Messages from yield maps
New technology pays by highlighting production problems
Written By: Larry Reichenberger
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Yield mapping has helped Gary (left), Wayne, and Daryl (right) Wagner
uncover production problems on their farm.
Farmers hoping to use yield maps to guide them on a road to increased profitability can take heart from the Wagner brothers.
After fours years of reading those maps from their Crookston, Minnesota, farm, Gary, Wayne and Daryl Wagner have found that the maps can indeed lead to greater profits and point the way to increased production, reduced costs, and improved environmental safety along the way.
“Yield monitoring and mapping techniques have helped identify more than 40 factors that affect yields on our farm. Roughly half of those are environmental conditions that we can’t do anything about, but there are enough factors we can manage to more than pay for the technology,” says Gary.
The Wagners list a dozen of these “manageable” factors that repeatedly occur. The list includes drainage, variety selection, insect/weed control, crop rotation, tillage, compaction, soil pH, herbicide, seedbed conditions, fertilizer placement, and fertility.
“It’s no accident that drainage is first on this list and that fertility is last,” says Gary. “We’ve found a strong relationship between drainage problems and lower yields. Consequently, we’re paying a lot more attention to keeping drainage ditches clean.
“On the other hand, we’ve not seen much correlation between yield levels and fertility variations. This isn’t to say that fertility doesn’t mater, but that is is being overpowered by some other factors on our farm,” he adds.
A closer look
The yield map shows losses due to poor drainage in one of the field. Each spring from 1993 to 1996, the Wagners located wet areas in this field using mapping software and a Global Positioning System (GPS).
“We carried the mapping system on an ATV and simply drove around the wet areas. Four years of the resulting maps were “normalized’ to show consistently wet areas,” says Wayne.
“The yield map for 1995 shows that sunflower production declined by more than 1,000 pounds per acre in these wet areas. In sugar beets, these poorly drained areas present even more of a problem because of timeliness concerns,” says Gary.
The same yield map shows the value of proper variety selection. The low yielding variety area on the ride side of the field was planted to a different variety. Yield suffered by 1,200 pounds per acre. “Our sunflowers sold for an average of 20 cents per pound that year, so that variety produced $240 per acre less income than the other,” says Gary.
Learning by doing
The Wagners collect harvest data at two-second intervals with an Ag-Leader yield monitor. This gives yield information on 20x28-foot blocks of their fields. They have worked with both six- and 12-channel GPS receivers and obtain differential correction signals from a tower 15 miles away. Accuracy has been 10 feet or lass. Last season they also equipped their sugar beet harvester with a Harvest Master yield mapping system.
On of the first lessons the Wagners learned from heir yield mapping efforts dealt with soil compaction. The map below shows a wheat field from their 1993 season.