Yield results essential to decision making

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — With today’s new combines, farmers who want their yield monitoring systems to export data simply need to attach the portable memory and hit the button.

But few of them are hitting the button.

Some say the data isn’t as good as it should be because the machinery operator can’t be relied on to take a full cut with the header or the machine lag times between threshing and location can vary too much.

In fact, it likely has more to do with farmers not knowing what to do with all the information, according to researchers and precision agriculture professionals.

Data quickly piles up on the farm. Spraying as-applied maps, seeding and fertilizing records, soil testing locations and weed and disease patches all contribute to an “out of-memory” warning or a full hard drive back at the farm office, says John Fulton of Auburn University in Alabama.

The professor and researcher said the yield component is a critical element for building a data set that can manage agronomy strategies on the farm.

He said farmers need those results, geo-referenced to the field, to complete their yield picture.

“It might not be perfect data, but it is a good starting point and it will get better as collection and monitoring improves,” he said in an interview during the recent International Precision Agriculture Conference in Indianapolis.

Raj Kholsa of the University of Colorado’s soil and crop science department said producers have been quick to make use of guidance systems.

Adoption of variable rate systems is beginning to grow, but farmers must find a way to collect site specific results if they are going to take full advantage of the technology when it comes to ensuring profitability.

“There are some savings in ensuring that the right amount of fertilizer or (pesticide) is being applied in places that can’t take advantage of it,” Kholsa said.

“We all know there is additional income to be found in putting those investments into areas that can.”

He said using an educated estimation is part of building good field maps because producers’ knowledge of their land is a critical component of the process.

“But yield data, more than what came off the field in total, is necessary to being able to make management decisions … especially at a larger scale where farms have grown extensively.”

Economist Terry Griffin of the University of Arkansas said producers’ financial rewards can be best calculated on a site specific basis rather than on whole fields.

He said the pathway to paying for precision tools is paved with data such as yield information.

“You can make some use of the tools without it, but you make the best decisions when you know what happened,” he said.

“Then you can learn from what is actually going on on your own farm.”

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