Managing Variability on Your Farm
Managing In-field Variability
Today we live in the age of information technology and agricultural operations are no exception to the explosion in technology. Crop production variability in farmers' fields has been an age-old problem and modern agriculture stills faces the challenges of managing this variability. There are a number of commercially available technological “tools” in the market to manage in-field variability. Before we proceed further, lets understand what we mean by variability, the types of variability, tools to measure field variability, scale of variability, and finally managing variability.
The term “soil or crop variability” refers to the changes in soil or crop properties across a field. Examples of soil variability could be changes in soil pH, soil texture, soil type, soil organic matter, water holding capacity, or other soil properties, as you go from one part of the field to another. Examples of crop variability could be changes in crop growth and development, crop vigor, crop yield, crop height, or other crop parameters, as you go across the field. This change that occurs across space (distance) is referred to as “spatial variability”. There is another type of variability that is called “temporal variability” which means variability associated with time. For example, each year yields across the field vary significantly as impacted by weather, pests, etc.; this variation in yield variability across years is referred to as temporal variability.
There are various tools and techniques available for
measuring in-field variability. Some of these tools and techniques
include: (1) Grid-based soil sampling, in which a field is divided into
small grid cells 1 acre or more in size and then soil samples are
collected from each grid cell. This allows us to measure the variability
associated with soil properties. (2) Yield monitor is a tool, which
measures the variability in crop yield across the field. However,
variability in yields across a field could be because of a number of
reasons. A yield monitor simply quantifies the yield variability. It takes
quite a bit of “detective work” to determine the reasons associated with
variability in crop yields. [Read a detailed article on yield monitoring
and yield monitor sensors in our extension newsletter of November 2002
“Sensors in Agriculture” http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/SoilCrop/extension/Newsletters/2002/Sensors/index.htm]
(3) Remote sensing of fields with or without a crop also helps quantify
variability associated with soil and crop properties. An image of a
standing crop acquired through a camera on an airplane or a satellite
allows you to identify areas of crop stress or distribution of weed
populations, or non-uniform planting areas, etc., across a field. (4) Soil
electrical conductivity mapping is a fairly new tool that helps quantify
variability associated with soil properties. Numerous uses of soil
electrical conductivity maps are being developed every year. An article in
this newsletter provides the findings of utilizing soil electrical
conductivity maps for variable rate pre-emergence herbicide applications.
[Read a detailed article on soil electrical conductivity in our extension
newsletter of November 2002 “Sensors in Agriculture”
Managing variability is the final step in the process of site-specific farming. Once you know how much variability exists in your field, what type of variability it is, and whether or not you can manage it to improve production, the next logical step is to manage that soil and/or crop variability via variable rate input management. There is a perception that variable rate management of soil and crop variability minimizes variability across the field. This is incorrect. Variable rate management of agricultural inputs (nutrients, irrigation, herbicide, seeding, etc.), allows you to maximize the efficiency of farm inputs and thereby minimize the variability in net $ return from across the field.
The overall concept of site-specific management is application of farm inputs at the right time, in the right amount, and at the right place. This issue of the newsletter provides an insight into managing variability in fields. Articles were invited from specialists around the country (North Dakota, Georgia, Texas and Colorado). Hopefully, it will provide you with new production information and stimulate some thoughts as to how you can manage and take advantage of variability that exists in your fields.
For specific question, please do not hesitate to contact me.
FROM THE GROUND UP agronomy news is a monthly
publication of Cooperative Extension, Department of Soil & Crop
Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.
Direct questions and comments to:
Phone: 970- 491-6201
|Extension staff members are:
Troy Bauder, Water Quality
Mark Brick, Bean Production
Joe Brummer, Forages
Betsy Buffington, Pesticide
Pat Byrne, Biotechnology
Jessica Davis, Soils
|Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. Cooperative Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension is implied.