• Dec 12, 2016

Can Crop Modeling Increase a Farmer’s Margin

After several years of using crop modeling tools on a production scale, we are more prepared to help farmers see the value of adding this technology to their operations.
 
The most common questions I hear from farmers about crop modeling’s future in agriculture include:
  1. If the model can’t accurately forecast rainfall amounts, how can it possibly be useful?
  2. If the predicted yield range ends up not being accurate, how can I trust that insights derived from the model are true?
  3. How can paying for a model actually allow me to increase margins?
To help answer these questions and gain deeper insights, we completed a small crop modeling case study across a number of Answer Plot® locations in Iowa during the summer of 2016.  Following are the results from a few of these trials that illustrate how, when applied across a field-scale system, modeling tools can help growers increase their margin.
 
Case Study Scenario
Our study, which was structured similarly in all plots, included a late-season (V10) side-dress nitrogen (N) application in corn at a rate of 100 lbs/A.  We used both Climate FieldView™ Nitrogen Advisor and WinField’s R7® Field Forecasting Tool (pre-commercial) to make recommendations for a V10 nitrogen sidedress application to see how the results differed from our planned rate. See the following tables for trial results.
 
Initial Results Raise Questions
The results from these three plots were not as straight-forward as initially hoped, but we all know that nitrogen can be an elusive beast. A few trends that may cause concern at first glance included:
  1. In all cases, the recommended rate of nitrogen at V10 was lower when using the models than our planned rate of 100 N lbs/A.
  2. The yield check results were quite a bit lower than the yield potential at the time of the recommendation.
  3. In all cases but one, the 100 N lbs/A side-dress outyielded our model-adjusted treatment rates.
Deeper Analysis Shows Benefits
After an in-depth look at this test data, we realized far more profound results.
  1. Although the crop models did not produce higher yields in these fields this year, the significant reduction in applied nitrogen rates at V10 reduced costs to more than offset any lost revenue from yield reduction.  In many cases, the nitrogen application rate was reduced by 50 to 75 percent in response to the models’ output. 
  2. The largest yield difference between the check treatment and a model-predicted treatment was 26 bushels.  The smallest difference was 6 bushels.
  3. Even though the models did not perfectly predict future weather and yield (observed yields were much lower than the potential at V10), the value of the recommendations still held true. When we looked at the model output during the recommendations, both models indicated that in all cases we had entered periods of potential nitrogen stress already by V10.
I encourage you and your customers to continue evaluating how these tools can help improve nutrient management in your area. A good way to do this is by comparing sections of fields with model-derived recommendations from the planned treatments.
 
Trial Results
 
Plot 1
Modeled Nitrogen Treatment Rates and Yield Goals
Modeling Tool Recommended
Nitrogen Treatment Rate
Modeled Yield Goal 
Climate FieldView™ Nitrogen Advisor 30 lbs/A 225 bu/A  (estimated yield goal)*
predicted N surplus of 39 lbs/A
R7® Tool Field Forecasting Tool 15 lbs/A 227 bu/A  (yield prediction date of recommendation)
Results      
Modeling Tool Applied Nitrogen Rate Yield Results
Climate FieldView™ Nitrogen Advisor 30 lbs/A 178 bu/A
R7® Tool Field Forecasting Tool 15 lbs/A 156 bu/A
V10 Check Treatment 100 N lbs/A 161 bu/A
 
 
Plot 2
 
Modeled Nitrogen Treatment Rates and Yield Goals
Modeling Tool Recommended
Nitrogen Treatment Rate
Modeled Yield Goal 
Climate FieldView™ Nitrogen Advisor 25 lbs/A 250 bu/A  (estimated yield goal)*
predicted N surplus of 19 lbs/A
R7® Tool Field Forecasting Tool 25 lbs/A 231 bu/A  (yield prediction date of recommendation)
Results      
Modeling Tool Applied Nitrogen Rate Yield Results
Climate FieldView™ Nitrogen Advisor 25 lbs/A 159 bu/A
R7® Tool Field Forecasting Tool 25 lbs/A 159 bu/A
V10 Check Treatment 100 N lbs/A 165 bu/A
 
Plot 3
Modeled Nitrogen Treatment Rates and Yield Goals
Modeling Tool Recommended
Nitrogen Treatment Rate
Modeled Yield Goal 
Climate FieldView™ Nitrogen Advisor 30 lbs/A 250 bu/A  (estimated yield goal)*
predicted N surplus of 19 lbs/A
R7® Tool Field Forecasting Tool 75 lbs/A 247 bu/A  (yield prediction date of recommendation)
Results      
Modeling Tool Applied Nitrogen Rate Yield Results
Climate FieldView™ Nitrogen Advisor 30 lbs/A 174 bu/A
R7® Tool Field Forecasting Tool 15 lbs/A 181 bu/A
V10 Check Treatment 100 N lbs/A 200 bu/A



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