Beyond Pretty Maps

For more than a decade, GPS technology has allowed you to capture variability within a field — from yield to soils, fertility, pH, varieties, variable-rate applications and agronomic treatments. Meaning more than likely, you have accumulated binders full of colorful maps and hard drives full of files.

While collecting agronomic data is getting easier, using it to make decisions can be a challenge. Visually correlating the relationship between two maps, for example, yield vs. soils, is possible but becomes mind-numbing as you collect more data layers, such as planting data, soil-test values, applied fertility, etc., on dozens of fields.

Maps are a great way to visualize agronomic data, but the real power for decision-making is in the data file. Organizing data layers into a georeferenced database structure allows us to tackle real-world complexity that is applied agronomy. Applied agronomy at the field level is the collision of hundreds of manageable variables — “it isn’t rocket science; it is way more complex.”

In our 15th crop season, Premier Crop embraces that complexity with respect. Respect that all agronomy is local. Respect that what drives yields and profitability changes year to year within areas of the country, across a grower’s operation, field by field and in each part of a field.

After years of helping growers and their advisors analyze their data to drive their decisions, we are frequently asked, “Agronomically, what matters most?” And our answer is always the same: “There are no silver bullets; it is never one specific variable that universally drives yield variation or profitability. The answer is, it’s not just plant health or variety selection or trait packages or weather impact or population or nitrogen timing or soil type or planting date or harvest date or tillage or fertility.”

Agronomic complexity drives many to look for simple solutions. While companies like ours continually drive to make it easier — some make “simple” solutions work only because they pretend complexity does not exist.

Analyzing your agronomic data is messy. Correlation doesn’t prove cause and effect. We gain confidence by seeing similar results on multiple fields across an entire operation and across thousands of anonymously and confidentially pooled acres in your area. Our experience is that most growers want their trusted agronomic advisor(s) to help in this process. While it’s hard work, we don’t have to hit home runs to pay for the effort.

Agronomy is complex; there is no silver bullet that will drive yield and profitability, so you must look at all variables across a wide range of acres when making important agronomic decisions.

Got data?
  1. How do you evaluate the relationship between soil test fertility/applied nutrients and yield? How do you manage your fertility program? Are there ways you could use other data — for example, yield — as part of your nutrient strategy?
  2. Do you check your previous years’ variable- rate population recommendations? How does your agronomic data explain whether the recommendations worked or not?
  3. Are you using the same seed variety as last year? Why or why not? Did you base that decision on data or a gut feeling? Think of what different variables you could look at within your data to be more of an informed consumer, rather than an emotional consumer, when buying seed for 2014.


Originally published in Corn and Soybean Digest.

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