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Tech Tools in the Field

January 13, 2012
By: Margy Eckelkamp, Director of Content Development, Machinery Pete

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Test Plots LogoFor the past two decades the Farm Journal Test Plot team has made it a priority to take the latest technology tools to the field for first-hand experience. Having that practical field exposure keeps our Farm Journal Field Agronomists Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer, along with their test plot crews, up to speed with current machinery, precision farming tools and irrigation and product offerings. Here’s a roundup of the tools they used for the first time during the past year.


Control the Water

Irrigation is the next frontier for applications with variable-rate technology. Working with Valmont Irrigation, the test plot crew installed and collected data from a 1,296' half-circle pivot that covers 80 acres using a variable-rate irrigation system.

Tech Tools in the Field  1
Working with Valmont Irrigation, the central Illinois test plot crew installed a variable-rate irrigation system.

The pivot’s panel was upgraded to a Valley Pro2 control panel for zone control. The variable-rate system uses existing electrical lines on the pivot to send signals and information down and back the span of the pivot.

"We installed a solenoid control system for each boom section," says Isaac Ferrie, who works on the test plots. "We can vary the rate of water applied by soil type or any other prescription map. This system also allows a farmer to automatically shut off the pivot over waterways, cut out any low-lying areas and turn it off over driveways."

Tech Tools in the Field  2
This NDVI map from GeoVantage shows the variability in the field and is overlaid with the soil type lines. This evaluation will help define the management zones for variable-rate irrigation.

To verify the system’s performance after it was installed, two calibration tests were run.

First, the crew and Valley representatives positioned catch cans parallel to the pivot and ran a cycle to make sure water output was consistent across all boom sections. The second test was done perpendicular to the pivot, and in that test the team changed the rate of water applied as the pivot traveled through the field.

"This necessary preliminary work was to ensure that we were putting on the rate intended by our prescription," Ferrie says.

The variable-rate system was outfitted with the Tracker SP system so that the pivot can be turned on or off and monitored remotely. In the field, weather stations were installed to monitor soil moisture.

"In the future, we will use real-time data from the moisture sensors to make changes to our watering program," Ferrie says.

The data collected from the past year will be used as the foundation for the variable-rate study as it moves forward in the coming years.


Quick Moves Without a GPS Base Station

Our test plots use a variety of satellite signals for GPS correction. This past spring, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer used OmniSTAR XP to plant test plots in Michigan and Ohio.

In central Illinois, the plot crew used an automated steering system with the Trimble VRS network correction signal. The system included an EZ-Guide 500 display and wireless modem.


"This system gave us access to an RTK signal without the hassle of a base station," says Isaac Ferrie. "We were able to move from field to field and not worry about taking down and resetting a base station. Even when we did lose signal, it was reacquired within minutes."

This system transmits data wirelessly using the Connected Farm platform, which the crew experimented with as a demonstration.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - January 2012

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