The tillage practices used on the farm tend to vary by farm, crop rotation, and conditions. Generally we are proponents of the no-tillage system and the bulk of the farm, being in a corn soybean rotation, is managed in this manner. When conditions dictate that tillage will be required, we will then implement a vertical tillage program. This type of system requires much more attention to detail than conventional tillage, but we feel its benefits more than warrant its implementation. Rather than using conventional secondary tillage tools, like disks and field cultivators, which can leave density layers under the surface that inhibit water movement and root growth, we use a rolling chopper harrow. This requires greater emphasis on the quality of the primary tillage pass, where we prefer a hybrid chisel or in-line ripper.
Zone Management and Variable Rate Technology
The advent GPS and other technology has allowed us to rethink our agronomic practices in recent years. Rather than managing inputs on a field by field basis, we are now able to break those fields down further and employ management zones. We implement a semi-annual soil testing program that is based off of management zones that we have created with our agronomic consultant using soil type and yield history. These zones are 3 to 7 acres in size and are reevaluated on an annual basis. Soil test information from these zones is used for variable rate recommendations for lime, dry fertilizer, corn population and sidedress nitrogen. We have made significant investments in both knowledge and equipment to implement these practices. The results can be measured both economically and environmentally. Economically we have in many cases reduced seed and fertilizer rates while maintaining or improving yield. Environmentally it has allowed us to micro-manage our fertilizer program reducing runoff and other forms of loss.
Along with the variable rate technology discussed above, we are also using GPS for swath control. Swath control uses GPS to minimize overlap in seed, fertilizer, and pesticide application. We currently implement this technology with our planter, nitrogen applicator and sprayer. It allows us to use larger equipment while maintaining the input efficiencies of smaller equipment. We were early adopters of this technology, partnering with Farm Journal Magazine to study its benefits in 2007. In this study we found that we experienced a 2% savings in seed across the whole farm and individual field savings as high as 15% with a 16 row planter.
Harvest and Yield Mapping
Each harvest gives us the opportunity to reevaluate our practices. We have been using GPS yield monitoring and mapping since 1994. The maps are used to help us further define management zones, evaluate hybrids, and manage farm drainage. We have recently added scales to our grain cart as a way to further obtain yield information.