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Cutting-Edge Test Plot Tech

08:20AM Dec 06, 2014

Our Test Plots reach new heights using the latest technologies  

With a steady pace of new technology entering the ag market, the Farm Journal Test Plots program stays at the forefront by putting new tools to work. Farm Journal Field Agronomists Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer, along with their crews, share hands-on experiences with these tools that could be game changers on your operation. Here’s a roundup of the tech used for the first time in 2014. 


Convenient In-Cab Adjustments

This year, the Illinois crew was able to adjust the down pressure for the Yetter firming wheel system from inside the cab. “Using the same compressor that runs the front end, we were able to pick up the firming wheel, add or decrease the down pressure and adjust on the go as needed,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “The system makes the planter set-up more universal when going from no-till to tilled fields.” 

The firming wheel goes behind the closing wheel, allowing the two-part system to firm the soil, so it doesn’t dry out from the spader wheels.  


Two Is Better Than One

Making real-time decisions using an update from Precision Planting’s FieldScripts allowed the Illinois test plots crew to view side-by-side screens in real time. “We were able to view the plant population maps and see the real-time feed to the location of the planter and a live feed of a yield map,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. 

The technology allows the crew to monitor in-field problems and provide solutions. This has been instrumental in the test plots, providing quick reference to what’s happening, including down pressure and percent of contact, Ferrie says.


Tools to Improve In-Field Crop Scouting

Enhancements to app technology include mapping capabilities, such as the ability to measure distances, run boundaries and take geo-tagged photos while scouting. The cutting-edge apps allow a farmer to geo-reference any image using Google satellite imagery. Essentially, a farmer can overlay an image on Google Maps or Google Earth and then use the image to scout. The Farm Journal Test Plots crew use Custom Maps, an Android app to reference images; ACRE Crop Scouts, an iOS app to reference images; and PDF maps, which work with both operating systems. 

“These apps allow us to upload existing aerial images, including thermal and NDVI, to use as a scouting tool to maneuver through the test plots and reference where we are,” says Isaac Ferrie, who works in the Illinois test plots. 


Eyes in the Sky

The Illinois test plots crew explored aerial image technology, including advanced digital vegetation index (ADVI) images and drone technology. The ADVI technology uses a near-infrared band and the entire visual spectrum to provide variance in crop color and allow for greater detail in photos. 

“The purpose of the ADVI technology is to find nitrogen deficiencies in corn by scoring each pixel to build rescue prescription maps or scouting maps,” says Isaac Ferrie, who works in the plots. 

The test plots also incorporated the use of drone technology to provide a bird’s-eye view of the field using an Agribotix Hornet fixed-wing drone. The crew creates a fly path, take-off zone and landing destination before flight.

The drone can fly for 38 minutes, covering more than 160 acres. Ferrie says each image is referenced and stitched together by Agribotix. The crew uses the images to compare in-field treatments and plant health before scouting in-field.

“If implemented correctly, a drone is a useful tool for in-field scouting,” Ferrie says. “You need to have the software to use the photos or the images just serve as pretty pictures.” 

The images gathered from the Hornet were uploaded to the Agribotix website for stitching.


In-Furrow Application

The Michigan test plots crew used the AgXcel GX3 liquid fertilizer application system with the AgXcel GX10 OEM integration kit, which is fully compatible with all OEM controllers.  

“This all-in-one kit system provided us the ability to put on pop-up starter fertilizer plots for in-field trials,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Missy Bauer. 

The AgXcel GX3 precision application fertilizer system allows for complete control of liquid application and helps improve fungicide, insecticide and low volume starter fertilizer. 

When applying in-furrow, it’s key to have exact amounts to avoid the chances of starter burn, Bauer says. The GX3 ensures each row receives the correct volume in ounces per minute per row. This is achieved by proper system plumbing to prevent pressure drop and allow for equal distribution of flow to each row. The GX3 solution was designed with the AgXcel MAG flow meter.  

Thank You to Our Test Plot Partners

Our thanks go to the companies with products in this story and to the other plot partners and cooperating farmers who supply inputs,  machinery and time. Their efforts make our authoritative, third-party test plots possible.


Farm Journal Test Plots Pledge

You can count on our test plots to be conducted on real farms with real equipment using a high-touch set of protocols. The information will be completely independent and actionable. Our hands will always be in the dirt researching the production practices and technology that are best for you. To learn more, visit