Tech Tools in the Field

December 8, 2012 12:37 AM
Tech Tools in the Field

The Farm Journal Test Plots team incorporates new technologies in their field tests every year. Since the plots program began 22 years ago, technology has come a long way. Hands-on experience keeps our Farm Journal Field Agronomists Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer, along with their crews, up to speed with the current tools on the market. Here’s a roundup of the technologies they used for the first time during the past year.

Guided Planting

pC2 Tech Tools in the Field Guided Planting

High-accuracy steering systems allowed the crew to plant complete treatments across a field.

The Illinois test plot crew used a Massey Ferguson 7620 tractor outfitted with a Topcon 150 automated steering system. This was the first time the crew used a Topcon steering system, although they had previously used Topcon field computers.

"This system was set up to use a cellular phone signal for its accuracy correction," says crew member Isaac Ferrie. "This type of system eliminates the need to set up an RTK base station for every field, and it provides the same level of accuracy with reliable cellular signal." Automated steering and RTK-level accuracy have enabled the crew to plant plots in a more efficient and accurate manner.

For more, visit

Pinpoint Pinch Rows

pC2 Tech Tools in the Field Pinpoint Pinch Rows

With a FieldScout SC 900 (below), the crew was able to measure and map compaction.

The test plot crew has observed the negative impact of compaction in the planter pass. However, it’s been hard to precisely measure and map the microenvironment for the seeds planted inside and outside the compaction zone.

This year after planting, the crew went to a field planted with a Kinze 3660 planter equipped with the hydraulic weight transfer feature. Using a Spectrum Technologies FieldScout SC 900 soil penetrometer, the crew took readings with the weight transfer system on and off and inside and outside the tire tracks.

"Because of the dry year, we took measurements at 18", but this penetrometer can go up to 24" deep," says crew member Brad Beutke. "The key feature of this penetrometer is the ability to integrate a GPS receiver, which maps all of the results across a field."

An ultrasonic sensor located on the bottom of the handle measures the depth. In the field, the crew used an aluminum plate with a hole for the penetrometer rod to flatten the soybeans for an accurate depth Pinpoint Pinch Rows reading without crop interference. A more detailed report is to come.

For more, visit

Variable-Rate Soybean Population

 pC2 Tech Tools in the Field Variable Rate Soybean Population

A first-year trial looked at
the potential of variablerate
soybean populations.

While many farmers first try variablerate populations with corn, it’s catching on in soybeans as well.

"Because farmers are using seed treatments and better soybean planters, the ratio of planted seeds to final stands has improved, and that opens the opportunity to fine-tune soybean populations with variable-rate," says Missy Bauer, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist. "Just as in corn, we must start with management zones that take into consideration soil type, elevation, yield and/or aerial images."

Bauer led her Michigan test plot crew to plant a soybean field that varied from 125,000 plants per acre to 225,000 plants per acre. They used a Case IH Early Riser planter paired with a Magnum tractor and AFS technology.

"We need to better understand how varying population across zones affects pods and seeds per plant and final yield," Bauer says. "Highly productive soils might produce adequate yields with lower plant populations, and medium to poor productive soils might need higher plant populations to optimize yield, which is the opposite of corn."

Bauer hopes to continue her work to determine if variable-rate populations of soybeans pay agronomically as well as economically.

For more, visit Thank You to Our Test Plot Partners

Another Layer

 pC2 Tech Tools in the Field Variable Rate Soybean Population 2

Thermal images provide
a new view of in-season
crop stresses.

The test plot crews in Michigan and Illinois have been using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) services provided by GeoVantage for several years. In 2012, the Illinois crew partnered with Aerial Crop Reconnaissance Experts (ACRE) and Brian Sutton to fly over more than 2,000 acres and capture thermal images.

"Thermal images show the crop canopy temperature, unlike NDVI, which measures plant health," says crew member Isaac Ferrie. "Thermal images are emerging as another tool in crop scouting. For example, we were able to see a slight disease infestation before it was visible on an NDVI map."

Using thermal images, the crew was able to pick up cyst nematode pockets in soybeans, early  spider mite damage in soybeans and nitrogen stress in corn.

"We flew our test plots for thermal images every two weeks, so we have recent photos for  reference," Ferrie says. "Having an updated photo every two weeks is an invaluable scouting field tool when trying to check management zones in the field in-season."

It’s important to remember that thermal images are just pictures; ground-truthing is required to figure out exactly what’s going on in the field.

For more, visit

Open Opportunities

 pC2 Tech Tools in the Field Open Opportunities

An Apple iPad serves as the interface for Precision Planting’s FieldView app, which maps aspects of the planter’s performance through each pass.

To monitor planter performance, the test plot crews used Precision Planting’s FieldView app, which interfaces with an Apple iPad to provide a Google map of specific planter functions.

"We used this to log data on-the-go," says crew member Isaac Ferrie. "When scouting, we could take the iPad to the field and return to the exact locations with the data collected with the 20/20 SeedSense."

The test plot crews have used several handheld computers and tablets in recent years for scouting.

"The iPad is a new tool to consider, especially because there are a lot of apps available that allow you to load aerial images and yield maps," Ferrie says.

For more, visit

Our thanks go to the companies with products featured in this story and to the many other plot partners and cooperating farmers that supply machinery, inputs and time. Collectively, their efforts make our authoritative, third-party test plot results possible. Thank you!

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