What do management zones offer a farmer? They’re not about cutting input costs, but rather about getting the most out of input dollars and managing them within the field to improve profitability.
Management zones are a producer’s guide to variable rate farming. Dry fertilizer, fertility, nitrogen, population – all those prescriptions can be based off a management zone system.
At Corn College 2014 in Coldwater, Mich., Brad Beutke, Crop-Tech Consulting, Heyworth, Ill., described the benefits of management zones: "We want to get away from the traditional grid-based system that most agronomists and universities have been using the last several years. We’re strong proponents of the management zone based system in order to implement a soil-testing program and a variable rate program."
Beutke says zones should be managed differently and if producers only manage by the blocks, the results will be off in a lot of cases. "We have to do a better job of smart sampling and managing fields."
How does he create, modify and update those zones on an annual basis? The baselines for management zones are created in soil type maps. "Most of the soil maps we see in Illinois are pretty accurate and spot-on. In areas or states without accurate soil maps, other types of data need to be used."
Beutke emphasizes the need for ground-truthing management zones and breaking down the reasons for differences. It’s a hands-on, manual process where Beutke sits down with his client farmers and pores over maps and data – rather than simply relying on computers. "When you create management zones based on yield, they need to be ground-truthed. In other words, we need to know why they happen. It needs to be a human process."
Missy Bauer, B&M Crop Consulting, emphasizes the vital role of management zones. "The need for creation of management zones is huge and there’s not enough people doing it. Farmers want variable rate population and nitrogen, and until zones are established, there’s no good way for those to work. Management zones are a work in progress and don’t happen overnight. There’s a whole lot more involved than sending somebody out to pull soil samples. It takes somebody who understands the whole process and knows the agronomy side."
Beutke fine-tunes differences revealed in fields using NDVI imagery, yield maps, thermal imagery, elevation and sensing data. "Once the zones are created and we start sampling that way, then the opportunity for variable rate develops. I’ve heard it said about management zones and farmers, ‘Once they take this approach, they’ll never want to leave.’"
Thank you to the 2014 Corn College sponsors:
AgriGold, BASF, Great Plains Mfg., Honeywell, Plant Tuff, SFP, Top Third, Wolf Trax