if a farmer can't afford an auto-guidance system.
- Variable-Rate Technology (VRT)
Particularly in the eastern Corn Belt, VRT lime applications can be beneficial due to pH levels that are often either too high or too low in different areas of the same field, points out Lowenberg-DeBoer. In some areas, VRT applications of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) can also be beneficial, depending on the variability of fertility in the field, he adds.
To work well, however, VRT fertilizer applications should be based on management zones, rather than just grid soil samples, says Harms. “If you base applications on point samples only, then your VRT applications can be off by as much as 10%,” he says. “You can correct that by pulling random samples based on soil types, which provides the greatest correlation to yield potential.”
- Yield maps
Keeping an eye on a yield monitor as you drive through the field won't provide very useful information, says Lowenberg-DeBoer. “The top use of the yield monitor would be to identify places that could benefit from drainage,” he says. “However, when tied to a yield map, yield monitor data can provide considerably more information that is useful for making management decisions. This could include comparing hybrid performance, fertility or weed control programs, tillage systems and fungicide or insecticide applications.”
- Sensor technology
Guided scouting is the most promising use for remote sensing for many growers, Lowenberg-DeBoer adds. “If early season images show a problem, it can help with replant decisions. It can also help spot plugged irrigation nozzles.”
Sensors can also be very useful on grain bins, adds Harms. “If you have grain storage, you should have moisture and temperature sensors placed throughout the system to help detect hot spots and spoilage,” he advises.