A disturbing trend is emerging within precision agriculture creating a literal agronomic minefield. And growers are walking right dangerously into the bloodshed because the shiny new precision technology has blinded them from reality.
As the pendulum of precision technology has swung from the fascination of automated steering to more agronomic based hardware applications it presents some potential new pitfalls.
Sales of new planters have skyrocketed in recent years and most are decked out with individual row clutches, singulation seed monitoring, automated down-pressure and variable-rate seeding capability. What’s cooler than being able to variable-rate your seed population when going through a field? Sure, you’ve got to use it. Sort of like having a T-top Trans-Am and still obeying the speed limit. Hey, even I can’t drive 55.
In attending many of the Precision Planting grower meetings in our region one question is always asked of the group – “How many of you have variable-rate capability on your planter?” Typically, over 50 percent and sometimes upwards of 70 percent of the farmers in the group have planters capable of variable-rate.
Then comes the follow-up question – “How many of you ACTUALLY utilize variable-rate prescription seeding?” Crickets. Usually, less than two or three hands in a crowd of 60 farmers goes up.
Why so few? The answer is simple – many farmers have not done their agronomic precision homework over the past several years. Multiple years yield monitor data – the foundation for sound variable-rate agronomics – either doesn’t exist, is incomplete or frankly is so flawed you’d be better off saying the dog ate your homework!
Too Many Shortcuts
But instead of buckling down and collecting vital historical precision production data, many growers are looking for a shortcut to “agronomic” precision. Unfortunately, some precision hardware companies, so-called precision consultants and proclaimed agronomists are selling “precision agronomy in a can” or what I like to call “black box agronomy.” In other words, they are offering a “shortcut” to the precision “promise land” and growers are buying it.
Some may offer growers the ability to “variable-rate by soil-type” right from their monitor screen. In essence, it’s the precision equivalent of the old pre-school exercise “paint-by-numbers”. No one knows what numbers to put in but you sure have a pretty map when you’re done planting. Meanwhile, some consultants may “create zones” from something like a Veris machine, which reads the electro-conductivity of the soil (EC). From the readings some consultants are creating “zones” and that is the sole data they hang their hat on when it comes to variable-rate.
All these one-and-done methods are extremely shortsighted and each is like handing a grower an agronomic grenade with the pin pulled. Someone is going to get hurt because they don’t know what they’re doing or they’re in a hurry and don’t understand the agronomic and management consequences.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to making agronomic decisions with modern precision tools is that there is no substitute for due diligence. Do your homework! Let your own data – layers and layers of it – tell you the story over time. Good precision takes time. Just think of it as if the Bible ended with the Book of Genesis. As we know, there was a lot more that came after that!