data, Management zones give bigger picture for area growers

Article taken from the Farm Forum.
How can a map save an ag producer money? By using data to minimize waste and invest in the right areas.

That was the message Agtegra Cooperative agronomist received while taking a ride-along with a data collection truck at a field day Aug. 23 south of Ipswich.

The Agtegra MZB Data Logging Demonstration aimed to explain the value of electrical conductivity, elevation and satellite imagery in developing management zone maps.

A pickup truck pulling a trailer up and down a field about two miles south of Ipswich was measuring electrical conductivity, examining soil properties that affect crop productivity, including soil texture, drainage conditions, salinity and more. That, in addition to satellite imagery and elevation data, is combined to create more defined zones of a field to give the grower a better plan of action.

Looking at just one data set like elevation levels tells a grower only part of the picture about why one area does well and another doesn’t, said Nathan Odegard, mapping specialist for FieldReveal. “We try to use the satellite image and the EC to kind of tell the story behind what’s good and bad,” he said. “Sometimes that doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s why growers knowing their field definitely helps in the input because they’re going to know the areas that are good and the areas that are not so good.
“That’s why they’re always involved in the creation of the prescription, where the fertilizer goes and where the seed goes. That’s a big advantage of our system.”

Brad Berg, data collection specialist for FieldReveal, added, “It’s not so much about bad or good. We just have to manage that area of the field differently than the rest of the field.”

By seeing where gravel spots are or where salinity is high, growers and agronomists can plan the best areas to plant different seed varieties and apply different fertilizers and nutrients at varying rates, Odegard said. A grower could choose to not put a lot of money into a gravely area, instead “taking that money you would put in that gravel spot, and put it in your best area where maybe you’re a bit low on your nutrients.”

Agtegra Cooperative agronomists went through a field in the MZB program, and FieldReveal specialists took soil samples to show the difference in soil texture based on the zones identified by the MZB program. 

MZB is not a new system. Agtegra has about 700,000 acres within the management program, said Brent Wiesenburger, director of ag technology services at Agtegra Cooperative. However, with the merger of two cooperative earlier this year to form Agtegra Cooperative, the technology is now available to more growers throughout the region. “Just using satellite imagery alone as a zone map … you lose a lot of detail compared to what we’re doing,” he said.