Technology tracks seed performance to help farmers best fit their fields
Rolling back the curtain on seed performance is no longer the sole realm of breeders and scientists; it’s wide open for farmers too. Precision equipment gathers statistics on yield performance, which translates into actionable data on seed choices.
The technology can sometimes feel like a trip to a local hangout to share what I’ve learned with my farmer friends, notes Steve Pitstick, Maple Park, Ill., farmer.
“This is the modern-day digital coffee shop,” he says.
Even so, the current wealth of apps and software programs can prove overwhelming to the untrained eye.
“While it’s true many precision programs have wide functionality, none of them prove to be a magic bullet,” Pitstick explains.
Farmer’s Business Network tools measure seed performance and yield variation using real-world data.
Farmer’s Business Network: At the spearhead of tracking seed performance, Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) has built a software platform that provides unbiased, independent data on more than 530 seed varieties and hybrids for 16 crops. FBN pools data from hundreds of farmers allowing them to measure seed performance and yield by seed rate, moisture, soil, planting speed and nutrient inputs.
“The data is entirely anonymous,” says Charles Baron, co-founder, FBN. “Growers put data into the FBN community, and we build out pictures of performance.”
FBN offers a Seed Finder app for smartphones, and the same information is also available via their website. It displays data from the agronomic network of 16,000 fields.
FBN’s Seed Matching tool finds the best performing hybrids by soil type for every field in the FBN network.
“We’re an independent company with total objectivity in analysis,” Baron says. “The data speaks and says what it says. Farmers generate the yield information, and we aggregate while focusing on the same farmers.”
FBN membership, which costs $500 per farm, includes benchmarking, data cleaning and seed matching.
Pioneer’s Encirca Yield Stand tailors corn planting prescriptions for distinct parts of each field.
Pioneer Encirca: To help farmers address the needs of their fields and increase profitability, Pioneer combines state-of-art analytics, weather and soil information with the knowledge of a certified services agent.
“It doesn’t make sense to increase the amount of seed if you’re not going to increase the amount of food you provide the crop,” explains Joe Foresman, director, marketing and product development, Encirca. “A farmer can make money by producing more bushels or right-sizing macronutrient inputs based on what the soil can produce.”
That’s where Encirca Yield Stand, launched in 2015, and Nitrogen Management Service come in. Yield Stand tailors corn planting prescriptions for distinct parts of each field, while providing risk analysis and planting priority tools. Using Environmental Response Units (ERUs), higher resolution soil characteristics, Nitrogen Management Service helps farmers apply variable rates of nitrogen where it could be beneficial.
Although the system is predominantly focused on corn, some Encirca customers are using variable-rate seeding on soybeans. Foresman believes Encirca will expand to additional crops beyond corn and soybeans in the future. Encirca uses public SSURGO data maps and proprietary technology to integrate elevation data and watershed data to enhance maps and achieve a higher resolution.
“At the end of the day, how water behaves on soil explains 80% to 85% of yield variability. That gives us a better picture than a public soil map,” he adds.
Based on Answer Plot characterizations, WinField’s R7 Tool shows which hybrid works best in a given field.
WinField R7: Combining 20 years of satellite imagery with local seed and crop protection data, WinField’s R7 Tool generates field performance information and matches crop decisions to the potential of each field and zone.
“There’s between 5% to 40% yield variability across fields, and we can look back over 20 years of imagery, along with yield data, to get a better understanding of typical yield variation,” says Keaton Krueger, agriculture technology specialist, WinField.
Based on Answer Plot results, R7 shows which hybrid works best in a given field. If the farmer uses a variable-rate planter, R7 goes a step further, creating zones based on hybrid response to population and nitrogen.
If yield data isn’t available, farmers can take advantage of WinField’s archive of biomass and imagery.
“When you map a field, it pulls up the most recent images to show variability,” Krueger says. “We create zones off that imagery and then create a variable-rate seeding prescription.”
He warns variable-rate prescriptions must take into account differences among varieties/hybrids. “If you’re going to do zone-based management, understand how varieties/hybrids vary in different environments,” he says.
Monsanto Company offerings: No updates were available at press time for FieldScripts, the integrated farming system launched in 2012, or the variable-rate prescription parts of the Climate Corporation platform (Climate Basic, Climate Pro and Precision Planting’s FieldView). All of the products are being integrated into one platform, the company says.