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Earn more, waste less

A new, free online tool to help farmers make better-informed operational decisions has been developed by software experts at Iowa State University. The program is called I-FARM and is found at It assists farmers, bankers, Extension and co-op people, and anyone else interested in finding out more about farm management and how to get the most out of the land at the least cost.

The software was developed by Ed van Ouwerkerk and draws on information collected from state, regional and national sources. The I-FARM program allows farmers to input various aspects of their operation along with the location of their farm. The software then predicts and compares farming outcomes. “This farming model gives you opportunities to calculate alternatives and see the benefits of each,” says van Ouwerkerk, a researcher and software developer in the Department of Ag and Biosystems Engineering at ISU.

Key Points

• New, free online tool from ISU can help farmers earn more and waste less.

• Farmers can put in information about their farms and fields and get answers.

• The forward-looking technology can help farmers make more profitable decisions.

The program starts with the location of the farm. Using Google Earth, the farmer can locate his or her farm and highlight up to 20 fields to evaluate. The farmer then inputs the crops intended for the field, rotation cycle, types and amounts of fertilizer, farm equipment used, typical yield and other factors.

The program tells the farmer what his or her costs may be, labor required, amount of fuel needed, how much soil erosion to expect, amount of nitrogen and other chemical emissions the farm will produce, amount of income (updated market prices) and subsidy payments the farmer can expect to receive.

Farmer makes the choices

The farmer can input two scenarios with different sets of inputs and compare them, says van Ouwerkerk. The program is designed to help farmers and doesn’t make any decisions. “The program gives information and lets the farmer make the choices,” he adds.

For instance, a farmer may discover his inputs will result in greater soil erosion. He can use the information to choose to plant different crops. “The software knows the slope of the land because it uses Google Earth. If the farmer looks at outcomes and sees he is losing too much soil, he may choose to change crops,” says van Ouwerkerk. “Maybe he shouldn’t plant corn here; maybe he should plant a perennial, like alfalfa.”

The software also can help the farmer with other aspects of the farm. “This farming model gives you an opportunity to calculate alternatives to different crop rotations and see the benefits of each,” he says. “That includes environmental benefits, ammonia release, erosion, perennials instead of annuals, and if you have cover crops instead of only annuals, and different tillage practices.”

The program should help farmers make smart choices about their farms. “Farmers find their information about farming from a variety of sources and often follow patterns because of habit,” notes van Ouwerkerk. “This software will tell you what is scientifically right.”

The program includes a short tutorial to help first-time users. You can go to the site and try it, and if you have problems, call ISU agronomist John Lundvall at 515-294-5429 or van Ouwerkerk at 515-294-4037.

Source: Iowa State University

This article published in the April, 2010 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.