Tech Offers Potential for In-Season Effort

Farmer Iron

Mapping planting rates and measuring yield are great but wouldn't it be great to be able to take action in season?

Published on: November 24, 2010

When you write about precision ag a lot of the talk is about analyzing data after the season ends; matching planting rates and hybrids or varieties with final yield can be enlightening. However, as more technology comes to play growers may be looking at ways to measure in-field stress to determine the potential for in-season action too.

This idea may be gaining traction especially as some veteran technologies are put to new uses. From remote sensing in-season satellite images to on-the-go crop measurement, new choices will be gaining steam in the next couple of years.

Last month I got a new look at the Greenseeker - which is now owned by Trimble. This real-time measurement tool has the ability to read the crop on several wavelengths and turn that information into a measurement of plant vigor in the field. While the tool has been available for some time, Trimble is moving it into a wide range of areas where there's potential

One area is the use of plant growth regulators to manage a cotton crop. Sure, the Greenseeker has potential for managing nitrogen on corn and other factors, but precision use of plant growth regulators - or PGRs - is gaining importance as cotton growers seek ways to enhance productivity throughout a given field.

It turns out simply spraying a whole field of cotton with a single PGR rate could hinder top-yielding areas and cause a too-quick slowdown on areas that might need a little more time to "even out." Using Greenseeker, a grower can get a live reading of how the crop is doing and vary the PGR rate moving through the field.

This is an over-simplification, of course, but the idea is that you get a more even crop and potentially a higher-yielding crop too. That enhances pay-off for a given field and offers a relatively quick return on the tech too.

I'm not endorsing a single product, but the concept of real-time crop measurement will gain importance in the next few years. Those high-clearance sprayers many farmers are buying to get fungicide applied, or apply glyphosate in a timely manner, have potential for dropping nitrogen into corn in a more timely way. Add in real-time measurement of crop vigor and a variable rate controller and pinpoint use of nitrogen becomes a reality.

There's an environmental component to this too. Increasingly, regulators are looking at U.S. farm nitrogen use aiming to control or reduce it to keep soluble forms from moving into the water table. Accurate timing of any product that can be placed as the plant needs it improves uptake and enhances the impact on the crop.

It'll be awhile before you're timing everything down to the plant stage with real-time measurements. But as you look at the tech you're adding to your equipment, consider this issue as part of your 5- and 10-year equipment strategy. Real-time measurement offers benefits that can enhance technology you already own.