Thinking Beyond Farming to Optimize Soil Moisture

June 1, 2016 01:39 PM

Thinking Beyond Farming to Optimize Soil Moisture

Using these tools can help maximize the benefits of every raindrop and help preserve our water supply.
By the year 2030, global demand for water is projected to outstrip supply by as much as 40 percent, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research. Considering only about 1 percent of the Earth’s water is usable, that will have a major impact on agriculture, which accounts for 70 percent of the world’s water use.

At the same time, recent United Nations data points out that dryland crops, on average, use only a little more than half of the rain that falls during the growing season. Most U.S. crops have better-than-average water use efficiency, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, says Kevin Eye, vice president, agronomy and product development, WinField.

“Optimizing available water is an important part of that yield equation, as well as ensuring a sustainable water supply. We can’t control the weather, but there are several management tools a grower can use to help crops get maximum benefit from available soil moisture.”

1. Consider drought-tolerant hybrids.
An increasing number of new drought-tolerant, or water-optimizing, hybrids have become available in recent years, with many of the newer numbers producing more competitive yields.

Kansas State University trials conducted during the 2012-2014 seasons found an overall yield benefit of 3 percent for drought-tolerant hybrids compared to non-drought-tolerant hybrids under diverse environments and stress conditions across the state. That equated to a 5-bushel-per-acre advantage.

2. Find the best planting population.
There’s no single “right” population for a hybrid. The optimum population for a field or field segment depends on the growing conditions and stress levels that can vary each year, says Eye.

To determine the right population for a hybrid, WinField developed a Response to Population (RTP) score, Eye explains. “This rating indicates a specific hybrid’s ability to tolerate low plant population or response to aggressive population management.

“The R7® Tool from WinField provides personalized population recommendations for each field that are tailored to the hybrids you select and based on characterization trials at nearly 200 Answer Plot® locations,” notes Eye. “On soils with the highest yield potential, growers should consider increasing populations, while decreasing populations might actually increase yields on less-productive soils.”

3. Control weeds that compete for moisture.
Weeds that are just 2 to 3 inches tall can steal precious moisture from the crop. Controlling them with an effective preplant herbicide application is the best way to ensure maximum moisture and nutrients are available to the crop in early growth stages.

Herbicide-tolerant hybrids can be a good fit for no-till and reduced-tillage systems, providing effective weed control without disturbing the soil surface and minimizing water loss due to evaporation.

4. Assess in-season nutrient needs.
The sky is no longer the limit when it comes to mapping crop progress throughout the season. Satellite imagery, paired with soil sampling and plant tissue testing, provides snapshots of plant health and nutrient levels at critical growth stages.

“Plant tissue testing is a proven way to identify nutrient deficiencies and guide precise, timely in-season fertilizer applications,” says Mike Vande Logt, WinField executive vice president and chief operating officer. “WinField has taken this valuable tool and given it added depth with the NutriSolutions 360® system, which contains the industry’s largest collection of plant tissue sampling data. That data helps farmers better interpret their individual field results, and see the correlation between nutrient uptake and yield.

“The goal is to provide crops with the nutrients they need, when they need them, and to minimize nutrient loss,” says Vande Logt.

5. Analyze local and regional data.
It’s also valuable to know what’s happening beyond your farm fields, around your county and state, to get a broader view of weather, crop and pest trends. A great source of agronomic data is the WinField Answer Plot® Program, notes Eye, which will evaluate roughly 250 different genetics in corn alone this upcoming growing season.

“The 5 million data points collected at WinField Answer Plot® locations over the last 17 years help provide answers to basic crop management questions, including how to better optimize our water, to the last drop.”

For more information on how WinField is thinking Beyond Farming to address the most pressing issues we face and engage the general public in the conversation, visit​nd

© 2016 Winfield Solutions, LLC
Legal Disclaimer: Answer Plot, NutriSolutions 360, R7 and WinField are registered trademarks of Winfield Solutions, LLC.


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