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Use Data to Create Next Year's Fertility Plan

Precision ag can help farmers better manage nutrients

With today's technology, farmers have the opportunity to make better nutrient-management decisions and increase the profitability of their operations. Still, fertility planning can be complicated, and farming technology can generate mountains of data that must be analyzed and acted upon before it provides true value. Fortunately, Southern States Cooperative offers the expertise to assist.

Variables impacting nutrient management

While plenty of factors impact fertility planning, soils and the crops in the rotation are two main elements to consider. Much of a soil's nutrient-holding ability depends on the soil type and texture. Coastal sandy-textured soils in the Southeast do not hold nutrients as well as more loamy soils. In parts of our area, for example, the sandy soils dictate that farmers must start almost from scratch each year. In addition, the crop grown in the previous year also affects which nutrients are retained. Corn, for example, can remove a great deal of zinc and phosphorus.

Precision ag fertility plans

With all the variables that come into play, fertility planning can be a complex process, but precision agriculture tools can be valuable resources to help farmers develop a site-specific plan to enhance nutrient management. On some of the operations we have worked with, farmers were increasing fertilizer input across a field to bump up yields, but we found that method to be significantly over-fertilizing some areas of the field.

Farmers these days can't afford to put extra fertilizer in areas that just aren't going to produce. With today's prices, we all have to be efficient to stay profitable. Precision agriculture really increases efficiency. Precision ag is more economically and environmentally friendly, and, all around, the goal is to make the farmer more profitable.

How we can help

To help farmers refine fertility plans, we take soil tests on a grid or zone basis and analyze the data, factoring in crop removal and yield goals. Even if farmers are new to precision ag, they can use hand-drawn maps to establish a baseline of where variability is in the field. This can be further refined with imagery. Once we establish variability, we can use tools like soil sampling, tissue sampling and soil conductivity mapping to isolate the issue. There are many such tools available to farmers today.

The key is using yield data to establish variability and identify low-yielding areas, then changing up the nutrient management plan accordingly or identifying where there might be other issues, such as soil compaction or a nematode problem.

We compare the process to visiting a doctor ‒ a patient goes in knowing that something hurts but doesn't know exactly why. Like a physician making a diagnosis, we use tools to isolate the issue and identify the problem. Then we determine if we can fix the problem and identify a recommended treatment. There can be a whole host of issues that cause problems. Our challenge is to help solve them.

For more information on how you can use a precision ag approach to create next year's fertility plan and improve your overall crop management program, talk to our agronomy team to develop a program that's right for your operation.

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