Living up to its full potential

MAKING YOUR YIELD MONITOR WORK HARDER AND SMARTER

YIELD IS THE ultimate measurement on a farm. How well a field yielded is a determining factor for countless farm management decisions: what to plant, when to plant, what to spray and how much fertilizer to use.

Most farmers can quickly recite the yield of each individual field on their farm with pinpoint accuracy going back many years. Consequently, it’s no surprise that yield monitoring technology has become popular. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to purchase a combine without a yield monitoring system.

The technology is not new, but it has certainly evolved over the years and, if used properly can have significant impact on farm management decisions.

Early versions of yield monitoring technology worked somewhat like a clock; while harvesting, a monitor displays yield in real time in the tractor cab. Although this may provide instant gratification, many farmers are quickly catching on to the fact that a yield monitor can be much more than another ticker in the cab of the combine.

GETTING STARTED
There are two common factors that can be overlooked when it comes to fully utilizing yield monitors says Lynne Warriner, Precision Ag Specialist with Laresco. “The first issue is recording the data,” she says. If a memory card isn’t used with the monitor, none of the data is recorded and it can’t be used for further analysis.

“Another factor is calibration. Every machine is different and it must be properly calibrated in order to get accurate information,” says Warriner. The best way to ensure a proper calibration is to have your equipment dealer adjust it for you. Equipment dealers have trained personnel to ensure the technology is attuned to the farm and the machine.

With accurate data being recorded, farmers can begin to use the yield information to influence management decisions.

THE YEAR IN REVIEW
“There are two main ways to utilize the data from your yield monitor,” says Warriner. The first is to use the information as a type of report card at the end of the season; “it can be a summary of lots of inputs,” she explains.

Either with software that accompanies the yield monitoring system or through a service provider like Laresco, farmers can print yield maps that are easily comparable to other inputs.

Comparing the data from the monitor with soil sampling data or input information like fertilizer rates lets farmers see how their management plan impacted their final yield and their bottom line. “You can find out your net income on a site specific basis, rather than a field-by-field view,” explains Warriner. However, she does emphasize that this report card approach is most effective when several years of data are available for comparison.

PLANNING AHEAD
The second use of the data is possibly more impactful on the farm and therefore, more attractive to many farmers. Warriner explains that “yield monitor data can also be used as a starting point to influence management decisions for the upcoming year.”

Lorne Benedict, a cash crop farmer near Kerwood, has been putting his yield monitor to work since 2004 when he first purchased the technology.

“I use it more or less as a guide,” says Benedict. “It’s a guide for what you should try to do next year. It tells you about the limiting factors and the average points,”  he continues.

Benedict correlates his yield monitor data with site specific soil sampling data and input information and has seen positive outcomes over the years.

He has seen the biggest result in fertilizer and fertility management. With the data Benedict has collected over the years, he is able to create a plan that ensures each area of his fields get just the right amount of each nutrient. “Fertilizer costs are high and if you spread it evenly across the entire farm, that’s a waste. An even spread only works if you have an even farm,” explains Benedict.

With the yield monitor and soil sampling data, Benedict has identified certain areas that require more or less fertilizer and he spreads accordingly.

“It also helps to find the yield-limiting factor. If you know there are certain parts of the field that are limited, such as dips or knolls, there is no sense putting more money in because you’re not going to be able to impact the yield,” he continues.

FINDING BALANCE
Although Benedict’s farm has benefitted from this technology, he also cautions that it isn’t a silver bullet solution.

“There are so many limiting factors. You’ve got to take some of that data with a grain of salt and keep things in balance,” says Benedict.

This realism is centered in the understanding that you can’t plan for everything and in farming, there are always uncontrollable variables. “In that regard, it’s almost more of an art than a science,” says Benedict.

LONG TERM SUCCESS
Finding a balance can be easier over time. Warriner’s emphasis on recording multiple years of data has been proven on Benedict’s farm. With a careful management plan, Benedict has seen variability decrease over the years. “The farm is becoming more even which makes spreading fertilizer much easier. When we started out with this program everything was much more variable.”

He continues to emphasize that “the more uniform the piece of land, the  more uniform the crop and the higher the yield.” •