• Agriculture Technology
  • Aug 05, 2019

Farmer Lets Tech Steer His Irrigation and Nutrient Strategies

Irrigation in field
As a farmer, you don’t need another task on your plate; you want something that’s going to help you manage what’s already there. And though irrigation may be an essential part of your operation, it takes time to scout and probe for moisture deficits, set up the pivot for irrigation and do any necessary fertigation.
One of the farmers I work with, Leigh Barry, manages much of his irrigation program through the use of a crop modeling tool, as well as through an app on his smartphone and tablet, which has helped him increase his efficiency and productivity.
Leigh irrigates about 800 acres — primarily corn and soybeans along with some alfalfa — on his farm just north of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. He uses the R7® Field Forecasting Tool to monitor the biomass, moisture, nitrogen and potassium levels of his fields to ensure plants are receiving adequate water and nutrition.

Predictively determine optimal water and nutrient timing and rates

The R7 Field Forecasting Tool is a web-based crop modeling solution that aggregates a number of components and dynamics. These include the current weather, the forecast, the ability of the soil to hold moisture and nutrients, plant growth stage, temperature and how much water plants are taking up each day.
This tells Leigh how much water he’ll need to accommodate weather conditions and plant growth stage in order to get his plants to the next level. It also gives him a quick dashboard look at how his fields are doing, and which ones need the most attention. He tells me this allows him to prioritize where he spends his time. He doesn’t even have to be physically in the field, because he can run his irrigation system remotely through an app on his phone and tablet.

Plan ahead, while still making in-season adjustments

Prior to this growing season, we put a plan in place as to how Leigh’s irrigation and fertigation would lay out by field, hybrid, and also by growth stage. We rely on that plan to project when and how much we should feed, and when we should tissue test to calibrate nutrient applications. We can tweak the plan according to what the tool tells us. For example, if we think we should fertigate right now, the tool might tell us not to do so until the week after because the tool recalibrated to factor in the current tissue test and weather forecast. Through experience, we’ve learned to follow the tool’s lead.
Leigh runs nitrogen, sulfur and potassium through the irrigation pivot along with various micronutrients if the situation warrants them. We’ve also done some experimentation with melted potash. One season, we purposely shorted potash in a field. Then, through tissue testing and soil sampling, we found that we could correct that deficit in-season by putting melted potash through the pivot at a lower rate and lower cost per acre versus dry-spreading it upfront. We also got a better response from the plant as a result. That particular field ended up yielding very well for Leigh, and he found this method netted him a higher ROI at harvest, due to the lower costs of fertigating with melted potash.

Get back time in the day

Prior to using the R7 Field Forecasting Tool, Leigh used a manual probe to monitor moisture levels in his fields on a near-daily basis. This gave him an idea of what moistures levels would be like projected out, according to what things looked like on that particular day. However, when we adjusted his management strategy to include the R7 Field Forecasting Tool, we were able to add a range of capabilities to his operation that ultimately eliminated the need for the manual probes. 
If you have irrigated fields that could use some technology attached, talk with your local trusted advisor about how the R7 Field Forecasting Tool can help you be more efficient with both your time and your resources.
© 2019 WinField United. R7® and WinField® are trademarks of WinField United.

Agriculture Technology

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