Seed Data Forging into Unprecedented Yield Territory

July 1, 2015 07:00 AM
Seed Data Forging into Unprecedented Yield Territory

An unprecedented scale of seed information is available to growers. Rolling back the curtain on seed performance is no longer the sole realm of breeders and scientists, but is wide open for growers and agronomists. The resulting statistics on yield performance translate to actionable data and the opportunity for greater farmer profit.

Growers staring across fields at a neighbor’s crop or trading shop-talk dates to the dawn of farming. However, agriculture companies now use real data from precision equipment to back up those claims. Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) is at the spearhead of gauging seed performance and has built a real-world performance database of over 530 seed varieties and hybrids from 16 crops. FBN is using a tale-of-tape approach to measure seed performance and yield variation by seed rate, moisture, soil, planting speed and nutrient inputs. It’s a level of information on yield performance never previously available to growers.

FBN has three seed tools: Seed Finder app for smartphones; Seed Finder on the home website; and Seed Matching that finds the best performing hybrids by soil type for every field a farmer places in the FBN network. The results are driven by the performance of other farmers in the network. When farmers log in on the app, they see the highest performing varieties of crops they’ve selected. The line-up is ranked by performance. Data shows average yield, comparisons to other varieties, performance at university trials, performance at planting speeds, best population, best performing soil, and optimal temperature. Seed Finder is simply a means to display data, but relies on a revolutionary agronomic network, with 16,000 fields feeding data into the FBN network.

What a grower sees on Seed Finder is real world performance. No trial data. “The data is entirely anonymous,” says Charles Baron, FBN co-founder. “Growers put data into the FBN community and we build out pictures of performance.”

FBN membership includes benchmarking, data cleaning, and seed matching, and costs $500 for any farm, regardless of size. FBN members participate to analyze their own operation, compare performance, and share information. Baron calls Seed Finder the “democratization of farm data” and says a widening demographic of growers warming to information sharing is making data even more powerful. “We’re an independent company with total objectivity in analysis. The data speaks and says what it says. Farmers generate the yield information and we aggregate totally focused on those same farmers.”

Increased Profitability

Even the flattest and richest soils have variation. The 2015 growing season has seen more than a doubling of acreage farmers want to plant with variable rate seeding using Encirca Yield Stand, says Joe Foresman, director, Encirca Marketing and Product Development. “It doesn’t make sense to increase the amount of seed in a field if you’re not going to increase the amount of food you provide to the crop. A farmer can make money by either producing more bushels or right-sizing macronutrient inputs based on what soil can produce.”

Launched in 2015, the Encirca Yield Stand service helps tailor corn planting prescriptions for distinct parts of each field, while providing risk analysis and planting priority tools to help growers make real-time adjustments. In 2014, in conjunction with the University of Missouri and USDA, Pioneer developed Environmental Response Units (ERUs) -- higher resolution soil characteristics – to inform their Encirca Yield Nitrogen Management and Stand services. “When coupled with yield data, we can have confidence in adjusting a population that produces a profitable result for a farmer,” Foresman explains.

Although predominantly focused on corn today, some Encirca customers are already using VR seeding on soybeans. Foresman believes Encirca will expand to additional crops beyond corn and soybeans in the future. Encirca utilizes 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 far better picture than a public soil map.”

Farmers have tremendous pressures during planting and don’t have the luxury to focus on specific scripts. That is why Pioneer combines technology such as ERUs and macronutrient prescriptions (for nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous) with a certified services agent, according to Foresman. “We’re going to put a trained person alongside so you can be successful. We bring state of art analytics, weather, and soils information. Put together, those elements increase farm profitability.”

Best Fit

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. Initially, when R7 was launched in 2012, the goal was to take WinField’s Answer Plot data and characterize which hybrids were the best fit for a particular field situation. “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,” describes Keaton Krueger, WinField agriculture technology specialist. Based on Answer Plot characterizations, R7 shows growers which hybrid works best in a given field. If the grower has a variable rate planter, R7 goes another step, creating zones based on hybrid response to population and nitrogen. Variable rate seeding has historically been mainly for corn, but Krueger sees a large increase in variable rate soybeans. “I think there’s potential for variable rate soybeans to bring a faster return than variable rate corn.”

Even a grower without yield data only has to map fields to take advantage of WinField’s archive covering 20 years of biomass and imagery from all crop regions in the United States. “When you map a field, it pulls up the most recent images to show a grower the variability. We create zones directly off that imagery to create a variable rate seeding prescription.”

Growers easily recognize yield variability within a field, but Krueger warns that VR prescriptions must take into account differences between varieties and hybrids. “The moral of the story: If you’re going to do zone-based management, you’ve got to understand how hybrids and varieties vary in different environments.”

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