Precision Ag Opportunities for Soys

January 18, 2018

Putting the right product in the right place to grow a better crop – that’s precision ag in a nutshell. So how do growers capitalize on precision ag systems for soybeans? It starts with mapping production zones throughout their fields.

“As the industry learns how soybeans react to different management systems, we’re finding more and more that the precision ag approach gives growers the opportunity to increase their profits per acre for soybeans,” says Agronomic Seeds Manager Eric Richter. He works with Syngenta customers to put their precision ag systems in place and notes that the opportunity to enhance profitability may not be the same for every farm.

Is precision ag for you?

“It’s growers with the most extreme variability in their fields who have the highest opportunity with precision ag systems in soybeans,” he says. “Farms that are perfectly suited have a high degree of variability in soil type and typography. They’ll range from black muck through to sand, or from low organic matter clay to highly productive clay loams – all in the same field.”

Precision ag involves measuring and responding to this environmental variability by adjusting practices and inputs in specific zones throughout a field. It can include specific prescriptions for everything from genetics, seeding rates and seed treatments to fertilizer, innoculants, fungicides and soil amendments.

Managing crops by zone

“We recommend that three zones are sufficient – high, mid and low productivity zones,” says Richter. Mapping is done through a process of compiling historical information such as yield maps, field typography, grower experience and knowledge about the farm, organic matter and soil test levels. Drone imagery or aerial photography also helps to determine a field’s production zones.

Once defined, these production zones allow a grower to manage their fields with a very high degree of accuracy and customization. This is in contrast to a grower who manages on a full field basis and makes production decisions based on averages.

“With soybeans, it’s most important to select the best fit variety first then target the right population and apply the right amount of inputs in these variable environments. Growers can put in place a production system suited to each yield environment and away they go,” say Richter.

Soybeans vs. corn

Many growers got a head start using precision agriculture in their corn crop, but Richter cautions not to model soybeans on those practices. In many ways, the approaches are divergent.

“One of the fundamental differences is that we really need to focus on correct populations. With corn, in the mid to high-yield zones, more seed and high populations typically means higher yields. Of course, it is the opposite with soybeans,” says Richter.

“We encourage growers to select the optimum population,” he says. Targets are defined based on soil type, plant type and yield environment. Syngenta’s population matrix makes the task easy.

“It’s about finding the sweet spot, the right population to achieve optimum or early canopy closure and yet not generate massive amounts of vegetative growth in order to ensure maximum yields,” explains Richter. “The precision ag system for soybeans really allows you to capitalize on this.”

When looking at lower-yield zones, the approach for the two crops couldn’t be more different. “In corn we’re slightly lowering the populations, and for soybeans we need to increase population.”

Richter sums it up this way: “The opportunity with the precision ag concept is greater in soybeans than it is in corn. The reason is that we can manage soybeans intensively in both the mid- to high-yield zones, and there is also a model that will help growers maximize their profits in low-yield zones.”

Your soybean prescription

If you’re questioning what variety, population, row width and fertilizer to use on highly variable land, Richter says precision ag could provide the answer. The first step is to consult with agronomists and crop advisors to formulate a script for your fields.

“As a company, we’re excited to help grow better soybean crops with a precision ag approach,” says Richter. “It’s a level of management intensity that will pay.”

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