Manage Input Costs by Understanding Soil Type

01:21PM Sep 25, 2019
Each bucket represents a different soil type in a single field.
( Erich Eller, ForeFront Ag Solutions )

Blanket gifting doesn’t work, says Erich Eller, owner of ForeFront Ag Solutions. Neither does blanket fertilizer application.

Imagine for a moment you have four daughters, it’s nearly Christmas and you still need to buy presents. One daughter sees a sweater she loves and eureka, you hit the jackpot and buy four of the sweaters she likes, all in her size. Come Christmas day, one daughter is ecstatic, one is ok with the gift, one complains it’s the wrong size and the last says she just hates everything about it.

Just like the four daughters have different personalities and tastes, so does your soil. It’s important to treat each soil type differently to ensure maximum efficiencies.

“One of the first things we do is go out and run a Veris machine, but there are other brands that can be used,” Eller says, who is also a presenter and Farm Journal’s AgTech. The machine uses sensors that detect changes in soil types to create a 3-D map of the field’s soil, which can be used for prescription inputs application.

“We bring that info into our software and combine it with historical data, imagery and harvest data,” he says. “Then we see the different soil types and use data to define yield goals, broken out by these soil zones, which drives fertility and seeding decisions.”

You might save money on fertilizer, or at least use it more efficiently.

“If we have five different soil types, why do we go out and put out a flat rate of nitrogen?” Eller adds. “You’re leaving top-end yield on the table and overfeeding the under performers.”

The same goes with seeding rates. Generally speaking for corn, higher yield potential justifies somewhat higher seeding rates, and the antithesis is also true. In soybeans, however, higher seeding rates are needed in low-performing areas while lower seeding rate in high potential areas provide more pods per plant.

“In precision ag, you might put the same total pounds of N on the fields but move it to get the best ROI,” Eller says. “On top-end producing soil types we see the highest nitrogen efficiency—I’ve been able to pull .5 lb. per bu. of corn while lower performing soils can take 1.5 lbs. to produce one bu.”

Work with an advisor to find out what the best prescriptions are for your fields—both seeding rate and fertilizer will be heavily influenced by the soil tests you create.

“If this zone is pushing 300 bu. when we applied 200 lbs., we can look at that efficiency rate, but I know I’ve left some of that top-end yield out,” he says. “So, if we get 300 at 200 lbs., what happens at 250 lbs? We’re still playing with that.”

Because it takes 100 years, according to Purdue, to create 1” of topsoil, you don’t need to take soil tests with sensor tools every year. Ellers asks his farmer customers to get soils on every field once, at $10 per acre—unless they’ve done major dirt work or have a field that floods frequently.