How many prescriptions can you effectively place on a single acre? That’s a question farmers routinely ask Cory Gilbert when they want to begin using prescriptive farming practices. Most are surprised by his response.
“We haven’t reached a limit of what makes sense with proper planning and management in place,” Gilbert told farmers attending the Farm Journal AgTech Expo this week in Indianapolis.
Instead, Gilbert, owner of On Target Ag Solutions, Burlington, Colo., tells his customers they need to focus their efforts on starting prescriptive farming practices with a stable data set along with a solid soil-sampling program, as consistent returns-on-investment are based on that information.
Those two elements may sound ho-hum, but don’t underestimate their value. Like a strong foundation for a house, your data set and soil sampling practices are the basis for every prescriptive decision you’ll make. If you don’t get those two things right, then you’ll build your prescriptive house on a poor foundation.
“With those in place, you can begin to analyze the value of the prescriptions, because all yield variability is either soil related, management or environmentally driven,” he notes.
Here are four other takeaways Gilbert shared with farmers during his presentation.
Soil sample frequently and from the same location within each field. This will allow you to benchmark soil test data so you can measure any trends you find. “A lot of profitability or savings often lies within this data,” Gilbert notes. “We run a soil test every year for every crop. Some farmers ask me how can they afford to do that, and I tell them they can’t afford to not do it if they want to run multiple prescriptions.”
Know your equipment limitations. This is important, because the job your equipment is capable of doing or not doing will drive the types and number of prescriptions you can use. If your equipment is a limiting factor, tap into your service providers’ available equipment and technology. “Getting your pH right is often accomplished with a dry spreader, so don’t overlook this opportunity,” Gilbert says, as a for instance.
Set goals for what you want to achieve. If you’re just starting out with prescriptive practices or have limited capability, Gilbert says to focus your initial work on nitrogen use and seeding rates. “Manage seed rates to water-holding capacity (WHC) or low- and high-yield areas if soil data is limiting. Light soils or areas with limited WHC cannot sustain the same plant populations as heavier soils with better WHC. Often, the lower seeding population can increase yields in those light soil areas,” he explains.
As for nitrogen use, the only way to have the right amount on an area is through soil testing, which can help you find potential savings from over-application or avoid yield loss from a nitrogen deficiency. The same is true for other nutrients.
“We set out to apply the optimum rate of every nutrient the client has the ability to control, whether it is applied pre-plant or on the planter or applied in season. Our average field has three products variable-rate applied and some have as many as six variable-rate applications per season,” Gilbert says.
“We have seen some phenomenal results on variable-rate fertility programs reducing rates by over 25% in some cases and still exceeding the yield goals we set out for.”
Stay the Course. Once you set goals, stay with them. Gilbert says human nature often causes farmers to jump from goal to goal or from platform to platform. But staying consistent is the only way you can learn what works and doesn’t work in your fields and achieve long-term results from prescriptions that can improve your bottom line.