The weather doesn’t always provide an opportunity for great yields, but when the weather does cooperate, Wesley Barnes wants his family’s crops to have precisely what they need to thrive. Using precision technology is allowing him to adjust seeding rates, control planting depth and vary fertilizer applications across each field, aiming for maximum economic yields. “I don’t think you can farm defensively or farm scared,” he says. “It’s better to plan for success.”
Wesley and his brother, Adam, farm near Williamsport, Ohio, with their father, Paul. They raise no-till corn and soybeans in a 50/50 rotation on about 1,700 acres. Most of the land is owned by their family’s farmland corporation and rented to the family members operating the farm. They rent a little additional ground in the area as well. The family also owns and operates Crown Hill Golf Club, which they built in 2000. Over the years, the family has added nearby land to their farm as it has become available, with a high priority placed on keeping their farmland in the family, Wesley says.
The family expects to be farming the land for the long-term, so collecting and analyzing multiple years of data will help them continue improving productivity. Meanwhile, precision equipment makes it possible to adapt as conditions vary across each field.
ROW CONTROL: Planter units with electric drives let the Barnes family vary planting rates and shut off rows to avoid overlaps.
The Barnes family began adopting precision technology about 8 years ago when they started using auto-steer, Wesley says. That improved their planting results because they could monitor seeding populations more closely instead of focusing their attention on steering. A few years later, they added planter units with electric drives so they could vary planting rates and shut off rows to avoid overlaps. That saved on seed, but more importantly it eliminated yield losses in overlap areas.
For fertility management, the Barnes family works with their local Crop Production Services branch to map soil types and water holding capacity across fields and to run soil tests on 2.5 acre grids. They’ve found that soil maps are good predictors of yield potential. “We’ve taken the yield maps and the fertility maps and overlaid them and they match up pretty well,” Wesley says. The field maps have also allowed them to make variable rate lime applications to correct soil pH. However, with no-till it can take a few years for the lime to work its way into the soil and show up on soil tests, Wesley says.
For spraying, the Barnes family uses a light bar guidance system along with a rate controller. The system automatically documents all their spraying, although they still keep back-up records on paper.
After experimenting with a few different field record-keeping systems, Wesley settled on an iPad paired with Climate FieldView apps that let him connect with his planter and yield monitors. “I get real-time recording of the tractor going through the field,” he says. They’ve accumulated four years’ worth of data that allows them to review crop planting and yield histories across fields within seconds. They can also use the mapping capabilities to mark trouble areas within fields as they see them. For instance, if they notice a large rock that needs to be picked up, they can pinpoint its location so they can find it later.
The data makes it easier to analyze profitability for different areas of each field. For instance, they can look at the variable rate seeding and fertilizer application maps and determine the input costs for each part of a field. Then they can look at production efficiency by comparing yields for each area. In 2016, for instance, most of their marginal ground gave them more efficient corn production than their better ground.
INSTANT RESULTS: A monitor in the combine cab lets Wesley Barnes map yields as he moves through each field.
Another benefit of the computerized recordkeeping is that it simplifies reporting of crops and planting dates to the Farm Service Agency and reporting yields for crop insurance records. “It makes it easier to pull up the information and take it in,” Wesley says.
Observations of crops in the field are also important, Wesley adds. In 2016, their corn yields might have been higher if they had planted at higher populations on some ground. Ears were completely full to the tip, indicating that plants had plenty of resources to fill the ears. A higher population might have been able to capture additional yield potential, he explains.
After considering previous years’ data, they increased plant populations this year on their best corn ground to improve yields and early indications show an increase. “It seems really promising,” Wesley says.
No matter how much technology is available, observations in the field cannot be replaced. “Your job is to see what your crop is doing,” Wesley says. This last year, for instance, their soybeans were affected by frogeye leaf spot and stinkbugs. This winter he’ll be analyzing yields to see if fungicide and insecticide treatments were justified in terms of increased profit.