Make the grade using innovative agronomic practices
While farm fields might look similar to a casual passerby, farmers know the differences can be as vast as the field is big. That’s where zone management comes to the rescue—treating each identified yield zone with the agronomic practices best suited to maximize yields.
For each field and production practice, develop standards to evaluate the efficiency of inputs and yield bumps. Create your own report card to measure what works and what doesn’t in your management zones.
"Zone management is never final; we’re always changing and fine-tuning the process," explains Randy Aberle, who farms near Melvin, Ill. "There’s no road map; every farmer and field is different."
To earn an A+ in zone management, you have to continually fine-tune zones to maximize yields, improve stewardship and boost bottom lines.
A yield map serves as a final report card to gauge ongoing improvements for Illinois farmer Randy Aberle.
Aberle has been using zone management on his farm for more than 15 years and continues to see rewards on an annual basis.
"For us, it’s about product efficiency," he says. "It’s important to put the products where they are needed most to maximize return."
Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer says success is achieved when each zone reaches its full yield potential.
"It comes down to putting the right inputs in the right spots in every single field," Bauer says. "Overall, inputs might average the same, but you’ll see an increase in profitability by using inputs correctly."
This concept is related to the four R approach, developed by the fertilizer industry. In the field, farmers need to focus on the four Rs of fertility management: the right product, right rate, right time and right place.
"Zone management uses the four R approach by putting the right rate in the right place," Bauer says. "By adopting this concept and using zone management, farmers will realize agronomic, environmental and financial benefits."
It’s key to apply the four Rs in unison to achieve fertilizer efficiency and environmental stewardship. Putting the concept into motion helps prevent unused nutrients from escaping and getting into water resources.
"All four concepts have to come together in order to be effective," Bauer explains. "For example, you might have the right place in the field but if you’re not getting the right product for the soil, you’ll miss the boat on maximizing the impact of the four R approach."