During the Great Depression, Darrington Seward’s great grandfather moved from east Mississippi and began farming 6,000 acres in the south Delta near Louise. Today, Darrington, his father, Byron, and their partner, Scott Harris, farm cotton, corn and soybeans on about 22,000 acres in four counties.
Although they have continued to add irrigation each year, Darrington says their soil types are primarily conducive to cotton, which is a much more forgiving, drought-tolerant crop than corn. And because their soil types are variable, the Sewards do a lot of soil sampling to accurately determine where to place nutrients and help them with choosing which varieties to plant.
Variable Rate Applications
To keep up with this massive amount of information, the south Delta farmers store all of this data with Sanders’ OptiGro and Hemisphere GPS’s AgJunction.
“Having access to this data allows me to write prescriptions for variable rate applications of macro- and micro-nutrients that can be applied by ground with a RoGator, GVM machine or aerially,” Darrington says. “Al-though the plane only puts out one product at a time, it has a fertilizer spreader and is very accurate. Deci-ding whether to apply by ground or by air depends on field conditions and the price of inputs.”
The Sewards also utilize a variable rate approach when applying Cotoran herbicide with the RoGator to help combat resistant pigweed.
“We are able to put out higher rates of Cotoran on our heavier soils and lower rates on our lighter soil types to avoid injuring the crops,” Darrington explains. “We push the product as much as we can where the soil types will allow.”
The prescriptions for plant growth regulators (PGRs) and defoliants are based on aerial imagery that is usually taken twice during the season. Red indicates the lowest level of biomass, yellow is mid-range and green shows the highest level of biomass. Based on this information, the highest rate of PGR or defoliant would go out on the green areas, mid-rates would be used on the yellow and the low rate would go out on the red.
In addition, insecticides can be piggybacked with PGRs, putting out the highest rates where the highest biomass is located and an acceptable on-label low rate where the lowest biomass appears.
“This approach seems to have provided us with superior insect control,” Darrington says. “Tim Richards, our consultant, checks all of the cotton, emails me his insect report with recommendations of where I need to spray what product. I can assimilate Tim’s information with where I am going to apply the PGR, generate work orders, then email them to my pilot, Kelly Peeler, who makes the applications. It’s usually a quick turnaround time,” he adds. “Being able to transmit that data wirelessly is invaluable to us with the large number of acres we are farming.”
Another aspect of precision technology the Sewards use is equipment monitoring for their 17 tractors via John Deere’s JDLink and Dakota Fluid Power’s MobileStar.
“We primarily use the MobileStar platform for real-time position reporting,” Byron says. “We can click on any of the tractors that we have listed on the computer and tell exactly where they are at that moment. MobileStar also sends us a daily report on how much fuel the tractor used, how many hours it worked, etc. Monthly reports are available, too.
“Using JDLink, we can query a tractor’s history from last month or even last year,” he says. “It will show you things like the amount of fuel it consumed, average ground and transport speeds and how long the autotrac was on or off.”
On the computer screen, the equipment monitoring platforms will show if the planter has skipped a pass while the field is being planted or if the sprayer has missed a field. This capability allows these situations to be taken care of immediately instead of the farmers realizing what happened two weeks to a month later.
Yield data also is collected and stored with OptiGro and AgJunction. As these data platforms continue to be refined, they will be able to tell the farmer which variety to plant in which field on a certain day to maximize yields. These types of accurate, informed recommendations are intended to increase the producer’s bottom line over the years.
Byron notes that they use RTK guidance in their equipment that is supplemented by active guidance because their equipment is so wide. These are Orthman steel wheel coulters on the back of the planter. They use the Deere receiver that is mounted on the implement to keep the planter directly on top of the row.
“We row up with a 45-foot hipper that creates 18 30-inch rows,” Byron says. “We do a two-and-one skip on the cotton to avoid having boll rot and solid 30s on the corn. We come behind the hipper with a 24-row planter that is 60 feet wide. The planter has got to be precise because the width of the planter is different from the width of the hipper. We have to plant exactly on top of the row so the seed will go directly on top of the seedbed to get the best stand that we can.
“The width of this equipment also improves our productivity because we don’t have to operate as many hippers and planters,” he adds.
“The row spacing that we use allows us to best utilize our precision ag equipment across corn and cotton,” Darrington says. “Before we made this change, we had two different sets of tractors on different wheel spacings. Now all of our tractors are on 30-inch row spacings.”
Both father and son agree that whether it’s related to data or equipment, precision management plays a big role in keeping their 22,000-acre farm operating smoothly.
“The bottom line is that it saves us time, and time is money,” Darrington says. “Precision management makes sense for us.”
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.