Field Data Drives Agronomy Decisions, and Your Farm’s ROI
Connectivity between farm equipment in the field is key to accessing the real-time and historical data you need to guide production choices and document results.
By Marilyn Cummins | Photos By Jamie Cole
Norm Dresbach was strip-tilling his Circleville, Ohio, corn fields ahead of the planter in between 3-inch rains during the wet spring of 2019. As he planted, SmartFirmer® soil-sensing seed firmers—installed on every fourth row of his 16-row planter—told him what moisture he was running in, and whether he was getting good seed-to-soil contact.
Turns out he wasn’t getting good contact at first, based on what he saw on the Precision Planting 20|20® monitor. “You didn’t want to be right over that strip, because then you’d be planting the seed in a cavity from the strip till and not getting good contact,” he says. “If you would just shift a little bit, you’d still be in that 8-inch strip you created and where you put the band of fertilizer, and you’d have even emergence.”
Dresbach says even emergence is more important to him than spacing, because you have “another stalk of corn being a weed if it’s 72 hours behind. Even 12 hours behind costs you half an ounce per ear.” At a plant population of 32,000, he computes that half ounce out to a potential loss of 17 bushels an acre. “It really adds up,” he says, crediting the new planting technology for helping him prevent the yield loss.
Whether it’s the soil sensors that guide his seeding path and depth while planting, or the yield monitor that shows him the results of all his passes that season, Dresbach counts on data from these tools for real-time insights as well as documentation of everything he does in the field.
The 4 Crucial Agronomic Decision Points
Helping growers get the information and insight they need to make any number of agronomic decisions is what Ryan Allgaier aspires to do as the 20|20 product manager at Precision Planting, LLC, in Tremont, Illinois. He looks at the timeliness of those decisions at four basic points, each informed by data coming from the in-cab monitor and control system as well as aerial images, soil tests and other mapping systems.
- The first decision point is when the in-cab display alerts the operator that something’s not right that can be tweaked or adjusted to improve performance in the moment.
- The second decision point is making a change on the next pass across the field, like a different planting-depth setting based on what the SmartFirmer says about soil temperature, especially as the soil warms during the day.
- The third is when metrics like organic matter or compaction influences the rate or composition of the fertilizer applied in-season.
- The fourth point is deciding to make changes in equipment or practices in the next crop cycle based on data gathered throughout the season and harvest results.
“It’s one thing to just get a data stream off the equipment, like looking at your watch to see what temperature it is,” Allgaier says. “I also want to know what the trend is. Seeing maps live in the cab helps communicate your progress. Then, even as you’re operating, trends and patterns start to make themselves evident in the map.
“If you see streaks start to develop in a down-force map during planting, you may learn that last year’s harvest pass compacted the ground in certain areas. By seeing it spatially, your eyes make it obvious. No expert needs to tell you what it is.”
How Farm Field Data Drives ROI
When Dresbach invested $25,000 in Precision Planting technology 11 years ago – row shut-offs and variable-rate seed control for corn and soybeans with the 20|20 SeedSense® monitor – his father asked, “Do you really need all this stuff?” But that fall, with the 20|20 in the combine cab displaying yield monitor data, his father was amazed to see where the numbers were running in places they had pushed the corn population to optimize yield on certain soils.
“That $25,000 investment was paid for the first year I ran it on that planter, and I had all the data to prove it,” Dresbach says. “It was [in] the savings of seed at 3% on 2,000 acres, the yield increase from planting corn thicker where I needed to, based on soil types.” He also got a 3-bushel-an-acre push from planting fewer soybeans, “because beans will compensate with more nodes, more seeds, more pods and they won’t lodge” at lower population rates.
While Dresbach values data, he doesn’t just take it at face value. “If we get a bushel-and-a-half yield advantage one year, we want to confirm it the next year. If we get three years out of it, then we consider it a given.”
Allgaier agrees that growers should fact-check and dig into data they receive or generate, and do a sanity check. “Just because the data exists doesn’t mean that it’s good data.” He relates it to the GPS in a car – if you only follow the left and right instructions and don’t look around, “you might end up driving yourself into the river.”
The benefits aren’t just financial. Dresbach says the technology he has added and used over the past decade helps him be more environmentally sound by applying fertilizer with variable rates and swath control just where it is needed. He pulls tissue samples every week on his corn and beans “so we know what the plant is doing and what we need to improve on.”
The Value of “Instant Data” In The Tractor or Combine Cab
Having a wide range of real-time information displayed on the 20|20 in the cab of the planting tractor, as well as in the combine, has paid off for his operation. Take the wet season when he felt he had no choice but to drop in the planter to replant corn in just the drowned-out areas of his fields. He coded his inputs, naming first-time hybrids A and B on the two sides of the planter and then adding “RP” for replant to the name on the second round.
“When the combine got there, I knew to the inch what my replant did compared to the first planting,” he says. “It was giving me instant data because the YieldSense® yield monitor knew where the corn planter went and what it did, and I had data. It told you really quick that, ‘hey, I did the right thing by being out here replanting, or I should have done more.’
“I want to know what I did, and so do my employees. They can go online to (Climate) FieldView™ and get the reports so they know what they’ve done. When you get to see it visually, it just drives it home.”
Allgaier notes that YieldSense was developed so that Precision Planting could collect high-definition yield data “to very clearly calculate what the return on investment is for our equipment.” Then the company decided to release it as a product so customers “can close the loop of getting feedback. Ultimately, yield is the answer at the end of the year. That’s what pays the bills,” Allgaier says.
Making Farm Equipment Technology Connections Universal
Corina Ardelean, the AGCO global product manager for data integration and logistics management, says AGCO wants to give all customers the opportunity to create their own data “ecosystem,” using the farm management information system (FMIS) of their choice, and remaining the owners of the data generated in their fields. Through its Fuse® smart farming solutions, AGCO offers universal software tools and applications to help customers connect their fleets, send data seamlessly between any machines and to and from almost any FMIS, and share data with their employees, agronomists and other trusted advisers.
“If they want to pull their data into Climate FieldView, for example, they can use our Agro Link data hub to link their FieldView account with their AGCO Task Doc® account in their Fendt® or Massey Ferguson® tractor, together with their Raven account, and move data easily,” she says.
An Agro Link account, available at fusesmartfarming.com/setupanaccount/, can provide easy access to planting and application data throughout the crop cycle, whether a farmer is in a RoGator® or a Fendt IDEAL™ combine.
“We want producers to be able to focus on their farm and their operation,” not spend time solving data-transfer issues, Ardelean says.
Similarly, Allgaier says a big focus this year was to use the common language of the new ADAPT Toolkit from the non-profit AgGateway consortium to release the Precision Planting ADAPT plugin. It makes it possible to get the high-definition data from the 20|20 into into a wide range of third-party FMIS, including Ag Leader® SMS™ software, Granular AgStudio and Trimble Ag Software, for the first time. FieldView already was compatible with 20|20 high-definition data.
High-Definition Field Data Yields Valuable Documentation For Your Farm
“Having everything tied together and the amount of information, it’s an unbelievable tool,” Dresbach says of his Precision Planting technology. “Writing our prescriptions with maps that we’ve either made with a SmartFirmer or other systems has been very reliable. It’s easy to do and user-friendly, even for my 86-year-old father.”
It also gives Dresbach documentation to show his seed customers the yields from his on-farm trials, along with the difference in ROI from one hybrid or variety to the next. Documentation is an important benefit of farm data, Allgaier says, especially with fewer farmers farming more acres, including those acres they lease. “Oftentimes, what the farmer is collecting is to be able to give their landlord very detailed documentation and be transparent with the landowner about what’s actually occurring.”
Saving time is another benefit, Allgaier says. “If you’re able to answer a question through data in a second, where otherwise you might have to spend two days doing research, that’s two days you can put back to something else. That’s high value, especially to a farmer.”