Satellite imagery proves helpful

With all the crop input products available today, it can be difficult to decide which works best at what time, and in what specific location. Without a visual image of the field, this can also mean local agronomists have a hard time explaining where and why a certain product should be applied.

WinField Solutions, a Land O’Lakes company, hopes to make this process less tedious for both agronomists and farmers by using the R7 tool, available since earlier this year. R7 is made up of seven factors: the right genetics, for the right soil type, at the right plant population, in the right cropping system, with the right traits, fed the right plant nutrition, and defended with the right crop protection.

The R7 tool, which uses satellite imagery to paint a picture of variations within a field, doesn’t require historical information of the field, like yield maps and grid soil samples, says Keaton Krueger, an R7 sales specialist in Iowa.

Key Points

WinField’s R7 tool is available to help make better crop input recommendations.

The tool uses satellite imagery to highlight variations within each field.

It’s easier for agronomists and farmers to communicate and make better decisions.

These maps are part of a collection of yield potential maps archived by GEOSYS, allowing easy access. “It’s available on any acre,” he says, noting a wider availability than just farmers with historical information on their field, as is the case with some forms of precision ag. “You don’t have to have yield maps to do this.”

While the price of the service varies with the field, farmers can capitalize on areas of fields that have the most potential for productivity, and place less emphasis on areas that would be less profitable and less necessary. Krueger says a farmer in northwest Iowa was able to get variable-rate prescriptions for the first time using this tool, although this farmer grows a lot of corn for silage, which generally doesn’t have a yield map. “They can look, basically at a yield map of their silage field.”

Applying only what’s needed

By testing leaf tissue of crop plants with WinField’s NutriSolutions Tool, and using the map in the same way, the system allows farmers to find specific areas that are nutrient deficient and apply fertilizer to the field at a variable rate, rather than just a blanket rate. “It leads to a better understanding of the field,” Krueger says, noting the ability to cut cost with this method.

The system also covers variables in soil quality, another factor the maps show. “It’s surprising how much soil compaction we pick up,” he says. “Sometimes farmers learn something about their land they didn’t know. They may or may not have realized it initially.”

In addition to the maps, the tool draws data from about 200 Answer Plots across the country. Researchers test various seed and crop input products under different conditions on these plots to find the best solutions for specific areas. By combining the test plot results with satellite imagery, Krueger says it allows agronomists to make recommendations for farmers more effectively, taking crop rotation, nutrient and soil deficiencies, and different corn hybrids or soybean varieties into account. “You can really handpick where products fit best,” he says.

By developing this specialized recommendation and applying it to the parts of a field with the most yield potential, the R7 tool also has a conservation aspect to it. It can show farmers where to avoid planting row crops on highly erodible ground with a poor yield potential and can show you where conservation practices are needed.

Better crop input decisions

The map is best used as a conversation tool, allowing agronomists to communicate and explain their recommendations to producers more easily. “It allows agronomists at a local co-op to have a much more informative conversation with the farmer,” says Krueger, noting the ease of dealing with and understanding a bird’s-eye image. “Generally, farmers are very visual people.”

The tool is particularly effective in its use of color-coding specific areas. The more red an area is, the less yield potential it usually has, and the more blue, the more potential. This usually equates to more biomass, better response to nitrogen applications and better soil quality. But like many kinds of new technology, this tool will likely take some time to be used by everyone, as it depends on other technology in its availability. “As rural Internet connectivity increases, it will be even more powerful,” says Krueger.

This is even more crucial with the constant updates to the Answer Plots, he says. “We’re constantly focusing on testing new things in the plots,” he adds. “The combined impact of technology and research is the overall goal of the tool. It will bring even more focus on the seven factors.”

Harris is a Wallaces Farmer intern.


zooming in: Keaton Krueger shows the details of the satellite imagery available with the WinField R7 Tool.

This article published in the August, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.