Field Maps in 3D

Field Maps in 3D from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

For the 92% of you that aren’t color blind, this is an amazing time of the year. The color changes in the fields and trees are always fascinating to watch. But as you check your fields now in the last 10-14 days, have you noticed what your bean fields are doing? I don’t mean just their general color change, but what are the different areas of the field are truly doing?

The reason I ask this is quite simple. Right now your soybean fields are going to show you variability in a very real, very visible, and very honest way. But what is the underlying cause of this variability? If we can answer that question, then we really hold the keys to success in our hands. But as with most everything that happens in your field, the causes of this variability are seldom simple. Next Monday, Mike Zwingman in his Reachout Blog is going to delve deeper into those causes, but I want you to start thinking about this now before the beans are ready to harvest.

In all likelihood, our variability is caused by the soil, which I realize is a no-brainer statement. But the soil variability can be broken down into two categories, soil health, and soil properties. The soil properties are the inherent things we can’t change in the soil, like water holding capacity or water infiltration rate. The soil health is what I want to focus on today. It’s likely that the reason we are seeing these soybeans change colors at different rates is pH, Phosphorus, Potassium, or one of our other nutrients. But how much time do we spend thinking about these nutrients and the problems that they cause us?

Many people have moved on in the world of fertility, and don’t spend much time thinking about intensive sampling anymore. But why is that? I can certainly tell you that we haven’t fixed all of our soil problems. In fact, the IPNI (International Plant Nutrition Institute) shows that we have more soils in the extremely deficient and less in the good soil test levels than ten years ago when it comes to Phosphorus, and our average Potassium level is coming down as well. So then, I think that I would blame it on us becoming stagnant when it comes to soil sampling. Soil sampling got boring after the first wave. We talked about identifying variability and addressing it with VR application, and then just assumed everybody would do it. That is why we need to reinvent soil sampling. I assure you that not all soil sampling programs are the same, nor is soil sampling a commodity. Where it came from, what it is mixed with for soils around it, and what we do with that soil all vary greatly from person to person. And at the end of the day, I don’t care if you prefer Grids to Zones or Zones to Grids, because it’s the process that went into selecting the site of that soil sample and the intellectual process that goes into interpreting it and turning it into an actionable decision that matters.

Are there other things in play in our fields? Both corn and beans right now that are leading to differences in plant size, disease pressure, color changes; absolutely. Compaction, rainfall, irrigation patterns and the like are all on the board. But… I believe that a lot of what we’re seeing goes back to basic agronomy and having a good soil sampling program. And that is why we are rebuilding the ACS Soil Sampling package. New methods for data processing, new software, and perhaps most importantly, more of you, your FSA’s and your local data driving the decisions in our Zones are going to lead to better decisions.

In the end, basic agronomy principals like fertility are more important to the bottom line when margins are tighter. The right product on the right Acre at the right rate and the right time will increase our profitability no matter what the commodity price is.