Walk before you run

Precision soil testing for economic results.

In the Western Lake Erie Basin, the Saginaw Bay, and in other watersheds of Michigan, effects of high levels of dissolved nutrients in water have become a concern. Agriculture’s part in this concern is leading to innovation across the industry.   

When farmers and consultants are looking for ways to make practices more sustainable, grid and zone soil testing has become a very useful tool. By applying the right amount of fertilizer where it is needed most, rather than across the entire field, precision agriculture can lead to improvements not only in environmental impacts, but also the bottom line.

Recently, I interviewed Gabe Camp of Arable Solutions about soil testing. Camp works with farmers from seed to nutrition. He sees himself as a problem-solver for his farmer clients and finding simple solutions for farmers to implement to make their production better is important to Camp.

“The misconception out there - when people think of precision ag, they think it’s computers and monitors, but another piece of it is having good information on the ground that you are farming,” says Camp.

Record keeping on the farm is an essential but often ignored chore. Being realistic about yields and keeping track of the history of the field will give you a good base to get started in precision agriculture.

Cost of production is the biggest reason to move to a higher level of field management. It is the way to sort out where adding more inputs to a field will pay out and where those inputs will fall flat. One of the tools available to do this is the Maximum Return to Nitrogen (MRTN) corn N recommendation system. The MRTN model was adopted to further enhance farm profitability by maximizing the economic return of N fertilizer invested while simultaneously addressing some of the negative environmental consequences that occur when applying excessive N rates. Cost of production can also be affected by the population of plants in the field.

“Let’s break your operation down by bushels per thousand plants,” suggests Camp. “Bushel driven programs aren’t focused on your return. Getting the population right for the field can help keep the cost per acre down and also get the nutrients right in the field.”

To hear more from Camp, listen to the Michigan Field Crops podcast channel “In the Weeds.” You will hear from farmers, agribusiness and Michigan State University Extension educators. The podcast is available on SpotifyiTunes and embedded on the Field Crops Team website. New podcasts will be posted every week for this series. To receive notification on podcast posts, please subscribe to our channel: Michigan Field Crops.

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