Zone Management Comes of Age

October 29, 2013 10:54 PM
 
FarmingInTheZone

Layer data and pave your path to better profit margins

With an upfront investment, managing zones will pay dividends in maximizing farmers’ returns. Industry experts say now is the time to adopt zone management as precision technology combined with today’s data management solutions bring big benefits to farms across the U.S.


US State nebraska

1,000 acres $26.38/acre saved on nitrogen ___________________ $26,380 SAVED


Adopting zone management is a two-pronged approach—technology management and data management. In the wake of high commodity prices, many farmers upgraded their equipment and are on par with tackling that prong. However, taking control of the data and putting it to good use proves to be more challenging. Farmers who invest the time to synchronize these two prongs will see improved margins.

"It’s exciting because managing by zones combines all the available technology, such as variable-rate technology, GPS, GIS and real-time data collection, with all the data we’ve been collecting through the years to truly maximize our production potential," explains Mark Truster, a Reynolds Farm Equipment precision technology specialist.

Farmers must be committed to the end goal because it takes a significant amount of time to set up. Someone who is knowledgeable about the fields, yield history, soil types and boundaries must sit down with someone to refine and tailor the zones to what you are trying to accomplish.

"Computers can only do so much," says Purdue University’s Bruce Erickson, agronomy education distance and outreach director. Research shows that farmers have been adopting precision technology at a rapid pace. "Precision technology generates value by increasing returns from covering more acres per hour and improving yields, and lowering costs by reducing overlap," Erickson points out.

"Precision agriculture is a lot more than just driving straight," says Truster, who’s developed and helped farmers manage zones on thousands of Indiana acres. "That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The adoption of zone management will create the return on investment that makes precision ag tools profitable." Zone management turns data into decisions.

"It’s only when you can combine different data sets through the years that you can extract value from it and identify trends," says Chris Barron of Carson & Barron Farms in Rowley, Iowa.

Pocket Profits. Today, research shows that it’s economically feasible to manage fields by zones. According to research from the University of Nebraska, site-specific nitrogen application combined with zone management produced an average savings of $26.38 per acre, which was achieved by reducing overall nitrogen and a slight increase in corn yield. This study was conducted in 2008 when corn was valued at about $4 per bushel.

Additionally, a research paper by Auburn University’s John Fulton, a precision ag specialist, highlights the profitability of managing zones. Fulton refers to a Colorado farm that used less fertilizer when it moved from uniform rate application to zone management. The switch resulted in net returns ranging from $7.37 to $11.97 per acre, Fulton says.

Managing by zones helps farmers better allocate resources based on production potential. By switching to zone management, one of Truster’s clients saved more than $100 per acre in herbicide and fertilizer costs. "That’s a big deal," he says.

To learn how to get started with zone management and see more data from real-life case studies, visit www.agweb.com/IntheZone.

This article kicks off the Farm Journal Media series, Farming in the Zone. Use this multimedia series as your precision technology guide to better understand zone management and the tools that make it possible. The goal is to maximize yields, minimize inputs and improve stewardship while increasing your bottom line.

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