New tech enables farmers to micro-manage fields

Jay Bruggencate displayed an aerial map of a farm field during a presentation in Red Deer on Friday.

Jay Bruggencate displayed an aerial map of a farm field during a presentation in Red Deer on Friday.

The image was covered in blotches of light and dark green, as well as yellow, red and purple. To the trained eye, it revealed where additional soil nutrients like nitrogen could enhance production.

Variable rate technology — and the ability to apply different quantities of seed, fertilizers, fungicides and desiccant herbicides within a single field — is a tool that’s now available to farmers. The question is whether it makes economic sense to use that tool.

Bruggencate, a Lacombe agronomist with precision agriculture consulting firm FarmersEdge, and Dennis Dey, an agricultural economist from Torrington, discussed this issue during the Alberta Agricultural Economics Association’s annual conference last week.

Bruggencate described how satellite photographs, electro-conductivity maps, topography maps, soil survey maps and yield maps can be combined with a farmer’s knowledge of a field to identify unique production zones.

“The more data that you can collect to refine and identify these production zones, the more accurate map that you’re going to build and the better job that we’re going to do with the agronomics and the economics of fine-tuning those results,” he said.

Micro-managing those zones involves analyzing and interpreting the data, setting yield targets, and creating an electronic prescription map that can be downloaded into the computers of farm equipment.

Many farmers currently use global positioning systems to guide machinery in the field, noted Bruggencate. But they may not be taking advantage of the technology to collect location-specific information about their crops — such as areas of high and low yields.

There are limitations, he acknowledged. Not all combines are equipped to collect yield data, or to do so accurately or consistently. But the technology does provide an opportunity to make better agronomic decisions: applying inputs like fertilizer more precisely and effectively, reducing the lodging of crops, helping ensure plants mature more evenly, and even curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

But will it improve a farmer’s bottom line, given the cost and time of obtaining and using the technology?

“It depends,” is Dey’s standard answer.

“Basically, the reality is is that the economics are uncertain,” he said.

The characteristics of a particular field or the type of crop grown there could influence the feasibility of variable rate technology, said Dey. Even rising energy costs, which can boost the price of fertilizer, could come into play.

“Despite the uncertainty about whether this stuff pays, interestingly, farmers are still proceeding and they’re not waiting for certainty,” noted Dey.

That’s because variable rate technology is “intuitively appealing” to producers — especially the younger ones.

“It makes sense to farmers.”

Just Posted

Red Deer’s Craig Schmitt placed first once again at Woody’s Marathon

When Craig Schmitt runs in the annual Woody’s RV Marathon in Red… Continue reading

Life and death: Mistake sent one family to funeral home, the other to hospital

Doctors told Jody Littlewolf that her daughter was brain dead and should… Continue reading

‘Still beautiful:’ Waterton Lakes National Park prepares for life after fire

WATERTON, Alta. — Parks Canada officials and businesses in Waterton say there… Continue reading

British royal family thanks those who celebrated wedding

LONDON — The royal family, blessed with fantastic weather and a buoyant… Continue reading

Cougar kills 1 mountain biker, injures 2nd near Seattle

NORTH BEND, Wash. — Two friends on a morning mountain bike ride… Continue reading

Red Deer Silhouettes prepare for year-end show

Synchronized swimming team will perform its last show this season May 30

One dead in collision west of Sundre

A 30-year-old Cochrane resident is dead after a single vehicle collision in… Continue reading

How a 94-year-old retiree became a gym rat

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Like many gym rats, Paul Russell lifts weights… Continue reading

‘Like a warzone:’ People evacuated as fires burn through Manitoba city’s downtown

BRANDON, Man. — Leanne Marlow saw the flames engulf the building across… Continue reading

Canadians celebrate mix of pageantry, modern twists in royal wedding

As the freshly minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex embark on married… Continue reading

Maduro favoured as Venezuelans vote amid crisis

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is expected to win a… Continue reading

Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humour

SANTA FE, Texas — Hardworking. Funny. Loving. Grieving family and friends recalled… Continue reading

Record Everest climber returns, already planning next trip

KATHMANDU, Nepal — A veteran Sherpa guide who scaled Mount Everest for… Continue reading

WATCH: First Red Deer Market of the year

Hundreds came out to the first farmers market of 2018 Saturday

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month