SoilConnect Precision Agronomy

Jul 25, 2023

Written By: Bennie Dunhin, Ag Innovation Manager Canada

Not just another precision agronomy program! At Simplot Grower Solutions, our innovation happens in the field.

Precision agriculture seems to be a bit of a buzz word these days as we see it mentioned in a lot of literature within our industry. I think that many of us must wonder when it will lose its appeal (thinking back to the “drones will change the world” era). Looking at some precision companies out there, the future may not appear to be that good. However, when looking at what we at Simplot Grower Solutions (SGS)  are doing, the ag innovation trend is definitely in a growing phase. Why? Because our focus is on profitability. Everything you do in the field needs to be measurable and always related back to how much it costs to produce a bushel of grain. In our trade area we see a wide range of conditions with fields that are severely lacking moisture, to fields that have too much moisture. Precision farming has a place in all these fields.

What should you be measuring? The first important step is to measure what is already in your soil through soil sampling. The nutrition levels of your soil are a big factor in your crop’s performance and must be the basis of any fertility recommendation. Nutrient deficiencies, toxicities and interaction are very important to understand, and knowledge of local optimum levels is critically important. Correlating this to yield will help you understand what you should be focusing on to optimize your production.

The next thing to measure is water. It goes without saying that water is also a big driver of crop performance, but how do you measure it on such a large scale? Soil moisture probes work well but are costly, especially in dry land conditions. At SGS, our SoilConnect platform uses SWAT maps to help identify different areas of the field based on topography. Looking at the fields in this way provides us with a great way to determine water holding areas as well as water shedding areas. It also takes salinity and soil texture into consideration to help identify different performance zones within the field.
In the SoilConnect program we use yield maps to bring it all together as a report card. Yield maps record the response to everything that our growers do on the field. These maps are critically important to determining profitability of the field. Using all the input costs on the field together with the yield maps, it creates a great snapshot of cost/bu of the field.

Let’s pause here …

If you are a grower reading this article, do you know how much it costs you to produce a bu of grain on every part of your field? What about an average of every field, or even the average of your farm? I find that a cost/bu map of a field generates a lot of great conversation and really drives the desire to make changes to farming practices done on a field that is not profitable. In the past, we have typically focused on cost/ac because that is how we purchase products. But when we talk about profitability, we must look at how much it costs to produce a bushel. Another important factor to look at is Nitrogen use efficiency. In other words, how much Nitrogen does it take to grow a bushel of grain on every acre of the field? We all have heard comments like “that guy has good looking crops, but he buys his yield with all the fertilizer he is applying”. The fertilizer use efficiency will tell you if you “bought” your yield or not.

This all sounds great in theory, so what is the holdup for some of our growers? It might be good yield maps. Especially on farms where there is more than one combine. What we typically see is combine operators that don’t want to press any buttons on the monitor because they are too afraid that they will press the wrong button, or they forget to switch to the next field. We also see, especially in times where they are in a hurry to get the crop off, that calibration of monitors gets missed. All these factors lead to low quality yield maps that make it difficult to create profitability maps. At SGS, we offer a very affordable solution to all these concerns called FarmTRX. This is an aftermarket yield monitor that can be retro fitted to any combine on the market and comes with its own GPS. This yield monitor measures GPS points in the field with all the relevant yield information and sends it to a cloud-based software that will sort the data to the right field without the operator having to select fields while combining. It automatically records yield as soon as you start combining and the software filters out any unusable data. It will also calibrate different combines in the same field to each other. Installing these units is very easy and they can be an excellent tool to help gather good yield maps. And the best part of it all is that it was developed in Saskatchewan!  
SoilConnect really makes a difference on our farms. It’s not just another precision program. If you’d like to know more about our SoilConnect program or other tools mentioned in this article, please reach out to your local SGS Advisor.

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