- VIEWPOINT -
Afraid Of New Tools
When asked to write this article, I was told to “write about something that you have a passion for that would be of interest to our readers.” Well, the choice was easy – farming. More specifically, I want to discuss one of the tools we have in our toolbox to meet the challenges of ever escalating input costs and these runaway commodity prices.
Precision agriculture, what is it? My definition is any process on the farm that allows you to collect information or apply inputs in a site-specific manner. Most commonly, this means a GPS-based program, but not always. We started zone management of fertilizer 15 years ago simply based on soil types, topography and drainage. We have come a long way since then. But before we discuss specific methods involved, we should answer the question, “Why employ precision ag?”
With rapidly escalating input costs such as nitrogen, chemicals and diesel, combined with record high prices for commodities, this is a perfect opportunity for a management system that can help allocate overall inputs and increase our yields.
So how does this work? By identifying the variability in the field and varying the application of materials. This variability could be due to soil type, drainage, compaction, residual nitrogen or a number of other variables. The point is, that due to this variability when we are applying a single rate of a given product, we are either over applying or under applying in some areas of the field.
This affects our production in a number of ways. If we over apply, we spend more on unneeded inputs while causing problems down the road such as applying too much nitrogen, which causes rank growth and the need for additional plant growth regulators as well as delayed maturing and an increased need for boll openers and defoliants. On the other hand, too little nitrogen will reduce the canopy, leading to weed control problems and reduced yields.
If we can agree on the usefulness of variable rate applications, then what is the cost and additional management required? The cost could include additional equipment, yield monitors, variable rate controllers and application equipment. Additionally, increased scouting and consultant expanses may be incurred. Then there is the time involved inputting the information gathered and deciding on how to set up management zones and vary the rate of application.
Interestingly, it seems to be the increase in time and management required rather than the increase in cost that makes producers question whether they want to start a precision ag program.
Fortunately, as various methods of precision agriculture are more widely adopted, companies and individuals are becoming more familiar with the technology. From consultants to ag suppliers, there are custom programs available to the producer. This means that you do not have to become a computer expert to adopt precision ag.
I think this is where the most resistance comes from – the fear of the unknown. The idea that we all have to become computer programmers or that our employees will not be able to do it is just wrong-headed. I am 50 years old, with no computer training. My equipment operators are high school graduates with no computer training. However, what we do have going for us is a willingness to embrace a system that offers the potential for cost savings and improved yields.
Also, from the equipment operator’s standpoint, the controllers are increasingly user friendly. However, it is not necessary to invest in controllers and special equipment to get started with a program that will work on your farm. All the major suppliers and co-ops are adopting this technology and are offering to collect the information needed and to make the variable rate applications.
Many consultants are becoming familiar with the concepts involved and are offering services designed to facilitate variable rate applications.
If we can overcome the fear of the unknown and embrace a new approach to farming, the rewards will include reducing our overall cost, improving our yields and reducing our environmental footprint.
In short, we have the opportunity to increase our profitability and become better stewards of the land we farm.
Contact John Lindamood at firstname.lastname@example.org or (731) 253-7112.